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The Order of Oddfish

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A Hodgman near-miss, plus 90-Second Newbery three-way for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

November 2, 2011

Before we get into the 90-Second Newbery goodness: Argh, how frustrating! I leave today for New York for the events leading up to our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on Saturday at the New York Public Library. But! It turns out that today there’s a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Chicago, and I’m missing it!

Famous Minor Television Personality John Hodgman brings his tour to Chicago to promote his new book That is All (the book trailer is quite funny; and as it happens, you can see old kinda-sorta chum Ted Leo skulking around in the background). Among Hodgman’s many projects such as books and appearances as a correspondent on The Daily Show and movie cameos and Mac-vs.-PC commercials, he has an occasional podcast called “Judge John Hodgman” in which he adjudicates long-simmering disputes between friends―tricky conundra such as “Are machine guns robots?” (the guy makes a surprisingly strong case) or “Should parentheses be used in fiction?”

A while ago, my brother-in-law Chris had submitted a long-simmering dispute that we have (I won’t say what). On Halloween night Hodgman’s booker called Chris to see if we we’d like to have it settled at a LIVE “Judge John Hodgman” at the Second City when he’s in town. BUT that’s exactly when I’m out of town! Frustration! Oh well.

Anyway! Today I want to showcase three 90-Second Newbery films, all based on the same 2007 Newbery Medal winning book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. (Are you a newcomer confused as to what the “90-Second Newbery” film festival is? A complete explanation is here.)

This first one is by kids at the CAST theater group at Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, IL. Now Good Masters! consists of 22 brief monologues from the point of view of various fictional medieval characters. Many of the monologues in the book respond to and reflect on each other; often they even sound kind of like those “confessional” monologues you see on reality TV shows. Therefore, this 90-Second Newbery is done in the style of a reality TV show: “Real Housewives of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” All the dialogue is Laura Amy Schlitz’s, taken word-for-word from the book, but remixed and recut in the reality TV style:

Great performances all around! Full disclosure: I helped out with making this one, and you may recognize Freya and Erin from their work as Meg Murry and Mrs. Whatsit in the 90-Second A Wrinkle in Time that kicked off the film festival back in January. And yes, that’s the same Freya that is my niece and protégée.

Here’s another one I helped out with, this time with the story theater troupe with whom I do a monthly gig at the Schaumburg Township District Library. Again, we used the exact words from Good Masters!, but remixed, as each character talks about their job in medieval times:

Another strong entry! And for this one all I had to do was turn on the camera and let them soliloquize. Luckily, the Schaumburg library has a castle in the children’s section that we could use for the backdrop. I’ve been working with these kids for almost two years now, and we have a ball.

The last Good Masters! I want to feature today comes from Erin MacFarlane from the Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, AZ, working with students at Riverview School in El Mirage, AZ. All the students are in 6th and 7th grade. They participate in an after school program and the footage was filmed in the spring of 2011. Here the entire book of Good Masters! seems to be happening in their heads as they sit around bored during class:

Thank you, Arizona! A great one to round off the three. I like the superbrief paraphrasing for each character: “All I do is kill animals and make them into, well, purses and boots and socks.” Boiling down two pages to one sentence. That’s the 90-Second Newbery spirit!

Countdown to 90-Second Newbery screening in New York City: only 3 days away! Come, New Yorkers! Time Out New York even made it a “Critic’s Pick” for this week. How can you resist?!