Sometimes one comment is all it takes to completely shift your goals in life.
Bakersfield native and actor Brian Hooks once listened to an ex-police chief speak during a Rotary event when he heard the comment "that changed my life."
"He said they were able to predict that a child by age 3 will be headed to jail or prison" depending on the geographic area they live in, the number of gangs they pass on their way to school and whether their parents are or were in jail or prison, explained Hooks.
"I was sitting, waiting, wondering what’s the catch, I don’t like where this is going, but he said what he said," Hooks said. "At 3, this kid who has no idea what life is, doesn’t have ill will, but because of their area, the arc of life is limited to death or prison."
But educational programs have proven to change that trajectory, so Hooks, wanting to share his passion for film and television with at-risk youth, founded Left of BANG Entertainment.
The company hopes to intercept students before the bang — before a child finds themself with a gun in their hands. Left of BANG Entertainment aims to provide inner-city youth with the opportunity to take part in the filming process by being on set and participating in all that goes into bringing a film to life. They also receive mentorship and support throughout their time in and out of the program.
"A lot of these kids are joining gangs, they’re looking for a sense of belonging and family. That’s a natural human instinct, it’s not unique to inner city kids," Hooks said. "These kids given the chance to choose between shooting a gun or shooting movies, they’ll choose movies every time."
The Bakersfield native found his calling for entertainment while he was pursuing a mathematics degree at Cal State Northridge. He was always drawn to entertainment, but there weren't too many acting opportunities available to him locally in the Central Valley — other than some talent shows — so being near Hollywood during his college years inspired him to submit himself to Drama-Logue. A few auditions later, it led to a role in "Phat Beach" in 1996, several other roles as well as making movies of his own.
But helping others, especially kids who might think pursuing the entertainment industry is not a possibility, has been "the most exciting, most coolest thing that I’ve ever been a part of," he said. When Left of BANG Entertainment was starting around two years go, Hooks spoke at schools and youth centers to attract interested students.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools, and a lot halted for the company, but Hooks knew he couldn't sit around and wait for society to open back up.
"The suicide rate among youths was going up. They don’t have until 2021 (to wait) and these gangs haven’t slowed down either. For a lot of these youth, COVID is the least of their worries," he said. "With that I said, 'No, we have to push forward,' and I ended up doing a weekly Zoom call, seeing how they’re doing, what they’re doing, what they’re upset or happy about."
That eventually transitioned into the free virtual film school that he continues to hold. For about six weeks, students learn the basics of filmmaking, producing and more from veterans in the industry.
He also got a bit of help from some famous faces. Actors such as Anthony Anderson, Vivica A. Fox and Craig Robinson, stunt actors and filmmakers have taken part in the virtual film school to encourage youth to pursue the industry.
Hooks said students all across the country have joined, as well as many from the Central Valley, and engagement levels are high, especially when stars pop up.
"We haven’t seen this level of engagement since remote learning started," he added.
As more begins to open up following less restrictive COVID-19 guidelines, Hooks is looking forward to being back with students. He recently started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds that will be used to fund Left of BANG Entertainment's hands-on production opportunities and make a movie of their own. The goal is to start pre-production in June, have production last for four weeks in July and have post-production last eight weeks through September. Once the film is completed, it will be entered into film festivals while simultaneously seeking a distributor.
For more information, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/leftofbang/left-of-bang-entertainment
"Offering a few words and ... an hour out of these kids' days can fuel them for a lifetime," Hooks said.