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The Order of Oddfish


Back From Summer Hiatus! And 90-Second Newberys from Chicago Filmmakers Camp

September 3, 2015

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CHICAGOANS! As every year, this Friday (9/4) at 7pm I’m emceeing the annual Adult Spelling Bee at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. With returning co-emcees, the erudite Robbie Q. Telfer and the hilarious Kelsie Huff. TRUST ME EVERY YEAR THIS IS SO MUCH FUN. Space for competitors is limited, so call (773.293.2665) or email (words@bookcellarinc.com) to reserve your spot!

Ahhh! Back from a relaxing, creative, and productive summer, and ready to face this autumn head on. Hard to believe that in a few short weeks this sweltering summer Chicago will soon be an icebound winter hellscape. Must start preparing myself psychologically now!

And also start preparing for the FIFTH ANNUAL 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Don’t know what it is? It’s a video contest I founded in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds, often with some crazy or humorous twist. We screen the best movies at big annual showings in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, Portland, and Tacoma . . . and this year we’re adding San Antonio and Rochester, NY! (Go here to check out some previous standout entries.)

This summer, filmmaker Joseph Lewis (of Elephant and Worm Educational Theater Company fame; he’s helped kids make many a good 90-Second Newbery) led a bunch of 10-13 year olds in a summer movie-making camp at Chicago Filmmakers. The kids made 90-Second Newberys, and they are quite impressive!

For instance, look, JUST LOOK at their take on William Steig’s 1983 Honor Book Dr. Desoto, which in its original form is a cute picture book about a mouse dentist and his loyal, resourceful wife who must fix the teeth of a fox who wants to eat them. This group had the genius idea to do it as a horror movie . . . and make the wife into a much more sinister character!

First off, great work by the set designers, props department, costumers, and sound effects people. I loved how the movie so convincingly portrayed a dentist’s office even though the group had no access to a real dentist’s office, with relevant sound effects (that drill!), an artful rearrangement of chairs and desks, some strategically placed signs, a few insert shots of dental equipment—that’s some resourceful filmmaking right there!

I love how the movie established the “hugeness” of the fox, with the earthquake effect and roar and the reaction shot and the green screen of the fox in front of the buildings. And effective mood-setting with the use of ominous music plus foreground/background focus switching. I kept wondering “How are they going to show Dr. DeSoto inside the fox’s mouth?” and when the movie pulled it off with green screen I was like “yes!” The twist of DeSoto’s wife tricking Dr. DeSoto into getting eaten so she can keep the gold tooth, and then blaming it all on the fox, was an inspired alternate ending twist for the story. And the script, ludicrous and witty. “The tooth hurts.” “De-Soto . . . de-licious.” And the added subplot of “Officer Harrison” chasing the hooked-hand guy was cleverly woven throughout. Fantastic!

The next movie is based on Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together . . . but with a KILLER CYBORG twist:

The introductory slow scary prowl down the hallway with the sudden Cyborg Frog bursting out of the curtains totally worked. The line “depressed eggs” were quite funny. I also liked the line “for how long have you had that mustache?” And how, on their walk, how Toad skips and Frog just trudges. “It’s so windy that my coat blew away”—nice continuity error cover-up! And good special effect for when they’re running. But of course the special effects REALLY get good when they’re fighting—the flying arm! the background animations! SO awesome. And walking into the watermarked YouTube sunrise at the end is Tim-and-Eric-worthy. Outstanding!

But we’re not done with Frog and Toad Together yet. Here’s another take on the same book, with a more musical angle:

I liked how “Growing Down 4 Real” starts with a gentle guitar-ish vibe and then jumps into the hip-hop style. Nice touches: kicking the camera, rapping in front of the graffiti-tagged wall, and especially the line “I’ll put it in my hair—don’t touch me!” And the melancholy rap at the end over the credits worked. The audio was crisp and understandable—this group obviously put a lot of love and effort into the lyrics and the recording! Great work!

And last but not least of a strong group of movies, here’s Lois Lowry’s 1995 Medal Winner The Giver—but done in a post-apocalyptic style:

Sometimes it’s fun and refreshing, like this, when the 90-Second Newbery adaptation just ditches the original story entirely at a certain point, and just goes off on its own weird tangent. The keyhole on the back of her neck was inventive and cool! Good choices on the robot-shutdown sound-effect, and motor starting up sound-effect when the robot is turned up. And the bump-bump-BOOOOOM at the end was amusing. Love the synchronized dancing at the end over the credits too. Veers pretty far from the book? Yes. Entertaining? Double yes!

Thanks, attendees of the Chicago Filmmakers 2015 summer camp, for these great entries, and thanks Joseph Lewis for leading the camp! For the rest of you, the deadline for this year’s movies—December 14, 2015—is coming faster than you might expect. Make those movies now, while the weather still holds!

90-Second Newbery on KidLit TV, Good Conversations Podcast, and at San Antonio Bibliotech

April 13, 2015

Thanks Rocco Staino and all the good folks at KidLit TV for having me on their show to talk about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival back when we did the screening in New York back in March! You can watch the episode above.

I was also recently on Tim Podell’s “Good Conversations” podcast, talking up the film festival. I had the good fortune to meet Tim right after the New York screening. He’s had some great children’s writers on his podcast, like Richard Peck and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It was an honor to be on! You can listen to my episode here.

I also recently spoke to folks about the 90-Second Newbery in San Antonio, Texas:
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This was all arranged through Bibliotech, an inspiring and innovative “digital library” in San Antonio. I had the pleasure of meeting Judge Nelson Wolff, Laura Cole, Christa Aldrich, and all the folks behind Bibliotech’s success and speak to teachers, librarians, parents, and kids about making their own 90-Second Newbery movies. In fact, the kids at Bibliotech have already made their own 90-Second Newbery of Linda Sue Park’s classic 2002 Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard, and it’s delightful! Check it out:

Thanks, Bibliotech! I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from Texas this year!

90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2015: New York City and Brooklyn!

March 18, 2015

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The 90-Second Newbery relies on donations to keep going. Be a peach and make a tax-deductible donation to the 90-Second Newbery here.

We finally wrapped all the screenings of the FOURTH ANNUAL 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Our last shows of the year were in New York City, back-to-back at the New York Public Library (March 7) and the Brooklyn Public Library (March 8).

First, the NYPL! Thanks to Anna Taylor and Gretchen Kolderup for setting everything up, and to Glenn and Zach for taking care of the audiovisual side. Big eternal gratitude to superlibrarian Betsy Bird, who helped get this off the ground at the NYPL in the first place—and a few days ago she also blogged about some notable 90-Second Newbery entries here. Also thanks to Publishers Weekly for doing a nifty article about the film festival!

And of course tremendous thanks to my talented, enthusiastic, and fantastically dressed co-host, author Ame Dyckman (Wolfie the Bunny, Boy + Bot, Tea Party Rules) who really brought her A-game for the opening song-and-dance, in which the 90-Second Newbery gets shortened to a 7-second Newbery Vines . . . and then to 1-second Newbery movies . . . and then a negative 6-second Newbery, until space-time is broken and we hurtle through a singularity, retroactively obliterating the Newbery medal itself and all the books to which it has been rewarded, only to confront John Newbery himself, who teaches us how to save the Newbery from the space-time wormhole we’ve created, by singing and dancing in a thoroughly silly way:

One of the best things about hosting the live 90-Second Newbery screenings is that I get to meet the filmmakers themselves! Here I am with multi-year 90-Second Newbery veterans Madison and Ella Ross and their friends from Rochester, New York:

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The Ross’ idea this year? To do Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal winner The Whipping Boy in a unique style: they challenged themselves to write the script such that every line of dialogue is a question. Does it work? It does! Extra points for the appropriate “Who’s Crying Now” background music:

I loved that question mark after the “aahhhhhh!”

Madison helps out as a counselor at Rochester Community Television’s summer moviemaking camp, which every year makes really amazing 90-Second Newberys. Here’s one of the few we showed in New York, a rather snarky and funny take on Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal winner Bridge to Terabithia. Were you surprised, when you first read the book, that Leslie died? What, you were? Didn’t you notice all the OMINOUS FORESHADOWING?

Very, very funny. Great job!

There are many other movies I showed at the New York screening, such as the Tredyffrin Library’s humans-dressed-as-Legos version of Tomie dePaolo’s 2000 Honor Book 26 Fairmount Avenue, Haverhill, Massachusetts’ Consentino School’s “gangsta” version of Lois Lowry’s 1995 Medal winner The Giver as well as Mineola, New York’s Jillian Parrino’s stop-motion version of the same book, and RCTV’s cowboy version of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 Medal winner The Westing Game, known of course as “The Wild Wild Westing Game.” And let’s not forget multi-year veteran Mohana Buckley’s stop-motion version of Elizabeth Enright’s 1939 Medal winner Thimble Summer.

On to the screening at the Brooklyn Public Library! Thanks to Paquita Campoverde and Jennifer Thompson for setting it all up, and Brandon and Marissa for helping me the day of the event.

And special thanks to bestselling author Peter Larengis (The 39 Clues, the Seven Wonders of the World series) who took time out of his busy touring schedule to co-host the screening with me:

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Look at that groovy robe! Peter says it’s from mid-20th century Japan. Stylish! It turns out that Peter is also an experienced actor and song-and-dance man, and he and I rehearsed and rehearsed the opening number until it SHONE LIKE A DIAMOND. Naturally, no video exists. But trust me, it was great!

It was the Brooklyn Public Library who did this very entertaining movie of Christopher Paul Curtis’ 2000 Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy, in the style of a Depression-era movie:

Impressive! I like the sepia-toned, old-tymey look of it, and the music choices were spot-on. The sped-up footage of Bud running when on the lam and going to Grand Rapids were funny, and I was particularly amused by that fight scene—those two kids really didn’t want to hit each other! And of course solid acting all the way through, from the exasperation of Herman Calloway to the fierce tenacity of Bud to the craziness of Lefty.

We also screened this one by Jess and Sacha Williams, Polly Horvath’s 2002 Honor Book Everything on a Waffle in the style of a cooking show:

What a perfect idea to do that recipe-laden book in the style of a cooking show! The costumes and acting were great—I especially liked the daffy way Miss Perfidy says “I’m making tea biscuits!” and how Uncle Jack and the truck driver looked delightfully insane. And “these look like toes” made me laugh too!

Thanks so much for all the young filmmakers who came out to the screenings at the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. Heck, thanks to all the kids who participated in the 90-Second Newbery this year, and the adults who helped them and cheered them on. It’s never to early to get cracking on next year’s entry! Deadline is December 14, 2015 but you can submit anytime! You can find all the rules and details at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival website.

And finally, let’s wrap it up with one last montage of the New York screenings:

See you next year!

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