Entertainment Events - JenLA: A Network For Serious Industry Participants

 

 

Alone at the airport, Aaron Symonds, the young, American-born, but educated in Australia and Israel determined film composer, stepped off the curb at LAX, determined to make his mark in Hollywood.  

The trouble was he knew no one in Los Angeles and he had come without a job.  Still, that did not deter the eager composer.  His fingers itched to write music, to be a part of the film team, and his faith told him that somehow, he would do it.

JenLA - film composer Aaron Symonds - founder

Having practiced music since the age of five, he'd only seen his first movie at 13.  Walking out of the cinema, Aaron's laser sharp mind had focused.  He knew the path he wanted to take in his life.  He knew where he was going -- and he had chosen his destiny -- to score films. 

Growing up in Israel at a time when many talented Russians had immigrated,  Aaron was blessed with professors as one who had been the conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic. While training in Australia at the university level, he took the opportunity to apprentice to a film composer there giving him both the academic and real world experience. 

He soon found that breaking into the film industry was going to take more work than he thought.  It needed to be a team effort and after all, Hollywood was built on relationships.

JenLA

As an Orthodox Jew, Aaron soon associated with the welcoming community and found several industry members there willing to assist him get his start.  There was, he discovered, a certain bond among the Jews in the industry - even those who were not religious or identified only by culture.  The mutual interest connected even strangers on a deeper level.  Those, especially who were observant, had problems that went beyond the ordinary job seeker - having to take off early for the Shabbat (which starts at sunset on Fridays) knowing too well there were lines out the door waiting to take his position and work 24/7; or having to take the many Jewish holidays off, or having to be in a commercial that celebrated pork, which the actor could not or would not eat. 

 However, even as he studied the landscape, he saw that there were specialty niche groups for entertainment industry members who were Christian, Muslim, Chinese, African -American, but there was nothing for the Jewish population.  Something had to be done, but what?

The Jewish community, however, was very splintered.  Not only was there the traditional Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, as well as those who felt themselves to be only cultural Jews,  but there were branches within those groups, and levels of each with different observant levels.

Aaron continued to pursue his dream.  He wanted something that would unify the Jews of the industry. 

Each time he met another member of the Jewish community in the entertainment sector, he would ask himself why there was nothing available.  No one had an answer.   He ran the idea by David Sacks (creator of the Simpsons and other wonderful productions) and was encouraged to move forward. 

JenLA - speaker gathering

Five years ago, Aaron took the plunge and decided to organize a group himself.  JenLA (Jewish Entertainment Network) first came into being at Aaron's apartment.   He was pleasantly surprised at the response he got.  "I kept organizing events and people kept coming so I knew there was a need." When the apartment became too small to hold the initial forty-five members, Aaron began searching for other locations. 

He became a one-man bandstand - seeking speakers, finding meeting sites, sending out emails, calling up people, and even, though he knew nothing about websites, designing one for the group. 

For a modest fee, each meeting has bountiful food available.  "We're Jewish. We feed our guests," Aaron joked. 

Fronting the organization with his own funds, he found the group to be a huge time commitment, but "I'm thankful that I can give back to my community and encourage others who want to find their dreams."

Speakers include producers, writers, showrunners, directors, attorneys and others in the industry who are willing to reach out to others.  Some of the recent notable speakers have been Craig Emanuel, entertainment attorney at Loeb and Loeb, Doug Mankoff of Echo Lake Productions, writer-producer Gail Lerner, and Mark Grabnoff - head of Discovery Studios.

 

Now a 501c-3, Aaron can take donations for the group and has several well-known producers, directors and writers as board members. 

Currently, the membership is over 500 and growing each day with referrals of new members. Each speaker who comes often suggests other speakers and new members encourage others to join.

JenLA- Jewish Entertainment Network

So, how does one join?  By going to JenLA's web site, one can fill out the application.  It's a fairly easy process to join. However, not everyone can become a member. 

Aaron explained that he wants a quality of people who are serious about their career.  We like to know that they have some credits behind them or are actively working toward their paths.  If they have an IMDB listing, that is great.   A list of their achievements can also help.  Many members are referred by others.  Even an actor, who perhaps serves tables during the week, but films shorts on his weekends off, is still worthy of membership because they are serious about their careers.  "Everyone who attends has a certain level of professionalism.

"We want to take our network to a deeper and more meaningful level for those attending. We are not here to teach them how to write a script or get an agent.  We also want people who identify with their Judaism in some way or form."  While they seldom turn anyone away, there have been a few instances when that was necessary. 

Once the group is stronger, there are plans for expanding which reaches several years into the future.  He hopes to have two different levels of membership - with those paid members having access to a member data base, free events, Friday night dinners, general mixers, trips and classes, and joint programs with other groups as the Jewish Federation, or the Creative Community for Peace.  

While it is actively discouraged for members (during the events) to pitch their projects to speakers, many of the presenters will offer their time later to read scripts and give advice. 

 

Aaron actively works with films on his own, as well as organizing the group.  These days he seems to be doing a lot of action, thriller and drama, but he's done a wide range of genres.  "If I know the director, I often read the script and give my music suggestion input based on the act breaks, story structure, character arc, and the plot points.  I like us to be on the same page as I consider myself  a  storyteller."

So, if you are serious about your entertainment career and identify as a Jew, than check out JenLA and meet some fabulous new friends.  After all, Hollywood is still a relationship town. 

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