Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Day 28 - The Speech

This is what I went off of as I spoke in assembly at Minnehaha today. I ad-libbed quite a bit, so it's not a verbatim copy of what was actually said, but this is at least the road map that I followed while I was talking.

[Clip #1, HP Trailer]

I've had since August or something to write this speech, so I started about 8:00 or 9:00 last night. Not because I don't care, but there's something about that last minute pressure that can really produce some great stuff.

My senior year at MA the publicity interns started making monthly comedic videos, partly to talk about what was going on in the school, mostly just to make people laugh. As the year went on, I became a recurring role, and it was a lot of fun. None of thought we'd keep making films beyond graduation, though.

That spring of my senior year, Mr Seeley played the lead in a local theatre production of the Music Man (over the same weekend we did the show here), and one of the times we went to see him I met one of his fellow actors, someone who would become one of my best friends; an actor / comedian named Matthew Feeney, who does a lot of work with independent film in Minnesota. He basically brought me in to the MN film world, and as a result I've been blessed with the chance to work behind the scenes on a bunch of local productions, including as an extras casting assistant on Prairie Home. Most of the time I work behind the scenes, every now and then I'll branch out and step in front of a camera.

But to the topic at hand. I started writing Harry Putter back in 2004, probably July or August right after graduation, after one too many comments about how much I looked like the Harry from the movies. The story's about the "real" boy, Harry Putter, upon whom JK based the books. But of course she and Warner Brother's took a lot of creative liberties, changing all the details around, so Harry wants to set the story straight.

That's the premise behind Harry Putter. It's a loving "mockumentary".

So I wrote the first draft in 2004, and then it just sort of sat. I didn't pick it up again until last January, then I just said, let's do this. Matthew agreed to produce it, he helped me get a crew together, and we shot it last summer. I really didn't know if it would turn out at all, but seeing the almost-finished product, I'm pretty happy with what we have. Personally I actually think it's funny, which is good. When we watch the two clips today, though, I'll ask you to keep in mind that we haven't finished mixing the audio or adding the soundtrack yet, so just be aware it is not totally 100% finished.

So let's go back to June 25, 2006, the first day of shooting for Harry Putter. I'm sure you all know movies aren't normally shot in sequential order, I think Putter is almost a perfect epitome of that: the very first day of shooting we shot the very last scene in the movie, and we even shot the second part of the scene first because our actor who played Draco Milfoil couldn't make it to set until later in the afternoon. We'll watch that in a minute, I just want to give some context about it first.

Harry's just gotten out of detention, and Professor Bumblesnore has sent him on a quest to get the golden snitch back from Draco and his goons. Now, if you're observant, you may notice that Draco's cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, are actually not boys, but girls named Crabby and Doily. We had 60 people come in to audition for the part of Hermione, compared to maybe a dozen for Harry. Normally not a problem, except unfortunately a lot of them were really good actors, so we ended up rewriting parts of the script and adding in more female roles so we could use some of them on camera as something other than just extras. Hence, Crabbe and Goyle became girls. With breadsticks as wands (and if you look closely you can see Harry's wand is actually a marshmallow roaster)

That's where we'll pick it up.

[Clip #2, Quidditch Field]

Some of you may have recognized that sound we used when Draco screams. There's this rather infamous scream that's been used in countless movies since the early 1950s, including every Star Wars and every Indiana Jones, called the Wilhelm scream. Actually, there's a video on YouTube that's compiled a bunch of those scenes, it's hilarious, you should watch it. The wilhelm scream is one of those sounds that, once you start listening for it, you hear it everywhere. One of my roommates was playing a video game the other day and we heard the scream in there even. We knew we had to use it in HP, so, well, there it was.

Back to Putter. This is my first "real" film, my first time directing, so on the first day of shooting I really didn't know what the heck I was doing. Honestly I didn't even remember half my actors' names that day. I remember a couple times when the DP (director of photography, he's the guy who runs the camera) would say rolling I'd wonder to myself, "why aren't the actors acting? Oh right, I need to say action".

But I eventually figured out what I was doing. Both the cast and crew were super, and I think we all really bonded over the shoot.

So we've got this film, well, almost finished. What do you do with that? We'll have a premiere, then get it put up on the website and YouTube, submit it to film festivals, and then, this summer, if all comes together, shoot number 2, "Harry Putter and the Chamber Pot of Secrets". But why? What's the point?

Partly for fun. Being on set with such an awesome group of people was a lot of fun.

Partly to give people a chance. Most of our actors were new to the camera, and it was such a rewarding feeling to be able to offer them their first role. I look at it like this: someone gave me my first chance, this is sort of my way to give that back to society.

And for me a large part of it is ministry. Okay, Harry Putter's probably not the most religious theme you can think of, but it is a stepping stone toward other projects that will be. I really feel like God put all these people, all these chances in my life for a reason, to help me grow for what I think I'm being called to as part of my ministry. When I asked Mrs Johnson if I could give this presentation, I had high hopes that I'd come up with something profound to say. That was my best attempt, I tried.

I have one last clip to show you, this one we filmed here at Minnehaha. We actually had several MA people work on the film: a few current students, a couple alumni, and one teacher, who you'll get to see in this clip playing Professor Snape. Thanks for listening everyone. Roll it.

[Clip #3, Potions Class]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Day 28

It's the big day. I give my Harry Putter presentation in front of the Minnehaha student body today. And I didn't proofread my speech yet. Fortunately giving speeches really doesn't scare me. Singing in Boys Choir in my younger years, and then doing Debate in high school, have both served to mostly remove any apprehension about speaking in front of people. Truthfully, I only got nervous once today before the big moment, and that was as I left the computer lab to go down to the chapel. For a few seconds during my walk, I felt a wash of worry, realizing, oh my, I actually need to do this! But then it passed, and from then everything just seemed to come naturally. It felt "right" when I walked onto stage and to the microphone. I won't take the credit all for myself; I know God was watching over me.

I'm not afraid of giving speeches. After having sung in the Metropolitan Boys Choir for a couple years and then doing debate in high school, I generally don't get nervous in front of a crowd. In fact, I love being a featured speaker, being given a chance to "perform", as it were. It's my chance to feel like I can make a difference, like people will listen to what I'm saying and take it to heart, like I might actually be able to affect someone's life for the better by what I say. Maybe such a feeling is really in the realm of being conceited, but I prefer to think upon it as a foundation, the existence of which will be of help to me in any public ministry I am called to do, be it from a pulpit or in the pitching of a movie script with a moral message.

The sound system played a collection of my current favorite songs while the student body streamed into the auditorium (a collection which, I feel I should mention, included two songs by Away With The Stone). After a few announcements, Nancy Johnson, the principal, introduced me. She had approached me yesterday when I was down in the officeland to ask for a brief synopsis of the film and my filmmaking experience, unless, of course, I just happened to have it written down somewhere that she could read. "Well," I replied, "it just so happens I do have it all written down on my website". Apparently she read everything on my autobiography page, and warned me that she'd found a few juicy morsels to feed the assembly as an introductory foretaste for my presentation. I use the metaphorical food language because, of course, she chose some information from my discussion about food: how I always order the same meals whenever I go to either Noodles or Taco Bell (this was said after a slightly embarrassing plug in which she encouraged people to learn more about me by reading my website). Her idea was to use food as a means of making a concrete connection between the students and me, a Minnehaha alumnus of aught-4; point being, there are similarities they can relate to, especially given that Noodles is more or less the official Minnehaha restaurant of choice among students. This introduction was even more amusing for me thanks to Jenna, next to whom I was sitting at the time. Jenna is the last remaining techie who was a student at the same time I was, so we've known each other for a long time and are very good friends. She has also been to the aforementioned restaurants with me some countless number of times, enough that she kept nodding and verbally agreeing, "yep, yep, it's true" as Nancy mentioned my favorite foods to order. At least I know that portion of my autobiography is an honest portrayal of real life.

To tangent slightly, I was surprised earlier this morning in talking to Nancy to find out [in addition to her telling me she'd found some "interesting" details she planned to share during her introduction] that she hadn't realized the extent that my faith plays an important role in my life. In all truthfulness, this was a not-so-pleasant shocker to me, because in a very real sense it means I have not been living out loud in the way I have desired, despite thinking that I've been "doing well". That conversation has been on my mind a lot, and I'm sure it will continue to be.

Introduction concluded, the big moment finally arrived. To applause, I stepped onto stage, the lights faded, and the recently completely trailer for Harry Putter played on the screen. Oh my goodness, it sounded so awesome with the subs right next to me on stage. The clip finished and I approached the podium, ready to do my thing.

My speech sat there, waiting patiently for me to read it. And I think, if I may say so myself, that I did well as presenter. I did not merely read from my script, I ad-libbed a lot, a decision which allowed me to maintain a great amount of eye contact with the invisible crowd (because the lights were down, remember) rather than worry about each specific word. God kept me fluent, and I didn't really stumble; of course, I think it may have helped that I was talking about me and my own project, so I know the material pretty well. In any case, though, not reading from a piece of paper keeps the presentation more lively and exciting for the audience–this I know from listening to too many boring speeches being read in monotone.

I'm amazed at how well everything went. As far as I can tell, people paid attention, and they laughed at the "right" times during the two clips from the movie that I showed, so that's a good sign. (The movie looked great on the big screen, too; and I'm really glad I did that little bit of last minute sound and color correction last night).

Apparently I talked quietly; one of my former teachers saw me later in the day and said she'd never known that I was so soft-spoken. I didn't either, but it was another conscious decision I'd made going into the speech, of how I would speak. Honestly, I was trying to imitate one of my role models who has a very calm, soothing, reassuring voice when he speaks. My thought process could also be summarized like this: "Adam's cool, I want to be cool, I'll adopt this mannerism of his in the hopes of gaining some coolness".

And apparently, to some degree, it worked. This was written tomorrow by one of the teachers:

"First of all, thank you for a terrific convocation yesterday. It is rare that someone as softspoken as you could have the rapt attention of 500 post-break high school students. I loved the fact that you never had to raise your voice to command their attention. And then, of course, the content was fascinating and your film clips delightful. (I have to admit that I doubled over during the infamous Dinardo wink!) Congratulations on the near completion of your film and good luck as you bring it forward."

I heard similar reactions from more than a few others throughout the day, in addition to comments about how "amazing" the film looked and also how proud they are of what I'm doing with my life. I even got a "good job" from the one person I was really concerned wouldn't think the film was funny at all, but he was one of the first, immediately after chapel, to approach me with the compliment; that was a day-making highlight for me.

I'm so thankful I had this opportunity to talk not only about my film, but also a little about how I see God working through that, even in something as secular as a Harry Potter parody. Thank you God. And of course I'm also very thankful that there were no surprises from the tech side of things: everything worked, which was a huge relief.

After chapel I was approached by two girls who'd seen Nathan Shrake, my Harry, in "High School: The Musical", and wanted to know how on earth I'd got him for my film. They definitely had star crushes, which was amusing. I offered, and who knows, they may end up working on HP2 this summer. Later in the day another girl bumped into me in the library and complimented me on a job well done, and mentioned she'd actually been in the musical with Nate, which was a cool connection to make. I've seen her act at MA before, and I hope she'll come in to audition for HP2.

Patrick and I took some time away from campus for McDonald's lunch to catch up on life, work, and everything. Seems we both have a lot going on, which is interesting if only to note that apparently life doesn't get any less hectic once I'm out of school. After lunch we took a detour to a CompUSA. This was most definitely a surprise to me, since I thought they'd all closed by now, and I still had a gift card to use up. Unfortunately, even with their sale going on, everything was still vastly overpriced, which was terribly disappointing. I eventually found a couple DVDs I thought I needed, just to use up the gift card. $5 out of pocket for three DVDs isn't terrible.

We got back to campus and I got another surprise: a malfunctioning iBook from a teacher... and I couldn't fix it. The machine wouldn't boot; it would just turn off in the middle of starting up. I did all the normal troubleshooting tricks, zapping the PRAM, fscking in single user mode, target disk booting, but it never booted reliably, and worse I couldn't even get the files off because it wouldn't stay turned on in target mode. Tomorrow Duane figured out it must be a heat thing (which, in my defense, had been my guess).

Time to go home, and right as I got home, it started raining. Perfect timing really, because I was just putting the key in the door as the raindrops started speckling the sidewalk. I closed off my day with dinner and some Joan of Arcadia (surprise, surprise). One of the episodes I watched, though, had a real life tie in for me, because about two minutes in God shows up as a street musician playing Joan Osborne's "One of Us" (the show theme song) on His guitar. So I thought to myself, I wonder if I can play that? As it turns out, I can; the chords I found are the same as Living Water (which one of my current favorite songs, and also one of the easiest I've learned to play), just with a capo on fret 2. Way cool.