Under the guidance of founder and executive director Dorothy Thompson, Streetlights has become an entertainment industry force—an LA-based job training, placement and mentoring program that has put more than 1,100 economically or socially disadvantaged production assistants to work. Its success is attributable to the vision of its founder and the passion of partners such as Saatchi & Saatchi.
It’s been almost 20 years since Thompson returned home after a hard day’s work as a television commercial producer, flipped on the TV and saw her city burning. Like many people during the LA riots, Thompson thought that she should do something. But unlike many people, Thompson actually did.
“The riots made me think,” she says. “I realized that there had never been an African American or Latino on any of my crews, and only an occasional Asian, usually in camera. If I could help disadvantaged minorities get into the field, it would help the industry and help the city.”
Having worked her way up from being a PA herself, she figured she’d start with what she knew. But in those early days, she had no idea what Streetlights could turn into. “I didn’t mean to do this,” she laughs. “I loved my career, but I had to start turning down jobs to focus on Streetlights and after only a year, it was the primary thing I did.”
The other thing she hadn’t imagined was how hard it would be to find partners. But with persistence, Thompson forged connections that would pay off. One of those was with Sheldon Levy, now EVP and associate director of broadcast at Saatchi & Saatchi. Today Levy is a self-proclaimed “MOD”— “Missionary of Dorothy,” whose zeal has helped spread the word to the agency’s clients such as General Mills.
Thompson’s first request was simple: for agencies to include one Streetlights PA on their commercial shoots. But Levy took it a step further and committed to hiring two PAs and one union candidate on every Saatchi & Saatchi commercial shoot in LA. “At Saatchi & Saatchi, we wanted this to be more than a dalliance,” he says. “We created a consistent and official policy, and we made it part of our job specs—if you work with us, this is what will happen.”