Westwood High students create movie, one piece at a time

Westwood High students create movie, one piece at a time

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Westwood High School students film and act in a scene for a student-written and produced film they will complete in May. Read MyNewsMesa.com to learn the premiere date. (Jeff Hall/Special to MyNewsMesa.com)

Picture a handmade quilt.

Westwood High School social studies teacher Darren Hiebel makes a cameo appearance as a patient in a student film. Hiebel and the students borrowed space at the Banner Simulation Center in Mesa to film a portion of their movie. Keep reading MyNewsMesa.com for more details about the student film, including the date of its premiere. (Jeff Hall/Special to MyNewsMesa.com)

Think about all of the steps that went into creating it.

Someone had an idea for a pattern. Someone found various colors and patterns of fabric. Someone cut that fabric into the correct sizes to create the intended design. Someone kept track of which piece would go where in the final product. Someone found the proper thread and backing material.

Sure, that someone may have been a single person, but more likely it was a group effort.

And, that’s exactly the process students at Westwood High School in Mesa are using, teacher Jeff Hall said. Except they aren’t creating a quilt. Rather, they’re making a movie. Yeah, a real, original-script movie, Hall said.

Students collaborated every step of the way to first develop an idea for the script, to write it, to edit it, to revise it, to choose directors, to find actors, choreographers and costume designers, to find music, to recruit other students to film it, to convince students to build the set, to find students to promote and market it.

“The pieces are here,” Hall said of the movie project. “We just have to find them.”

Relying on history for inspiration

The film’s concept came about pretty easily, Hall said. Students in his humanities creative writing class came up with the idea and wrote the script.

After reading the screenplay for “The Breakfast Club,” the students decided to adapt that 1980s coming-of-age movie that spurred the careers of Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. The 1985 movie followed five teens in a Saturday detention. They were each members of a different high school clique, but learned there was more to each of them than their respective stereotypes.

The Westwood students named their film “The Graduates.” The storyline follows five seniors who pull a prank on a teacher.

The fictional teacher “is awful” to her students, Hall said. In spite of that, she’s been nominated for the “teacher of the year” award.

So, her students secretly film her “being mean to the students,” and share the video. To retaliate, the teacher attempts to prevent the five students from graduating.

Like “The Breakfast Club,” the script for “The Graduates” shows that stereotypes aren’t true, Hall said.

He’s already seen the stereotypes breaking down in his class as the students collaborate on the film.

“People leave stuff at the door and I see bits and pieces of students come out,” Hall said.

Hall says all three of the script writers – Angel Hamilton, Brianna Rutledge and Taylor Cipolla – “are better writers than I am.”

The girls are obviously into crafting the words for the screenplay.

“I love the characters and the movie,” Hamilton said of “The Graduates.” She’s grown especially fond of “Alice,” who she says she can relate to. “Alice is based on the freak of the school. I was always the freak. I love the character.” So much so that Hamilton tried out for the part of Alice, but another student was cast in that role.

Hamilton is also intrigued with putting the twist of social media and technology into the movie, things that didn’t exist in 1985 when “The Breakfast Club” was filmed.

“Today kids have technology that’s so far advanced. I thought of that as a key piece of the movie – how far we’ve come,” Hamilton said.

In fact, Cipolla said, the technology aspect for the prank wasn’t ever doubted. Students filming and sharing such a video “is natural, expected” today, she said.

All of the students in Hall’s class helped write the script, with the three girls combining all the pieces. They acknowledged that it was tough to put all those pieces together.

The scenes were split and assigned to writing teams, Hall said. On their own, each team figured out how to do their part.

The students learned that “everyone has some creativity in them,” Cipolla said.

They also had to learn how to be the voice of someone else.

“I had to think about what adults think and say,” Rutledge said.

Teamwork is essential

While getting the script written was a marathon, the race doesn’t end there.

The directors have to continue carrying the relay baton to the end.

Those directors come from teacher Carl Ross’s advanced video production class at Westwood.

One of the directors, Jesus Vera, said being involved in the film “ignited something in him,” and he now wants to learn more about the film process.

He need only look to Hall who focused on film studies as a student at Arizona State University.

“My dream was to be a filmmaker,” Hall said, “but it took me becoming a teacher to make it happen.”

Because he’s lucky enough to work at Westwood, a high school he calls “a tech trailblazer,” Hall knew he’d be able to pull off a student-produced movie.

At every level, all along the way, people at the school and with Mesa Public Schools have supported the project, he said.

Hall believes the project will help students develop skills such as problem solving, collaboration and communication, all of which will help them succeed as adults.

He also is hopeful it inspires students to continue to create.

The movie is to premiere in late May. The exact date and location haven’t been finalized yet, Hall said. He’s been talking with area business owners, including Michael Pollack, owner of Pollack Tempe Cinemas, about the possibility of the film being shown at his theater.

“After he sees it he will consider letting us show it,” Hall said of Pollack.

Plans also call for some sort of social media release of the film, Hall said. Those details haven’t been ironed out yet.

Updates about the project can be viewed at westwoodfilmstudio.com.

Students are raising money via a GoFundMe account at gofundme.com/westwoodfilm. Any proceeds from the movie will be used to fund future student film projects.

– Shelley Ridenour is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.

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