When Isabelle Leos, a senior at Santa Clarita Valley International School, began taking a film class last year, she never expected it would amount to anything so quickly.
Yet, in just a few short months, Leos joined 19 other young women at the 2019 AT&T Hello Sunshine Filmmaker Lab in Los Angeles.
The program, which is a partnership of AT&T, Hello Sunshine and Fresh Films, was created for young women with an interest in the film industry, hoping to right the gender imbalance in media with a crash course in professional film production, according to Charlotte Koh, head of digital media at Hello Sunshine.
“The lab is also a way that Hello Sunshine manifests its mission to support female-driven storytelling from a wide variety of viewpoints by arming these young women with the tools to tell their own stories and to reinforce the message that their stories matter,” Koh added.
Leos had heard of the program, now in its second year, when it was created, but she was too nervous to apply. “There was a video submission you had to do, and I didn’t want to do that. But I applied this year because I was getting more serious about film, and I was lucky enough to get in.”
Though Leos had always been interested in art, she had previously been more science-oriented, according to her mother Jill Leos.
“It kind of popped up on the scene last year … so now it’s lots of film and science,” Jill said.
Isabelle said she doesn’t know why, but something about film caught her attention and drew her in, so she joined a film class at school in her junior year, which she had been too afraid to join before.
“It’s an IB (International Baccalaureate) class, which is an advanced class, and I thought you needed past experience to do it, and I didn’t have that,” she said.
During a project where she was tasked with re-creating the sound for a muted clip, Leos discovered her passion for post-production: “I thought that was really cool.”
Then, when applications for the lab opened back up, Leos went for it and was chosen from a pool of hundreds of aspiring female filmmakers from across the country.
“I thought they sent the email to the wrong person,” she said, laughing. “I did not think I was going to get it.”
For eight days this summer, Leos attended the filmmaking camp, where she had the opportunity to get hands-on experiences in production, directing, audio and camera among other things, while learning from industry professionals, such as Hello Sunshine founder Reese Witherspoon.
“The lab allows participants to get a true behind-the-scenes look at the production process and demystifies how film and television are produced,” Koh said, adding that participants were able to go on lot tours, on-set visits and into editing suites. “This knowledge often boosts their confidence about what they can strive for and accomplish in our industry.”
Participants rotated jobs and were able to try everything while they worked to interview experienced females in the industry to produce a short-form documentary. “It was really cool to see their journey, like where they started, what they wanted to do and where they are now.”
Each participant was given the opportunity to ask questions of the professionals, and Leos remembers asking one of the costume designers, who said she used to be really shy, how she overcame that.
“It was really meaningful … It was the only question I asked any of the women,” she said, chuckling.
Though Leos had been exposed to some production in her film class, she said it was great to get practice and new tips. “I think the main thing I learned was how to work with people because it’s a team and you all have to work together and be paying attention to everything all the time.”
Though the girls came from across the country, Leos said she enjoyed getting to know them and their different goals.
“Filmmaking is a highly collaborative process and practicing soft skills like creative teamwork is one of the highlights of the program,” Koh added.
Leos said she was also able to gain confidence as the program was filled with professionals who believed that they could do anything they set their minds to. “This is something that I can achieve if I work hard enough because all of those women didn’t start out knowing what they wanted to do, but when they discovered it, they worked really hard to be where they are now.”
That experience has helped her become more assertive in her film class, which consists primarily of boys, as she didn’t feel very confident voicing her opinion prior.
“I would like to see her achieve her dream because I know that she can do it,” Jill added.
The program also helped to solidify her goals doing production or post-production. “I liked being behind the camera. I’m not usually the writer who comes up with the ideas, I just like to help see them through.”
Disney has always been a big dream, no matter what the industry, and Leos said she’d love to join her two passions to become a wildlife cinematographer for Disneynature. “I’ve always really liked animals, but my main thing is if I’m out in wildlife, I want to know what’s going on. I don’t just want to be blindly capturing it.”
The documentary is now airing nationwide on DIRECTV and AT&T TV Now. For more information, visit freshfilms.org/programs/atthellosunshine.