Working in the film industry requires intense collaboration, the ability to receive constructive feedback, and impressive organizational expertise. Hoping to help the sophomore students in the Charles C. Baum Film and Visual Storytelling Department (lead donors, Patricia and Mark Joseph) nurture all of these skills, Film Department Head Beatriz Bufrahi and Jane Bloom ’00 are piloting a new mentoring program.
Over the course of February through April, the mentors will participate in supervised online calls with individual students about their film ideas. Students will first pitch their projects to their mentors, and will then receive guidance and feedback developing the project from idea to reality. Mentors will act like supportive studio or network executives, giving notes in the same way it happens in the real world. There are 10 mentors and 15 students with projects in animation, documentary, and narrative film.
The program relies heavily upon BSA alumni for its mentorship base. And since the Baltimore School for the Arts has many alumni who have gone on to do great things, the list of alumni mentors is impressive: Jane Bloom ’00, an Emmy Award-winning television producer; Ben Freiburger ’95, a writer and director who is currently developing a sci-fi series with Universal Studios; Meagan Adele Lopez ’00, an actress, writer, director, and producer living in Paris; Brian Mainolfi ’89, a Hollywood animator whose credits include major projects from Walt Disney, Dreamworks, Netflix, and more; Robby Mantegna ’05, television producer; and Alex McCarroll ’00, an art director and production designer who has worked on films such as Black Panther and The Hunger Games. In addition to BSA alumni, successful local filmmakers in Baltimore are also serving as mentors, including Alexandra Bennett Cannady, television producer and developer; Capella Fahoome, film producer and director; Corrie Francis Park, animator, director, and UMBC professor; and Lynn Tomlinson, animator, director, and Towson University professor.
The program launched on February 14 with an initial one-hour conversation between the students and their mentors. The students introduced themselves and pitched their ideas with logline, script, storyboard, three style frames, animation technique, and length. The mentor offered advice about story, animation style, production schedule, audience, time management, and streamlining the process. For the next call, the mentor will discuss the overall production and delivery schedule and help the students work out any challenges with scheduling. Finally, for the last call in April, the mentors will give network-style notes on the student’s rough and fine cuts.
“This program is ultimately about the creative process. We wanted to teach these young artists how to distill a creative idea into actionable steps while teaching them the ins and outs of professional communication—something most teenagers struggle with,” said Bloom, who has worked diligently with Bufrahi over the last several months to create this program. “A bonus: The students know that there are successful working artists out there rooting for them! This can be a cutthroat business.”
Bufrahi and Bloom hope the students will learn the importance of collaboration and communication, as well as gain strong building blocks for approaching the creative process. They hope the students will find their strengths and weaknesses—and work to build upon both.
“The mentorship program is important because each young artist needs encouragement from many points-of-view so that they may go on to develop their own unique perspective as an artist,” said Mainolfi, one of the mentors. “Both professorial and professional viewpoints are imperative in an art world that is constantly changing.”
Bufrahi and Bloom believe this Film Mentorship Program is extraordinarily unique as a high school offering, too.
“The mentors are there for the long haul–it’s not just one workshop or master class– they are actual members of each student’s creative team,” said Bloom.
“To learn, as a high schooler, how to work with and communicate as a professional in this way is something most students wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
“The students are also receiving professional-quality feedback on their projects, building resiliency through constructive criticism and learning about collaboration,” said Bufrahi.
By pairing the students with industry professionals who give real-world tasks and exercises, BSA students get a taste for what it’s like to be a working artist—all while building connections to mentors who may be able to hire them in the future. And since the mentoring program also features successful local filmmakers, students are able to develop important relationships in Baltimore as well.
Many of the alumni mentors were eager to join the program out of a desire to give back to a school that had given so much to them.
And Bloom believes that the mentors will receive something from the program as well: the opportunity to re-evaluate their own creative process and finding resources for students that are beneficial to them as well, just for starters.
“Another unexpected reward—the mentees and teachers collaborate to give the students the best advice,” Bloom said. “Through our communication, we learn from each other. It’s really about the power of collaboration—and doing good.”
“We are incredibly grateful to Jane, our alumni, and our community partners who are investing so much in BSA students through this program,” said Bufrahi. “They have created an irreplaceable experience for the film students, one that truly teaches them what it means to be a working professional in the industry.”
And the students are incredibly thankful, too, knowing the mentors have helped them take their ideas to the next level.
“Our mentor helps us to expand our ideas and build upon them,” said Maya Shah ’21, who is working with Bloom. “I start off with one idea but she takes it to a whole new level and helps us make something really great.”