Westbrook-Walnut Grove students get visit from director/producer
WESTBROOK -- As students in other schools went about their normal classes, a dozen or so kids at Westbrook-Walnut Grove (W-WG) High School were working on a different kind of project with a special guest teacher.
They made movies with the help of Richard Lewis, renowned producer/director. Lewis was the producer of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" for nine years, and director of "Barney's Version," which starred Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman and Minnie Driver and netted an Academy Award win for Giamatti.
Lewis first came to the Westbrook area 15 years ago while scouting a location for a movie that was in the works that would have starred Reese Witherspoon. Because another actor backed out, the financing fell apart and the movie never got made, but a friendship did.
W-WG teacher Carolyn Enstad and her family got to know Lewis during his scouting trip, and several years later he came back and helped with a filmmaking workshop. The friendship remained strong, and this was Lewis' fifth trip to Westbrook.
"I love it here," Lewis said earlier this week. "I love offering these kids a piece of something outside of Minnesota."
He takes a model of exactly how filmmaking works -- picking a story, creating a screenplay, scouting locations, casting, filming and editing -- and makes a micro version into a learning session that lasts several days.
"Development, pre-production, production and post-production," he explained. "The kids are so into it. They love it."
It isn't all about the kids, Lewis admitted.
"I get excited about the creative process all over again," he said. "There is an adrenaline rush that comes with creativity."
Lewis spends time working with the classes, but he also took the time for a question-and-answer session with a larger group of students, relating information about his latest project -- a sports-type movie about the Inuit people in a small town playing lacrosse -- and his experiences working with Hoffman and Giamatti.
He also stressed the importance of exploring the world, creating through pictures and film.
"I encourage all of you to get out and try things," he told the students. "Right now is the time to explore."
While still in school is a great time to explore their inner worlds, because fascinating stories can come out anywhere, he explained.
He even told the students not to become actors and musicians -- in a way.
"Don't do it!" he stated emphatically. "Unless it's the one thing you have to do."
A career in film takes a long time to cultivate, he admitted, and anyone that gives the illusion of becoming famous overnight is doing just that -- showing an illusion.
"Making the connections, making it, takes at least 12 years," he stated. "And for those of you willing to try it, you have to have a lot of faith."
And when you get there, never ask for exactly what you want, because that's all you'll ever get.
"Be open, because everyone will bring something of their own to the table," he explained. "Negotiate and compromise."
Compromise is one thing the students are learning as they work on their projects, "The Painting" and "The Meeting." The first is based on a short story written by another student. The kids had to adapt the story to a screenplay, and change a couple of scenes for a couple of reasons.
"There's one part of the story when the main character goes to the hospital, but we can't afford to go to the hospital," Lewis said. "We have too many locations already."
The second movie is based on a story the students told, and while Lewis had the group of kids on the stage telling their peers about the project, new ideas started flowing regarding a logistics problem they had been struggling to solve. Lewis' passion was palpable as he and the students suddenly turned the presentation into a brain storming session for a few brief moments.
Later, under questioning from the audience, Lewis admitted that making TV shows and movies are two completely different things, but both satisfying.
"Movies are like a really good big meal," he stated. "TV is more like a really good hamburger at a fast food joint."
He was also asked who his favorite actor is at the moment.
"Um, wow," he said, stopping in his tracks for a moment, then resuming his habitual pacing around the stage of the auditorium. "That's a really hard question. I guess, well... It's Paul Giamatti!"
Lewis was scheduled to head back to California Friday, but Enstad isn't too worried. Lewis, who actually carries the title of honorary staff at WWG, will keep in touch.
"When he leaves I'll be sad," she admitted. "But I know he'll be back."