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90-Second Newbery 2017: CHICAGO

April 3, 2017

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

On Saturday, April 1, my co-host Keir Graff and I brought the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival back home to Chicago, at the Vittum Theatre. Above are (most of) the local young filmmakers who contributed to the show. It was a great crowd, an exhilarating afternoon.

Especially because my daughter Lucy made her stage debut! Check out the video of the opening skit below, in which Keir and I learn what most Newbery-winning books have in common: the mawkish/gruesome inclusion of a dead animal. We discover a device that produces guaranteed-Newbery-winning manuscripts, but at the price that an actual animal must die. Lucy plays the volunteer from the audience whose pet bunny “Fluffles” is the victim of our scheme. Then Keir and I launch into the opening number from “Hamilton” with a 90-Second Newbery twist:

Great job, Lucy! Just for reference, here’s what Lucy looked like almost eight years ago. She’s grown!

So, let’s get to this year’s local movies. This year saw the triumphant return of Fuzzy Pizza Productions to the 90-Second Newbery, adapting Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book Sign of the Beaver:

As the judges said in the full review on the 90-Second Newbery website, “One of the best 90-Second Newberys ever . . . I love the way the father willfully misinterprets all the plot points so that they have to be about beavers . . . Great art and animation all throughout!” You owe it to yourself to check out all the 90-Second Newberys over the years by the multitalented Zenz family. (They had a great children’s books blog going for a while, and the father Aaron Zenz is an amazing picture book author too.)

Next up: Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet by Charlie of Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park, IL. Here, this gritty tale of how a boy must survive alone in the wilderness after a plane crash, with only a hatchet for help, is given a modern twist: it’s Hatchet in virtual reality!

As the judges said, “Hilarious. I love the visuals of Charlie bumping around in his house with the virtual-reality headset on. Each scene expertly builds the comedy . . . Big laughs, loved it!”

That’s not the only version of Hatchet we received this year. Here’s the same story, but adapted with a horror-movie twist, by the Youth Media Program at Chicago Filmmakers Moviemaking Camp:

According to the judges, it was “a stroke of brilliance to adapt it in the style of a horror movie! What’s more horrifying than being trapped alone in the wilderness? And I like how the premise extends to everything: the ominous black-and-white effect used throughout, the terrifying mother (and the foreboding repetition of “future danger”), and the scary music inside the plane . . . and that ending credits sequence was super impressive!”

(Chicago Filmmakers Moviemaking Camp also did an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars, which you can see here.)

Last year Corbin Stanchfield of Indiana turned in an all-time 90-Second Newbery classic with his adaptation of Shiloh with the dog replaced with a bagel. This year he’s back with an adaptation of Gennifer Choldenko’s 2005 Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts:

The judges loved this one too: “Hilarious idea to do the book in the form of a cheesy 1980s-style commercial! . . . the bloviating low-rent huckster version of Al Capone in this video is a fantastic comic creation.”

How about last year’s Newbery Medal winner, Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street? We’ve got a great musical version of it, by Spencer of Highland Park, IL:

The judges were also enthusiastic about this one: “Amazing! A new approach to the 90-Second Newbery, fun and well-executed! I like the way that you played all the parts of the song yourself, with voice and manual percussion on loop, and then sped up the whole thing. The lyrics summed up the story elegantly and they fit perfectly into the song . . . So much fun, joyful and goofy and well-crafted!”

Here’s another movie by a 90-Second Newbery veteran from Chicago, Ada Grey. Every year Ada makes elaborate Playmobil mise-en-scenes that tell the stories of the books, with her narrating the story in voiceover. This year she adapted Amy Timblerlake’s 2014 Honor Book One Came Home:

The judges praised this one as “Ambitious and technically innovative . . . The sets were beautiful and elaborate, especially the nighttime ones with the glowing stars and the artfully deployed lightning and shadows . . . Great movie!”

You can see Ada Grey’s other 90-Second Newbery movies here, and check out her progress in the Chicago theater scene (with reviews of various shows, and her own budding acting career!) at Adagrey.com.

Next up is the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, as adapted by by Steve, Meg, Lucie, and John:

The judges gave high marks to this one too: “A standout entry, beautifully well done! The banjo music in the background throughout set a rambling-but-peppy mood. Excellent visual storytelling, the movie really gets across the events of the narrative in a compelling way without a single word . . . It was also a cool moment when the bird flew away with the cookies, and eventually perched at the top of the Sears Tower!”

Frog and Toad Together was also adapted by Newbery veteran Ava Levine (check out her earlier entries here). Her twist? Do do them in the style of Seinfeld! Here are the vignettes “The List” and “The Garden” from the book:

The judges’ remarks for “The List” and “The Garden” praise the use of “traditional Seinfeld bass-slap music and laugh tracks and sitcom-style credits . . . the script follows the plot of the story accurately while still giving it ridiculous sitcom twists . . . Funny, creative, well done!”

Next up is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1941 Honor Book The Long Winter as adapted by Hazel, Violet, Nora, and Devin. Last year the same group adapted On the Banks of Plum Creek . . . I hope they eventually make movies of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books!)

So quoth the judges: “A superior adaptation of the book! I liked the repeated use of footage of an actual blizzard . . . That was a fun scene when all the girls all broke down crying, and then whooped with joy when Pa came back, and then all screamed in horror again when they saw there was no candy left for them. Really great acting throughout!”

Cynthia Kadohata’s 2005 Medal Winner Kira-Kira was adapted by Kathrine, Valentina, Liza, and Aaron of the Niles Public Library:

As the judges said, “Beautiful and ingenious! . . . The stop motion throughout is elaborate and clever . . . I particularly loved the part that illustrated the story where the fish were driving and the horse was flying! Technically assured and heartfelt, a real treat.”

Only a few more movies left! Next up is Holly Black’s 2014 Honor Book Doll Bones, as adapted by the Evanston Public Library Homeschool Group:

As the judges said, “Committed and hilarious acting, a tight script, an overall fun romp through the book! It was a classic comedic bit when the father gives the son his Blackhawks jersey… only to reveal another Blackhawks jersey underneath . . . I liked the attention detail throughout: the gravestone at the end, the action figure fight at the beginning, and the breaking of the fourth wall right before the flashback. Well done!”

Two more to go! The kids at Francis Xavier Warde School in Chicago did this horror-themed adaptation of Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver:

The judges said, “The scary sound effects and music really make the movie! I love the monochromatic background and the Giver’s weird bald wig . . . It was an inspired touch to have the Giver engaging in a sword fight with pursuers as Jonas escapes the community. Fun climactic chase scene near the end!”

And last but not least of the local entries I’d like to feature today, we have Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan, adapted by Kevin and Richard of Highland Park:

The judges said, “Excellent stop motion claymation! I was impressed all the way through, indeed from the very beginning, with Ivan the gorilla eating the banana–so accurate and well-structured! . . . The intertitles moved the plot along very effectively . . . enjoyable all the way through!”

Phew! That’s a lot of movies.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped out with the Chicago show. Thanks of course to my wonderful co-host Keir Graff (go buy his new children’s book The Matchstick Castle). Keir co-writes the opening skit with me every year. This year he joined me not only for the Chicago screening, but for screenings across the country. It was great fun!

Also thanks to the folks at the Vittum Theater and Northwestern Settlement, especially Laura Kollar and Maya who helped out the day of the screening, and Tom Arvetis and Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins who take care of the administrative end.

Thanks to my friend Kate Babka for running the lights during the show, to Oak Park’s bookstore The Book Table for selling books after the show, and to Scott Dummler and my wife Heather for filming the opening skit. (Speaking of the opening skit, special thanks to Lucy for her great work in that!)

And thanks to Eti Berland for all her great work coordinating the social media for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on Facebook and Twitter!

And last but not least, thanks to all the young filmmakers, and their friends and family and teachers and facilitators who helped out. Obviously, there would be no film festival without you. Year after year I get great movies from all around the country, and the entries from Chicago and environs are always up there with the best (here’s looking at you, Michigan and Indiana!)

Itching to make a movie, after seeing all those great ones? The deadline for next year is January 2018. I can’t wait to see what you dream up next time. Complete details about the film festival at www.90secondnewbery.com.

Until then, here’s the closing montage of the Chicago 2017 90-Second Newbery show:

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

90-Second Newbery 2017: Thanks, Rochester!

March 26, 2017

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

I love doing the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in Rochester, New York!

From our beginning, Rochester has been one of the most active participants in the film festival, with lots of excellent entries every year. That’s due to the tireless work of some fantastic Rochesterians: Deb Ross (of KidsOutAndAbout.com), Carol White Llewellyn (of Rochester Community Media) and many others. Beginning last year, we have worked to bring annual screenings to Rochester too, at the Dryden Theater at the George Eastman Museum.

Last year’s screening was a blast! I co-hosted it with Newbery-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard). Linda Sue was a fantastic co-host (and boy could she sing!) but our schedules didn’t mesh this year. Never fear! Rochester is chockablock with fantastic children’s authors (maybe that’s why their annual Teen Book Festival does so well), and I was lucky enough to score YA author Charles Benoit (Snow Job, Cold Calls) as my co-host this year.

Charles is a saxophone player in a band and a natural showman, so I knew he’d slay the opening skit. He did! Check out the video, above! And our young volunteer Jacyn did a great job too with her role. Thanks, Jacyn and Charles! Here we are after the show:

For the second year in a row, we also got to hear the dulcet tones of Rochester’s own children’s troubadour Mr. Loops, who beguiled the audience with his guitar as they filed in to the theater, and did a great Newbery-themed song in the middle of the show. Thanks, Mr. Loops!

I have many more people to thank, but before we get to that, let’s check out some of the great movies I got from Rochester this year. (Oh, and let me also acknowledge that I was in Rochester during a record-breaking snowstorm that stranded me in a hotel next to the airport for two-and-a-half days, living on takeout pizza and coffee, kind of like a really low-stakes version of The Shining.)

On to Rochester’s videos! Here is Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street, as adapted by Roberto Clemente School #8 with The Animation Workshop at Animatus Studio and Children’s Film Festival:

As the judges wrote on the 90-Second Newbery blog, this was some “elaborate, accomplished, and assured animation . . . I love the choice to combine the drawn figures and photographic heads . . . Masterful!”

Here’s another take on Last Stop on Market Street, this time by Eian Sinclair (who last year did an amazing Claymation of Firefly Hollow):

So says the 90-Second Newbery blog: “The clay figures were impressive, full of intimate character and detail, and animated with lifelike subtlety (the toe-tapping during the music, the wriggling of the dog, the little smile on the guitar player when people clap for him)!”

Next up is Victoria Jamieson’s 2016 Honor Book Roller Girl by Dr. Martin Luther King School No. 9:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “Even though it’s a bit longer than 90 seconds, this movie made every second count . . . I like how the movie showed every step of how Astrid and Nicole first become friends, all the way from its beginning with the squirrel-touch and the nightmare-fantasy of foaming at the mouth from rabies! I also appreciated how this movie mixes up its shots: closeups, mid-shots, and insert shots–that variety makes it much more of a pleasure to watch . . . Great movie!”

We got a bunch of great movies from a moviemaking summer camp run by Rochester Community Media TV and Writers and Books. This first one is of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One And Only Ivan—but instead of a silverback gorilla, with a dinosaur:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog, “Great movie! I liked the switcheroo of having Ivan not be a gorilla, but rather a dinosaur. The costumes were all fun and resourceful–I liked the dinosaur costume of Ivan, but I liked the elephant costumes even better (complete with long trunks)! I like the goofy-corny wordplay (“Leonardo di-no-Vinci”!) . . . Well done!”

Next up by Rochester Community TV and Writers and Books summer camp is Richard & Florence Atwater 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins . . . here, done SPY STYLE:

The 90-Second Newbery blog judges say, “A brilliant concept—that the penguins of Mr. Popper’s Penguins are not regular penguins, but rather expert spies with a mission of their own! The goofy premise was set up swiftly and expertly in the first few seconds—you clearly set up the correct expectations for the movie right away. The acting was engaging and fun, especially Mr. Popper’s (I like the look of mild panic on his face when he insists to his wife, “I did not order this!”).”

The camp also adapted Lois Lowry’s 1990 Medal Winner Number the Stars:

The judges at the 90-Second Newbery blog wrote, “Spooky, goofy idea to reinvent Number the Stars in a Ghostbusters style. Impressive Ghostbusters uniforms—I like how the Ghostbusters are reframed as the villains in this movie (indeed, Nazis!), and the ghosts are the protagonists!”

Next up is an adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1979 Honor Book Great Gilly Hopkins:

The judges at the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “I like the twist in this movie: instead of being sent to a foster home, Gilly Hopkins is sent to live in a black-leather-jacket-wearing gang . . . Lots of fun weird energy in this one, the use of green screen and establishing shots was resourceful and not overdone.”

Thank you for all those great entries, Rochester!

And thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped make this Rochester trip happen: once again to super-organizers Deb Ross and Carol White Llewellyn, my co-host Charles Benoit and guest troubadour Mr. Loops and volunteer Jacyn. I want to thank our official partners at the George Eastman Museum, KidsOutAndAbout.Com, Writers and Books, and Rochester Community TV. And thanks also to our Platinum sponsor, Delta Airlines; our Gold sponsor, the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library; and our Silver sponsors, Animatus Studio / Animation Workshop, and Cheshire Audio/Visual.

Thanks also to Beth Puckett, who hosted me for an author visit at Johanna Perrin Middle School, and Kim Rouleau, who hosted me for an author visit at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women. Thanks to Stephanie Squicciarini for letting me and Charles present at the Teen Book Festival fundraiser, thanks to Xandi DiMatteo and Kathy Wolf for inviting me to speak at the Rochester Central Library, and thanks to Xandi for taking me out to eat, and thanks to Deb Ross and her family for not only feeding me, but putting me up at her house for a few days, and paying for the hotel! I will not forget your generosity!

But thanks especially to all the young movie-makers who made this film festival possible, and also their parents, teachers, and facilitators who helped them out!

Also thanks to Arthur Bond and Amy Holland! I hung out with them (and their friends Jonathan and Matt) and I sat in on Arthur Bond’s radio show “Show of Prague,” in which he plays mostly prog rock and acts like he’s from Prague. I pretend to be his estranged cousin, Volgak Prazak. Afterward I sat in on their friend Lauren’s SE/EA Beats show. It made me nostalgic for when I was a DJ…

OK, this post has gone on long enough! Here’s the closing montage of the 2017 Rochester 90-Second Newbery…

UPDATE: Want to watch the whole Rochester 90-Second Newbery show, from the opening bit to the end, including all the movies? You can do so here.

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your donations! Want to support what we’re doing? Please donate the 90-Second Newbery here! We are a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

Episode 3 of the Secrets of Story Podcast: Laika and the Blue Mouse!

March 23, 2017

Hoo boy, do I have egg on my face! I totally forgot to post this back in January!

Some background. My friend Matt Bird and I started a podcast a few months ago called The Secrets of Story. In it, we try to figure out between us what makes a good story tick. What are the pro moves that great novelists and screenwriters do? What are the cringe-making mistakes that writers should avoid? Our podcast aims to get to the bottom of it!

But wait! What authority do Matt and I have to host such a podcast?

Well, Matt is the author of the excellent screenwriting/novel-writing advice book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (which you should go out and buy). It’s based on his storytelling advice blog Secrets of Story, of which I’m a longtime fan and sometime contributor. It’s a great blog! I’ve been reading it for years!

Okay, those are Matt’s credentials. But what right do I have to co-host this podcast? Well . . . Matt invited me. That’s about it. That’s enough, right? And I’m interested in understanding what makes for good stories. The Order of Odd-Fish came out years ago, but for one reason or another (including marvelous Lucy and Ingrid and starting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival), although I’ve written plenty since then, I haven’t published anything. So starting this podcast is kind of like a therapy for me. Maybe, through talking over storytelling issues with Matt, I can figure out how to move forward?!

Speaking of moving forward… Here is Episode 3 of that very podcast. The problem is, we posted it on January 13, but I’m not blogging about it until now… a full 2+ months later! What gives?

The answer is pretty mundane. I just forgot. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening season was cranking up just around then, and I was overwhelmed, and I missed blogging about it.

Which is a shame, because this is a great episode! Some background: in an earlier episode, Matt initiated what he hoped would be a recurring feature, in which he or I “give away” story ideas. Matt’s idea was about Laika, the first dog in space, who was shot up there by the Russians in 1957, and who presumably died up there. Matt’s story said, what if, instead of Laika dying in space in the Sputnik-2 as we all thought, she was scooped up by aliens? And what if those aliens are constantly watching all the planets with intelligent life, and the first time any planet sends a living organism into space, those aliens whisk away the organism (in this case, Laika) in order to test them, to see if that planet is worthy to be included in the Galactic Empire—and if they fail the test, the planet is destroyed? And so then Laika is put in the odd position of fighting for the life of the planet that only hours ago callously flung her up into space to die?

I liked this idea. So I did something to surprise Matt. In the next episode, I was supposed to show up with my own idea to “give away.” But instead, I wrote a 75-page script based on Matt’s idea! True, I did write the script in only 3 days, so it ain’t perfect, but I thought it was a fun exercise. You can download the script here if you’re interested. It puts a kind of Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Rick and Morty spin on Matt’s idea.

Or you can listen to the above podcast! I got together with my niece and nephew Freya and Theo, and together we performed the script, which is called “Laika and the Blue Mouse.” In the above podcast, Matt and I listen to the recording of Freya’s, Theo’s, and my performance, and every once in a while Matt breaks in to give some critique of the script.

It’s fun! But it’s over two hours! So listener beware. And full disclosure, it’s not my best writing. But I thought it would be a fun experiment to crank something out quickly and then put it through the wringer of Matt’s critique. I think we all surprised ourselves and learned something. Anyway, go listen to it (even though I’m posting it months late!).

And if you want to listen in on the lively debate about the script, with lots of great advice from the commenters, check out the comments section in this post on Matt’s blog.

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