Tige Charity became unemployed during the late 2000s recession for a job in the insurance department. Looking for a new sense of purpose, she began to reflect on a visit she once made to a girl group home with her husband, actor Antonio D. Charity (The Orville), and how the home director had told her about the rewards of mentorship. In 2009, Tige decided to create Children in the spotlight (KITS), a non-profit organization that supports youth through filmmaking. Participants in the KITS program write, direct, film, cast and act in projects together with mentors from the film world. “You give them art, create a platform for them to be seen, heard, validated and celebrated,” says Tige.
Now KITS has grown enough to have opened its first studio. Launched with an open house in April, KITS production studio is a 5,300 square foot space in Van Nuys available to entertainment companies for shoots, table readings and castings. (Studio rent ranges from $950 for 12 hours to $90,000 for 30 days—significantly less expensive than many major soundstages.) Those renting out the studio space must have two youths work as PAs per production through KITS’ staff development program. The group is trying to raise $2.5 million to buy the property outright, with a fundraising sprint in May, National Foster Care Month. You can donate via kitsinc.org.
“In the entertainment industry, a lot of these jobs are based on who you know and your connections,” explains Tige. “But we’re bringing these connections to youth.”
Since the nonprofit’s inception, KITS has worked with more than 850 youth ages 11 to 24. In the past ten years they have made more than 85 short films, starring actors such as Terry Crews and Nadine Ellis. “It’s nothing short of remarkable what KITS has been able to accomplish,” said Ty Burrell, a longtime supporter of the group. “Tige and her incredible team have used resourcefulness, ingenuity and a huge collective heart to help countless foster youth tell their stories. I count myself lucky to be in their job.”
Each year, the shorts are screened at the KITS Film Awards, where children in the program are enchanted and experience the treatment on the red carpet. The most recent awards ceremony took place last year at the Regal LA Live in Downtown LA. According to Tige, it is not only the intention that young people make a film, but that the film industry also invests in them. “I really want to give these kids that kind of connection,” she says.
James Gutierrez, who hails from Whittier, California, joined the program in 2021 and won the second annual KITS National Short Screenplay Competition for his film Rainy days. KITS put him in touch with actor-producer Mo McRae (The stewardess), who took over as director. “It’s the most beautiful, most humbling thing I’ve ever been a part of,” says Gutierrez, who learned about the organization through a foster youth program when he attended Cerritos College. “I feel like it takes me one step closer, not only to fulfill my dreams, but also to heal all the traumas I’m still dealing with inside.”
This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.