Everyone dreams of fame.
From the tentative first day of school to the amazing year-end performances, FAME HIGH captures the in-class and at-home drama, competition, heartbreak, and triumph during one school year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). Where talented teens reach for their dreams of becoming actors, singers, dancers, and musicians.
LACHSA is one of the most respected and competitive public arts high schools in the country. The arts teachers are working professionals, and some of the famous alumni include singing phenomena Josh Groban and Fergie, as well as actors Corbin Bleu, Jenna Elfman, Anthony Anderson, and current SNL cast member Taran Killam, as well as principal dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Matthew Rushing. To name just a few.
From Academy Award Nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy (The Garden and OT: our town) FAME HIGH is a unique hybrid film: a Robert Altman-esque, coming-of-age, documentary- musical which follows a group of novice freshman and seasoned seniors struggling to find their voice – not only in their art but in life – with the help of, and sometimes in spite of, their passionate and opinionated families. Each has sacrificed countless hours to become artistically good, but will they become excellent and be satisfied both personally and professionally?
Are the sacrifices we make to chase our dreams worth it? This question is as relevant to these young artists as it is to their parents.
In a time when performance-based entertainment is commonplace, it is safe to call FAME HIGH the facts behind the fiction. Overnight success is a myth, and the true reality is nothing trumps endless hours of hard work.
Shot over the course of sixteen months, we see these young people strive, struggle, grow, and change before our eyes.
And you thought regular high school was tough.
We live in a culture that puts a very high premium on fame. The idea of overnight success, exposure, and acclaim are aided by glossy reality television and a celebrity obsessed populace. FAME HIGH is the counter argument to this illusion. It shows the unending hours of training and discipline needed to hone one’s craft. FAME HIGH is where ambition and reality suffer a high-speed collision with no one walking away unscathed.
I have been a fan of and fascinated by the performing arts all my life. Starting at a young age when my family exposed me to a wide variety of live music, theatre and cinema in both the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. I went on to study liberal arts and theatre at Skidmore College, and began my filmmaking career directing music videos soon after graduating. But it wasn’t until after finishing my first documentary, OT: our town, that I wanted to bring these worlds together: a raw verite story mixed with the magical realism of musicals and music videos. A high school for the performing arts was the answer.
I researched several schools before finding LACHSA, one of the best in the country, with an acceptance rate that rivals the Ivy League. It is also a public school with a diverse racial and socioeconomic population, a rare combination in most inner city schools in the United States.
Because of my prior experience filming high school students in a performance setting with OT: our town, LACHSA – who in the past had turned down several requests to film – opened their doors to our project. I began by observing LACHSA classes, interviewing students and teachers, and after a few weeks the story came to life before my eyes. I discovered incredibly talented teens trying to fulfill their dreams of becoming actors, singers, dancers, and musicians. Serendipity struck when I met producer Leilani Makuakane who had attended LACHSA in her youth, and FAME HIGH was on its way…
FAME HIGH could easily be compared to some of the other performance entertainment in film and TV (Glee, Save The Last Dance, Pitch Perfect, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, etc.), but Leilani and I felt this world had never been captured like this: a documentary that has that has the fun and raw energy of a high school movie, with performance elements and lots of soul. A completely real and unpretentious engine fueled by the wonderful zing of the performing arts.
And the audience reaction has been more than we could have hoped for: eight year old girls to eighty year old men laughing, crying and cheering at the screen. And while we worked hard to never let the ‘message’ of the importance of arts education dictate the direction of the film, we are also thrilled now to be able to use FAME HIGH to do just that.
Playing an instrument, learning to act, and perfecting dance moves are not just after-school activities. They are lifelong skills that help students build confidence, think creatively, develop discipline and embrace risk—all critically important skills for the 21st Century.
And, despite its proven benefits, funding for arts education is being drastically reduced or eliminated in schools across the country. So we began exploring ways to use the film to help kids get access to the arts no matter their social or economic situation. The result is our sister project: FAME HIGH: ARTS FOR EVERYONE. A trans-media project, which includes a free community screenings of the film, an online experience that employs the latest social media platforms and a national outreach campaign, all aimed at reversing the woeful downward trend in arts education nationally. The project will connect students to resources and educate, inspire, and empower audiences across the country to advocate for the arts. Please contact me directly if you would like to discuss the FAME HIGH: ARTS FOR EVERYONE campaign in further detail. For now, please enjoy the film and take part in the COMMUNITY and ADVOCACY pages on this site.
Thanks for considering FAME HIGH, and we sure hope you enjoy it.