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Students get a taste of behind-the-scenes Hollywood

Workshop weaves storytelling with technical skills

Jan. 29, 2013

Franklin - In the midst of the movie awards season, a group of Franklin High School students are not merely satisfied with watching films.

They want to be part of the creative process.

On Jan. 26, eight Franklin students were the majority group of 50 participants from area schools who were selected to participate in the annual Milwaukee Film Collaborative Cinema screenwriting workshop on Milwaukee's East Side.

They earned the right to be there by submitting engaging ideas that could be turned into screenplays. They were selected from a pool of 300 submitters.

Students' motivation

Students said they enjoyed the experience.

"It was interesting," said Erin Neuhenger, a junior who is editor of the school's student newspaper, "Saber Slate." "You learn how simple and elaborate a story can be.

"My favorite part was about character development because we got to learn how to develop a character over time," she said.

Neuhenger's original story was about a high school senior who is trying to write an article to get a scholarship to enter journalism school. She comes across a long-lost love letter between students in her high school's 50-year-old archives and goes about contacting and attempting to reunite the couple.

The story is somewhat inspired by Franklin School District's just-celebrated 50th anniversary and Neuhengel's intention to study broadcast journalism after high school.

Senior Evan Watter's film idea was much darker, depicting a detective investigating a group of murders in the central city who discovers the deaths are part of a government plot.

"I wanted to do something very different," Watters said. He has an interest in eventually studying history as well as broadcast communications.

He attended last year's workshop and said this year's was even more engaging.

"Our mentors were great," he said. "It really helps you write for visuals and not for the narrative."

Both Neuhenger and Watters intend to write a complete script for an upcoming workshop in March. A winning script is selected to be produced and presented at the Milwaukee Film Festival in September.

Strong curriculum

Franklin High school has been an ongoing participant in the workshop primarily due to its popular video production curriculum. Gail DeClark, one of the teachers, also has been involved in helping conduct the screenwriting workshop. She is a former professional screenwriter who worked in Los Angeles before moving to Wisconsin to raise a family.

She has been teaching for the past 15 years. This is her 11th year at Franklin High School.

"We get 160 to 190 students taking these production classes every year," DeClark said. "It has grown in popularity because the district has really supported it with the facilities and other resources."

DeClark said students have a lot of experience with technology but need work with storytelling.

"(When) kids come into the classroom they already are saturated with media," she said. "It's like trying to teach a fish to live in water. The idea is to have them stop and have them think what they are seeing, and communicating a story. They can see how (the way) a story is edited can change the feeling of that moment. It's the power of the visual medium."

Lessons learned

DeClark said even if a student does not intend to go into film-making, the classes teach valuable skills.

"The skills they learn include everything from work ethic to timeliness to having a backup plan," she said. "They also learn teamwork and leadership."

For those who do want a film career, DeClark said she warns them that it is not an easy life.

"It's a tough business," she said. "You don't necessarily work all the time or get a steady paycheck and a pension. You really need to love the work."

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