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Huntsville 2 Hollywood: lights, camera, action for 12 AAMU TV & film arts students

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- 12 remarkable communications arts students from Alabama A&M University are preparing for an opportunity of a lifetime -- a trip to the motion picture and television capital of the world -- Hollywood, California.

Spearheaded by the Media Arts Institute of Alabama, these students are the first ever from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to receive an invitation from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade to work behind the scenes writing, producing, filming, interviewing, and editing a real-time film documentary about the pageantry of the 2015 New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl football game.

"To see behind the scenes, see the technology, see how that parade -- one of the world's largest events -- how it's put together," explains Media Arts Institute President and CEO Leon Burnette.

To aid them in their mission to produce the documentary -- 'Huntsville 2 Hollywood', the media institute brought in Joetta DiBella, a Los Angeles producer with 40 years experience.

"I worked with channel 5 which is KTLA, a Tribune station like WHNT," explains DiBella.

She's mentoring students in mandatory workshops ahead of their task.

"We're prepping them, we're getting them ready so they can be prepared to be professional," Bunette says.

While the focus remains on producing the Rose Bowl documentary, the AAMU crew will enjoy visits to major Hollywood TV studios and movie sets and tour several media technology companies. They will talk to educators at local universities about graduate school opportunities; and interact with accomplished music and film producers, directors, actors, and digital media executives who will give them career advice and tips for success.

In addition to the Rose Bowl documentary, the team will also produce a personal video travel log of the group’s adventure, complete with their honest and sometimes exuberant observations, reactions, and experiences throughout the trip from the time they board the plane, until it's wheels down back in Huntsville.

The project is not only about experience or resume building, but about expanding horizons. Mostly from the Deep South region of the country, some of these students have never flown on an airplane; never stayed in a luxury hotel; never eaten in a fancy restaurant; and have only dreamed of visiting and working in Hollywood.

Eric Slaughter is a junior at AAMU currently studying documentary filmmaking. Eric grew up in a small town outside Biloxi, Mississippi, but his family’s economic standing has never offered him the opportunity to travel outside of his hometown until he enrolled at AAMU. He knows, however, that in order to pursue his dreams as a filmmaker, he must learn to see the world through a broader lens than the narrow one reflecting his impoverished background.

Kim Pettway is also a senior Communications Arts major at AAMU. Pettway came to Huntsville on an academic scholarship from Alabama’s Gulf Coast to study TV journalism. Her family, though supportive of Kim’s lifelong desire to work in TV news, doesn’t have the financial means or the connections to help her pursue a career in her chosen profession. Pettway knows she must write her own script for success if she hopes to accomplish her goals.

Eric Coleman grew up in a poverty-stricken community outside of Dothan, Alabama. Both of his parents are deceased and his only means for attending AAMU was to work on campus and apply for a low-income student grant and student scholarship. His 5-hour bus ride to Huntsville was the closest he has ever come to traveling. As a communications arts major studying filmmaking and 3D graphic animation, Eric is determined to create his own pathway to success.

"We want to be able to show them the science, the technology, the design, the art, the math behind the business," says Burnette.

Each of the team members are currently active in various community service projects. Some volunteer with major agencies like the Boys and Girls Clubs, and produce PSAs for the United Way of Madison County. Some have taken on a leadership role in university clubs and associations; and have served as student mentors to disadvantaged high school film students with an emphasis on the importance of going to college, graduating with a degree, and pursuing their dreams. They have all agreed to continue their community work while on their trip, by volunteering with an inner city youth organization located in South Central Los Angeles and Compton, CA.

“These young people not only have special skills and talents, but they are driven,” Burnette says. “You can sense their desire to succeed. All they need is the opportunity to show people what they can do. I am delighted to be able to coordinate such a life-altering experience and possibly career-changing opportunity to these twelve special kids.”

Joetta DiBella has produced six Rose Parades, served as the tournament archivist and even won a couple of Emmys for her work. She says real work in the real world will make students more open to possibilities they never entertained.

"It's just a marvelous experience that they are going to appreciate for the rest of their lives and I think it will give them incentive to look at other careers than what they've been thinking of," the producer predicts.

These students can really use financial support from the community.

Each student is currently raising personal funds, but in order to reach our needed goal of $30,000 by November 15, they need help securing the capital to pay for hotels, airfare, field trips, equipment, insurance, and food; not just for the 12 students but for the five adult chaperones who will accompany them across the country.

Your contribution will help 12 talented, ambitious, up-and-coming filmmakers, lighting and sound editors, screenwriters, directors, producers, and SFX professionals, overcome their meager beginnings to find the secrets to success in the film and TV industry.

Click here for information on how to donate.