Streetlights: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years Of Social Change

Cannes Film Festival

Tom Wilson

 

Streetlights, a nonprofit job training and placement organization in Los Angeles, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year – and boy, has it got a lot to celebrate!

The company has successfully provided two decades of entry-level employment positions in the entertainment industry for financially disadvantaged minority men and women. Additionally, the P.A. training program is free of charge. Because it is in such high demand, receiving several hundred applications per year, the company only accepts the most motivated candidates. The application totals nearly twenty pages in length in addition to two letters of recommendation.

Once accepted into the program, the students undergo six weeks of classroom and paid on-site training. After completing their training, the students are tested on the material they have learned. Upon graduating from the program, they are placed onto a production set where they apply the skills they learned during training. Streetlights monitors the graduates for six months in order to assist in their career advancement. On set, the graduates build relationships with their co-workers and are consequently offered future employment opportunities. The graduates of Streetlights all begin their careers as production assistants; however, many of their paths lead them to incredibly different departments of the entertainment industry.

Matthew Cherry was a twenty-five year old former NFL player, living in Chicago when he first heard about Streetlights. Having lived in the Midwest his whole life, Cherry never had imagined working in the entertainment industry. Upon learning about the program, he moved to Los Angeles and applied to Streetlights.

“I think the biggest thing that people trying to break into this industry need is a foot in the door,” said Cherry.

That is exactly what Streetlights provided him. After working as a production assistant on music videos, commercials, and television shows, Cherry set his sights on directing. Through his journey in the NFL and at Streetlights, Cherry has learned that hard work pays off in the end.

“It’s really about doing great work because at the end of the day, especially being a PA, it’s about making other people’s jobs easier and if you can do that, no matter what you look like, no matter who you are, you’ll continue to work,” said Cherry.

Cherry recently directed his first feature film, The Last Fall. The sports drama, centered on a young and newly retired NFL player’s difficult adjustment to regular life, premiered at South by Southwest and was recently picked up for distribution. It will have a limited theatrical release in November, and will be available for purchase in January. He plans to continue making films and hopes to venture into television as well.

Another successful graduate of Streetlights is Gerardo Reyes. Before enrolling in the program Reyes worked as a telecommunications technician. He hadn’t been receiving much work, and he knew there was no other way for him to become involved in the entertainment industry, so he sent in an application.

Immediately after beginning the program he felt completely out of his comfort zone, which motivated him. He devoted all of his time to learning about the industry and was elated when it was finally time for him to work on a production. The first production set he was placed on was a music video, where he worked an 18-hour day. He continued working on music videos and commercial sets, and learned something new from every experience.

It wasn’t until he worked with the grip department that he knew he had found his calling. He is now working as a grip and hopes to eventually work as a key grip. Reyes is also writing in his spare time and plans to experiment with directing or writing films. 

“They taught me so much. My life has changed ever since I went to Streetlights,” said Reyes.

Adele Wilson, the managing director at Streetlights, says of the program, “This is an amazing organization in that it serves the entertainment industry while at the same time creates opportunity to have jobs in the industry when they don’t normally get the opportunity.”

Applications are accepted year round. For more information about Streetlights, please visit www.Streetlights.org.