One recent event I was sorry to miss (for a profound reason) was the Pens to Lens gala May 29 at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign, when children whose screenplays had been made into movies by local filmmakers walked the red carpet into the movie house.
There they saw on a big screen what their imaginations had wrought.
Imagine how exciting that would have been for them. And what memories as well as motivations they will take with them.
Madelyn Childress, 11, saw her “Fluffystein!”, co-written with Next Generation classmates Maya Kesan and Taqia Heryadi, turned into a short by director Thomas Nicol, the subject of today’s Studio Visit on this page.
More than a week later, Madeyln had this to say about the experience: “Wow, that made me very feel very special.”
In its first year, Pens to Lens is special, too. And perhaps unique.
“I’d never heard of anything like it before,” said Nina Paley, an internationally known award-winning filmmaker who in the past year moved from New York back to her hometown of Urbana.
She did not make a short for Pens to Lens but was brought in at the last minute to judge the screenplays not transformed into cinema. (The fledgling contest drew more than 120 submissions from K-12 students.)
Paley also watched the eight Pens to Lens shorts at the gala. Aside from a couple of duds, she said, their quality was “really, really good.” She was particularly impressed with the way Andrew Stengele directed “Into the Mine,” written by Blake Primmer and Logan Lindsey of St. Joseph Middle School.
“What do you do with a script like that?” Paley asked. “What was great was the interpretations by the filmmakers. They could have been interpreted in any number of ways. When you take a screenplay written by an 8-year-old, it’s up to the filmmaker to make something watchable.”
Pens to Lens was the brainstorm of local actor William Kephart, who appears in at least one of the movies: “The Devil Uses Purell,” written by Ella Greer of Stratton Elementary, Champaign, and directed by Joe Taylor.
In a recent Facebook post, Kephart downplayed Pens to Lens having been his idea, saying other members of the C-U Film Society and Champaign Movie Makers grabbed onto the concept and ran with it.
Members of the Champaign Movie Makers directed and produced the short films, giving of their own time and money.
In at least one case, that would have been a few thousand bucks: Shatterglass Studios of Champaign hired professional child actresses from the Chicago area for “Even and Odd,” written by Iona Sofia Hopping, a student at South Side Elementary, Champaign.
Shatterglass also brought in two cattle dogs to appear in the short. Allison Ruwe of Argenta trained the excellent canine actors.
“Our crew were blown away with how good they were on set and said they were the best trained dogs they had ever seen on set,” said Brett Hays, producer at Shatterglass, an award-winning new media development and film and video production company.
Eventually, all the Pens to Lens shorts will be posted online, where I was able to see them this week via a private link.
The Champaign Movie Makers and C-U Film Society organized and presented Pens to Lens, and the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization got into the act, too: Its members created movie posters for the shorts plus 50 more screenplays that weren’t adapted into films.
A great idea!