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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Early Entries!

October 28, 2015

It’s never too early to start submitting your videos for the FIFTH ANNUAL 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! The final deadline is January 10, 2016 but we’ve already received many top-notch entries.

For instance, check out the above from the Schaumburg Township District Library in suburban Chicago. Every year I hang out with the teens at the Schaumburg Library to help them make their 90-Second Newbery, because they’re a great group to work with. And this year, they chose to adapt Beverly Cleary’s 1978 Honor Book Ramona and Her Father.

Schaumburg always puts a crazy twist on the material. Two years ago it was The Whipping Boy done in the style of Star Wars, complete with light sabers and space battles. Last year it was Charlotte’s Web done in the style of a horror movie that was actually kind of legitimately scary!

This year they audaciously decided to adapt Ramona and Her Father in the style of PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING—complete with bombastic smack talk, crazy staged violence, and over-the-top attitude. This video answers the question: what if the Quimby family’s problems strained them to the point where everyday life turns into a neverending raucous brawl? Complete with flamethrowers, exploding pumpkins, and bonus points for Picky-Picky, the Quimby’s terrifying cat! Admittedly a bit longer than 90 seconds, but I promise you, you’ve never seen Ramona and Her Father like this!

Our next movie today is by Max K., one of my students back in 2013 when I taught a “90-Second Newbery” class at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. You can see the movies from that summer here; among other roles, Max shines as the French mouse taunting Elmer/King Arthur in the Monty-Python-flavored adaptation of My Father’s Dragon.

Here Max tackles Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal winner The Giver, giving it a great mixed-media, stop-motion collage montage:

One of the most fascinatingly abstract 90-Second Newberys I’ve ever received! The animated stones and chess pieces were inspired. I liked how Max represented the dialogue with text onscreen. The crazy barrage of images ending with a nuclear blast was awesome and overwhelming. I like how the only two places that had sound were the nuclear explosion and the song at the end! I also appreciated all the careful little touches, like how the “a” letters in the name turned red at in the title. The story is told with rapid efficiency, with good use of intertitles and onscreen dialogue! The chase scene at the end was epic. And I loved the “diverse” place Jonas finds at the end!

Next up is Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal winner The One and Only Ivan, written, directed, and edited by 10-12-year-olds Stephanie C., Maria M., Youssef Z., and Sarah Z., at North Andover CAM, a community television station in Massachusetts, with their coordinator Tiffany Begin-Stearns (who takes on the role of Stella here; “a challenge,” Tiffany wrote, “since my construction paper ears and trunk kept falling off”):

The “elephant” costumes were adorable—really, all the costumes were great!—and the green screen work was resourceful. I also liked the way the bear was manipulated puppet-style, very clever! The hash marks counting off the days in the zoo behind him was an inspired touch too. I liked the way the elephant ears comically flopped forward right before Stella’s death, and the record-scratch before she gave her final wish. The narrator was really expressive—indeed, all the acting felt committed and enthusiastic! Good musical and sound effects cues throughout, too. That always helps a lot. I particularly liked how the movie went to black and white for the memory-in-the-jungle anecdote (and I was amused at how the truck was helpfully labeled “TRUCK”). Good fast-forward for when Ivan is producing the art. I liked how it kept switching up the variety of shots for visual interest in almost every scene. All in all: a fantastic job! Thanks, North Andover!

Next up is Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s 1968 Honor book The Egypt Game, as adapted by Friends Central School in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania:

I appreciated the believable and amusing acting throughout (especially when the kid was yelling for his squid Security!), and the resourceful use of green screen mixed with real sets. Good use of montage in the clean-up scene! And the switch to black and white and the big black sheet coming on worked really well. Great summary of the story. I love this book, and I loved this adaptation!

This last one is from my neck of the woods, in good old Chicago. It’s by the kids at the Latin School’s after school club, facilitated by Ms. Gall and Mr. Sutton, and it’s their take on 2015 Honor book El Deafo (which happens to be the ABSOLUTE FAVORITE BOOK of my 6-year-old and 4-year-old daughters):

I loved how they replicated design elements of the graphic novel, such as having everyone wear the bunny ears and including word balloons. All throughout El Deafo, the heroine is trying to decide who she prefers as a best friends, and so this movie smartly repackages the story as a kind of political campaign by the various friends, vaunting their qualifications for the job. Many creative and enjoyable choices in the cinematography and how the story was presented, like when the kids pop out from behind Cece yelling “Me!” or how the movie slowed down for the “Nooooo!” The barfing scene was resourcefully done, too—I always love me a good barfing scene! I like how this group took the time to choose the right music for each part and also choose the appropriate costumes. The script was tight and told the story efficiently and amusingly, and with a great twist! And the way Cece was “flying” at the end was hilarious!

Thanks, everyone, for these early entries to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! I’m looking forward to a great year of movies!

5th Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings (and new deadline: 1/10/2016)!

October 21, 2015

Here are the screening dates for the FIFTH ANNUAL 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! We’ll be in TEN cities this year, from New York to San Francisco, from Chicago to San Antonio! Complete showtimes and locations below. Thanks especially to my co-hosts, authors Peter Lerangis, Torrey Maldonado, Kelly Barnhill, Keir Graff, and Marcus Ewert.

(The 90-Second Newbery is an annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds. The filmmakers are encouraged to put their own weird spin on the material—for example, check out the above Charlotte’s Web, adapted in the style of a horror movie! Complete information about the 90-Second Newbery here.)

Deadline extension! Want to create a movie, but don’t feel you have the time? We have officially extended the movie submission deadline to January 10, 2016.

Here are the screening dates. (Want to bring the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival to your city? Every year we expand into more cities! Drop me a line at kennedyjames@gmail.com.)

90-Second Newbery 2016 Schedule
All screenings are free.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Special deadline for submissions for the special San Antonio screening (general deadline for the rest of the cities is January 10, 2016).

Sunday, January 9, 2016
The SAN ANTONIO screening at the Tobin Center. Produced in cooperation with Bibliotech, Bexar County’s Digital Library. 3-5 pm.

Sunday, January 10, 2016
GENERAL DEADLINE for submissions to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

Sunday, January 31, 2016
The CHICAGO SCREENING at the Vittum Theater (1012 N Noble St, Chicago, 773-342-4141). 3-5 pm. Co-hosted by me and author/Booklist editor Keir Graff (The Other Felix).

Saturday, February 13, 2016
The OAKLAND, CA SCREENING at the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave, Oakland, CA). 12-1 pm.

Saturday, February 13, 2016
The SAN FRANCISCO SCREENING at the San Francisco Public Library main library (100 Larkin St.) 3-4 pm. Co-hosted by me and author Marcus Ewert (10,000 Dresses, Mummy Cat).

Saturday, February 20, 2016
The TACOMA, WA SCREENING at the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Ave S). 3-5 pm, but come early for the 2:15 reception!

Sunday, February 21, 2016
The PORTLAND, OR SCREENING at Portland Community Media (2766 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Portland, Oregon). 3-5 pm.

Saturday, February 27, 2016
The MINNEAPOLIS SCREENING at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Niccolet Mall, Minneapolis, MN). In Pohlad Hall auditorium. 3-4:30 pm. Co-hosted by me and author Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy).

Saturday, March 5, 2016
The NEW YORK CITY SCREENING at the NYPL main branch (Stephen A. Schwarzman building, 5th Ave at 42nd St). 3-5 pm. Co-hosted by me and author Peter Lerangis (Seven Wonders series, 39 Clues).

Sunday, March 6, 2016
The BROOKLYN, NY SCREENING at the Brooklyn Public Library. Co-hosted by me and author Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays).

Sunday, April 3, 2016
The ROCHESTER, NY SCREENING at the Dryden Theater at the Eastman House (900 East Ave). 2-4 pm.

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!

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