In 2014, Frank O’Farrell walked into the Activities Beyond the Classroom office with three things: a passion to help kids find their voice, extensive experience in filmmaking, and an idea for a summer camp. Now, five years later, he manages Fourthwall Youth Studios and provides extracurricular programming in filmmaking on a year-round basis, and is a finalist for a highly respected Impact100 $100,000 grant.
ABC is proud to be the fiscal sponsor of Fourthwall Youth Studios, an initiative that was inspired by O’Farrrell’s son’s struggles as a teenager. “My [then] teenage son was struggling in school, and as a result, he was getting into more and more trouble. I wanted to help him, and others like him, by giving them a creative outlet and a means to find their voice.”
Fourthwall Youth Studios offers junior and senior high school students a unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the film industry, and in the process, develop their 21st century skills and their self-confidence. While many filmmaking programs are offered throughout Cincinnati, none has the focus on developing and preparing students for a future in multimedia quite like Fourthwall Youth Studios. This immersive hands-on program originally started as a youth summer camp, and after a successful pilot year yielding awards and recognition, Fourthwall expanded to include an afterschool program for students throughout Greater Cincinnati.
During the school year, Fourthwall holds workshops to teach up-and-coming filmmakers how to utilize and care for the production equipment including cameras, lights, and editing software. In the summer, Fourthwall offers week-long summer camps with the same focus.
Throughout the workshops and camps, student-filmmakers work in teams to create narrative film projects. A clear expectation is given to filmmakers, requiring them to complete their film projects both on time and within their budget. Every student at Fourthwall Youth Studios is given the opportunity to try the various tasks that go into the creation of film projects, including:
• Script writing
• Production Planning
• Camera Operations
• Post-Production work
Many of the films created by students have won awards and recognition, including The White House Student Film Festival.
According to O’Farrell’s research, many of today’s employers do not feel that young adults are equipped with the soft skills needed to be effective in the workplace. These 21st Century Skills, often referred to as the 4Cs, are collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication. Though these skills are highly sought out by employers, O’Farrell found that high school curriculum alone was not sufficiently teaching them.
Through collaborative work, Fourthwall students grow to understand how important each team member is to the finished project. Furthermore, at Fourthwall, students learn that working together helps the teams attain their desired outcomes is the most efficient way possible.
Ella, who will be a senior at School For Creative and Performing Arts, works as the producer for the Second Sunday on Main project. Ella joined Fourthwall Youth Studios in September 2018, and was hired as a member of Crews-for-Hire in February 2019. “So much of what we do revolves around collaboration. If you can’t work well with others, your project is going to suffer, so it is critical to not only work well together but to have an understanding and respect of each persons’ role and to keep the group organized,” said Ella.
While working on films, students learn to think on their feet and adapt to situations that may be beyond their control. Romel, a rising senior at DePaul Cristo Rey, said creating a successful film project starts with intensive planning. “I learned the importance of planning out everything.” Romel also learned that even with proper planning, it is important to be able to pivot when necessary, for the sake of the film project. Romel goes on to explain the importance of, “skills, like how to be flexible, and creatively adapt to any situations that [may] arise. These have played into my everyday life too.”
Working with real-world clients at Fourthwall gives student-filmmakers many opportunities to exercise their creativity. Ella explains how some clients “give us a ton of content, ask us to fix it, and make it into a story. When presented with this, I have found solutions, like creating a narrative with my team, or figuring out an alternate way to present the story.”
Filmmakers at Fourthwall learn many aspects of verbal and written communications. Students learn the value of active listening during pre-production meetings in an effort to ensure that the finished product is in line with the client’s needs. Creating a narrative that conveys the desired message requires the student-filmmakers to interpret the client’s needs, and turn the client’s needs into a compelling story. In order for the production crew to clearly grasp the director’s vision, the director has to give the crew clear instructions on how to bring about the desired results.
Ella explains that Fourthwall has had a huge impact on her communication skills. According to Ella, “Most of my directing, on our projects, doesn’t revolve around actors for commercials, but instead making sure the crew is in good shape and everyone knows what their job is.”
“Being here at Fourthwall has greatly improved my communication skills overall through each project I am a part of,” Romel said, in agreement. “I worked on several projects and promotional videos for small businesses and companies. For example, I am responsible for the behind-the-scenes video for the company Abre, while preparing for July’s Second Sunday on Main, and also working on my own standalone short film. In the Abre behind-the-scenes project, I am co-editor and interviewer. In the Second Sunday on Main project, I am the camera operator and co-editor. And in my own short film, I will write, direct, and edit the project myself,” says Romel. He makes it very clear just how important it is to communicate effectively when wearing multiple hats, and being involved in many on-going projects at once.
Beginning during the 2018-2019 school year, Fourthwall Youth Studios launched Crews-For-Hire, in an effort to offer students real-world work experience in a professional environment. Student-filmmakers receive pay in exchange for their services, which are offered to local organizations in and around the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.
Student workers in Crews-For-Hire are responsible for the production of film projects from beginning to end. Each film project starts with a thorough discovery process. During this initial phase, students hold a pre-production planning meeting with each potential client, develop client briefs, and finally prepare and present the client with their proposal, outlining the scope of the film project. Once a client approves a proposal, the Crew-For-Hire handles all of the on-location shooting, including capturing B-Roll and behind the scenes footage. The student workers then use the raw video footage to edit and prepare for the initial client review. From there, students gather feedback from the client, and create a finished product that meets the client’s objectives. One of the current Crews-For-Hire projects currently in the works is a film project for Second Sunday on Main, a reoccurring street festival in Over-The-Rhine.
During the 2018-2019 school year, O’Farrell and his team took on a new initiative to help participants prepare for life after high school, and help student-filmmakers prepare their college application to the film school of their choice. According to O’Farrell, many high school counselors are unfamiliar with the admissions process for film schools throughout the country. Because of O’Farrell’s nearly 30 years of experience in the film industry, Fourthwall now aids student-filmmakers by allowing them to utilize the facility and equipment to create their own film projects, produce a reel of their work for submission, and even assist in completing the application itself. Many students at Fourthwall have gone on to film schools because of the extra efforts that O’Farrell and his team have provided.
Parents, mentors, and past students had lots of great things to say about Fourthwall Youth Studios and how it is filling a critical need by providing hands-on training to youngsters interested in film.
“Corban will never forget this experience. It provided a multi-layer approach to expose him to the entire filmmaking process, improve and offer new skills, collaborate as part of a team, allow creative freedom, and, importantly, help boost his confidence.”-Parent
“My son has Aspergers and has difficulty with group dynamics, but he sailed through Fourthwall. He has confidence in his ability to actually succeed at something and he went to school this fall with a more positive outlook. We are now looking at colleges with film majors.”-Parent
“Fourthwall fills a void in Cincinnati that is just now beginning to be-Mentor
understood…teaching 21st Century skills through film development.”
“It has inspired me to go to school for film and audio production.”-Student
“I love the idea of furthering their writing skills, collaboration skills, interpersonal skills, and at the same time they have fun making a movie. This program builds creativity and innovation.”-Parent
Due to the proven success of the program, and its availability to students of any ethnicity, gender, household income level, or regardless of disability, Fourthwall Youth Studios has been named a finalist for an Impact 100 Grant. Impact 100 is a Cincinnati-based organization that awards four, $100,000 grants to non-profit organizations in Cincinnati that impact the community in many, great ways, and only six organizations make it this far in the application process. Should Fourthwall receive this Impact 100 grant, they will be able to purchase a van, which will help ease the difficulties brought on by transportation issues of students and film equipment.