The Chatham Film Club After School Filmmaking Project Debuts Original Films by Columbia County Students

April 27, 2014

The Chatham Film Club’s real–life filmmaking experience for area middle school students is a wrap. Simultaneous after school filmmaking projects at Chatham Middle School, the Walter B. Howard Elementary School in New Lebanon and Hudson Junior High School have been produced, acted and edited into “rough cut” form from students’ original stories, and are now in post–production, with sound and music being added by teacher filmmakers Patrick Toole in Chatham and New Lebanon, and Isabel Barton in Hudson.  Sponsored by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Columbia Arts and Humanities Project and the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, after school filmmakers, who met to start their filmmaking projects the first week of March, are looking forward with great excitement to the premiere of all three original films at Chatham’s Crandell Theatre Sunday, May 4 at 1pm.  The screening is free and open to the public.

“It all starts with telling a story, and the fun part for students is it’s a story that comes out of their school experience, their lives, their sense of humor and drama,” says Chatham Film Club Board member and FilmColumbia festival director Calliope Nicholas.

Working with seasoned local filmmakers, 6–15 students in each school brainstormed a story, chose their role on set (in front of or behind the camera) and worked together after school one day a week over six weeks to produce their own short film. Filmmaker Teacher Patrick Toole describes the process as “collaborative” and adds, “Movie concepts come naturally to kids.” Chatham Middle School teacher liaison Cecilia Hetterich agrees. “The best fun was brainstorming.  Students broke up into small groups and came back with ideas for stories they wanted to tell.  We worked hard to hear every idea out.”  She adds, “It’s so exciting that this project brought together all types of kids, even those who are very shy and might never raise a hand in class.”

Fifteen Chatham students, including seventh graders Coco Carmichael, Charley Kidd, Sydney Newton, Ben Rippel, Margot Schassler, Robin Tucksmith and Emily Westover and eighth graders Jacob Avens, Laura Coe, Natalya Hebert, Riley Kidd, Eliza Klingler, Elisheva Malfatto, Madison Newton and Jackie Rickert worked with filmmaker Patrick Toole and teacher liaisons Michele Debye–Saxinger and Cecilia Hetterich to create a film about a support group for stereotypes called “Stereotypes Anonymous.”

New Lebanon sixth graders Jiana Darcy, Tiffany Eggleston, Kendra Johnson, Kassidy McGivern, Sydney Smith, TJ Smith and Sarah Williams also worked with filmmaker Patrick Toole and teacher liaison Jason Breslin to create a thriller called “After School Terror,” about a group of girls in detention who are locked into the school after hours.

New Lebanon teacher liaison Jason Breslin says, “The students had a good time writing the film and acting it out, but what really surprised us was how engaged they were with the behind the scenes stuff: running the camera, holding the bullet microphone, running sound when the camera was rolling, and editing. The kids operated the camera with Mr. Toole’s direction for every scene except the one they were all in. One week there was sunlight during filming and next week there wasn’t, so Mr. Toole had to color–correct the footage in editing; they were fascinated with that. You don’t realize how much effort goes into it. We had 6 filming sessions, a good 2–3 hours of film and several versions of each shot. Mr. Toole handled the technical part of editing into a 6–8 minute short film; the kids were adding creative input as far as what camera angle worked or what sound effect to choose.”

Hudson students including Antonia Bellamy–Talbot, Kierstin Colloton, Andrew Scott Elliott, Mackensie Everts, Christopher Gardener Jr., Gatina In–stinfil, Jordan Mignott and Ian Vitellaro, with filmmaker teacher Isabel Barton and teacher liaison Lynn Dykeman, created the film “It’s Not Over,” about a new girl trying to fit in at school.

Barton, whose feature film The Aspern Papers played the FilmColumbia festival a few years ago, comments, “This program is the only alternative to sports that the kids have after school. They wrote the screenplay together, and by the end of the first day of shooting, they were taking control of the camera, and panning; they were running the sound. These are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever run into, born directors, born writers, kids with hawk eyes for editing, for what they see in the camera. Every single decision on this movie was made by them.”

Eighth grader Eliza Klingler of Chatham, who has acted on both stage and screen during her last year at Chatham Middle School, notes that the benefit of filmmaking is retakes. “Being in front of an actual film camera is nerve–wracking and exciting,” she says, adding, “The most important thing Mr. Toole taught us is never to look at the camera.”  Ms. Klingler was absent for the final group session, during which students worked on transforming rough footage into a preliminary “cut,” so her first look at the finished movie will be on screen at the Crandell Theatre.

The community is invited to join young Columbia County filmmakers and their teachers and families for the free premiere May 4, 1pm, at the Crandell Theatre, 48 Main Street in Chatham, NY. There will be a Q&A with filmmakers after the screenings. For more information, visit www.crandelltheatre.org

The Chatham Film Club is the nonprofit, member–supported organization that owns and operates the historic Crandell Theatre and sponsors the FilmColumbia Festival, October 22–26, 2014.

Interviews and high resolution images are available. To schedule an interview with Chatham Film Club Board member and FilmColumbia Festival Director Calliope Nicholas or After School Filmmaking Project teachers Patrick Toole and Isabel Barton, contact Robyn Coe at email hidden; JavaScript is required or (818) 287–1237.