Actor Simon Baker and Musician Chris Martin want to give back to their adopted hometown of Los Angeles with a new writing program to help inner-city youth achieve creative expression and prepare for future careers in the arts.
What do the hit television show The Mentalist and hit rock band Coldplay have in common?
Besides having handsome blonds as their frontmen and backing creative force, the two global entertainment phenomena are now helping to shape a future generation of writers.
When British rocker Chris Martin moved to the Brentwood region of Los Angeles last summer with wife Gwyneth Paltrow and kids Apple and Moses, he became neighbours with Australian transplant Simon Baker, who lives in Brentwood with wife Rebecca Rigg and children Stella, Harry, and Claude, after moving to L.A. over a decade ago.
And the pair not only hit it off as pals, but they quickly decided to find a way to give back to the entertainment-driven city, with charity work benefiting the less affluent areas of Los Angeles, specifically offering a helping hand to inner-city youth in need of the right information to launch entertainment careers of their own.
Their recently unveiled writing program, Rite4Reel, will pair professionals from the film, TV, and music world with creative writing teachers at local L.A. schools, to provide real-world writing tools to the students most likely to need and use them.
Each teacher selects several at-risk youth with budding literary talents to attend Saturday "master classes" with stars who donate their time, and choose what to reveal about their own path to success.
"It all came together with remarkable ease," says Baker, who has kept his own involvement in the writing of The Mentalist low-key. "There are a ton of writing professionals who want to pass on what they know, and in a city like Los Angeles there are obviously many children with keen writing talents who might not otherwise have a chance to learn how to profit from that or break into the industry."
"We wanted to keep it strictly hush-hush," adds Martin. "But then we realized the kids who attended weren't going to be believed that they spend their Saturdays learning story or lyric-writing techniques from the biggest stars of these industries that rely on writing. But the master classes are still going to be kept quiet. These days it's quite easy to get donated office space the kids can access on foot, and the teachers are going to be discreet. But then the kids can brag all they want, after the fact," he laughs.
While Baker and Martin won't say what famed writers and lyricists are involved, nor the names of the English teachers charged with selecting inner-city youth for the monthly program, they are quick to point out that mentors won't just be whitewashing their talk with shallow career anecdotes.
"The point of this is to begin to bridge the gap between the public's faulty perception of what a writing career involves, and the truth of it," explains Martin. "And the number one thing that means is coming clean about the historical tradition of literature. It has to be said front and center what the job of the writer really is all about."
Baker doesn't mince his words. "There's been a lot of bullshit writing advice over the years, just to keep the barbarians at the gate but never getting in the door. We called it Rite4Reel because these kids need that ancient foundation, the religious and cultural rites that are being continually presented in global entertainment through literary allusion and subtle character encoding. They need to know what's really going on before they waste their nascent years misfiring in the wrong direction."
The talented pair have put up their own money to hire a small staff of coordinators and pay for snacks, meals, and supplies. "The kids just have to show up," says Baker. "They'll be taken care of with food, pens, paper, notebooks for the day. If they hit it off with a particular mentor, they can let their teacher know and we'll try to make it so they can come back together. Otherwise, students who take to it are going to be getting a continual array of writers from different fields, building on what each other says."
"The cost of supplies and staff just isn't huge when you think of the dire price they'd pay otherwise," states Martin. "Some of these kids could literally be the genetic offspring of famous writers working blocks away, and it's just churning in their blood to be writing like crazy. Lyric writing is an insane compulsion that really only pays off if you're in the position to make songs happen, and get some income to support that. Leaving someone with a genetic talent like that and never telling them, Look, there's a historical precedent, you've got to understand the end of Atlantis, you've got to get the Caesar family epic, then your songs and stories are going to be well received and come to something."
Baker thinks the medium will provide the program's true message. "It's a powerful thing to have a professional you respect, say from a heavy metal band, sitting there saying, Hey, it might sound weird, but I attended classes just like this, and every day I put this stuff in my writing as a framework, and that's what allows me to then express everything personal and emotional and philosophical I want to say. Just having that respected person sitting there explaining it, without press or attention or anything coming from it for them, I think that'll make the leap in the kid's mind, okay, there's something to this. I'm going to listen."