Elisabeth Murdoch funds school for TV talent that says no to nepotism

Vanessa Thorpe Arts & media correspondent
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Marsland/Getty</span>
Photograph: Mike Marsland/Getty

Elisabeth Murdoch’s company is to fund a new London school designed to get young people from different backgrounds into the television industry. Murdoch, the daughter of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and her production company Sister are to set up the Ghetto Film School, already running in two American cities, in a charitable move designed to open up the world of television to a wider range of newcomers.

Chris Fry, global chief financial officer at Sister, said that the training school would tackle “a real problem in the industry” in Britain, where despite increased levels of discussion, leading production companies are dominated by white staff and family connections and unpaid internships continue to skew the intake. “There has been a lot of talk, but really it is about making it happen,” Fry said this weekend.

Murdoch, who until six years ago ran the Shine production company inside her father’s former 21st Century Fox business, has since moved away from the family’s interests, just as her younger brother James, once also thought likely to succeed as the next head of the empire, has done more recently. Only their brother Lachlan remains central to Murdoch’s commercial concerns.

Elisabeth set up Sister in 2019 with fellow founders Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone and recent drama successes include Chernobyl, Giri/Haji and The Split. Fry said that the company already takes approaches from teenagers with no contacts seriously. “Young people get depressed when they don’t get a response. We answer emails and talk to them,” he said, adding that nepotism is specifically banned at Sister.

“I don’t think this move comes from Elisabeth’s particular family story though,” Fry said, “It is part of what we believe in. We’ve all seen young people on set who’ve just been given the chance by a friend but are not particularly pleased to be there. It’s not an easy job, it’s very hard work, so you have to want to do it and those people should come from any background and have different stories to tell. It is something we need.”

The free school will be run by 21-year-old Tony Fernandez from Enfield, a graduate of a pilot project set up in 2017 who has since worked in Britain and America. “We don’t specifically pick young people who are BAME, the school becomes naturally diverse just by going to the right sort of place with the right criteria: teenagers with a strong visual storytelling instinct.”

Last summer the school ran a remote programme for 20, asking prospective students to create stories with still photographs so they could assess what Fernandez calls their sense of pace and ability to create “images that killed”. He met Elisabeth Murdoch when he was first training in 2017-18.

Related: Lenny Henry: next BBC chair should recognise importance of diversity

From mid-March to mid-June, Ghetto Film School will be recruiting 16 to 18-year-olds for its first 18-month training programme – recent experience in Los Angeles and New York suggests that 90% will go on to secure full-time or consistent work in the creative sector.

Pearl Adewale, 19, from east London, joined the summer scheme: “As a black female it was hard to convince people that I should be a director. My mum is a nurse and my father is in real estate so there were no contacts there. This is an amazing chance to express my ideas.” Adewale added that while she had found academic work a struggle, she blossomed when it came to filming and editing. “It seems I’m the kind of person who makes a lot more sense when they are doing practical work,” she said.

Ruben Cabral, 17, from north London, the son of an engineer and a midwife, has already made a parody romcom and said the obstacles he had faced made him more determined: “It was quite disheartening at first when I found it was a lot to do with who you knew. But it’s so great now to have this opportunity in London, a place so full of different creative voices that need to be capitalised on.”