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Posts Tagged ‘Valencia College’

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Took this photo earlier in the week during a Veterans Day celebration at Valencia College. Very thankful for the freedoms we have in the U.S. and for those who’ve served in the United States Armed Forces to help ensure that freedom.

P.S. For those outside the U.S. the man on stilts represents Uncle Sam, a personification of the American government who’s been around in one form or another since 1812.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Today is the first day of school at Valencia College and the film production, sound technology, and digital arts students will be walking into the newly opened School of Arts & Entertainment for the first time for classes.

I took a tour of the impressive facilities on Thursday and thought I post a few photos so give you a glimpse of what’s going on in the world outside of Los Angeles. The Valencia film program traditionally trains below the line talent and the various students over the past 20+ years have worked on 47 feature films as part of their education.

(And read my 2015 post The Perfect Ending that shows the connection between Valencia College, The Blair Witch Project, and Game of Thrones.)

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One of only three Dolby Atmos theaters in Orlando

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Scott W. Smith

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“From the moment I read Wil Haygood’s article about him in the Washington Post, I was moved by the real life of Eugene Allen.”
Oscar-Winning Director Lee Daniels

When I heard Wil Haygood speak last week about his journey writing The Butler: A Witness to History, I was reminded of a personal experience I had back in 2003. I was producing a TV program for a group in Chicago and on my shuttle bus from the airport to my hotel the older black driver and I talked about Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey—two world famous people with Chicago roots—and I told him I bet he’d seen incredible changes in his life and he simply said, “Yes, I have.”

Just five years later there would be more change when Senator Obama (also with Chicago roots) was elected the first black President of the United States. If that driver lived to see that day his story somewhat echoed that of Eugene Allen, the former White House butler  Haygood wrote about who witnessed that arc from segregation, to the Civil Rights Act being passed, right up to Obama being elected.

Haygood was speaking as part of the Humanities Speaker Series at Valencia College (whose West campus is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Orlando, Florida).  Back in 2008 Haygood was a corespondent for the Washington Post covering Senator Obama’s campaign trail. After hearing Obama speak in North Carolina he believed the tide was turning in favor of Obama getting the nomination.

“I get back to my newsroom and I tell my editor Steve, I said, ‘Steve, Steve—Obama’s going to win.’ He said, you’re tired, you’ve been on the road too long. I’m going to bring you off the road to get some rest. I said, no listen to me., Obama is going to win.  And because he’s going to win, I want to tell a parallel story. I want to find an African American who worked in The White House in one of those service jobs, and I want to tell their story. Because when Obama wins it’s going to me the world to this person. And my editor leaned back and said, well, who are you going to ne looking for? What type of job would this person have held? And I said, Steve I really don’t know. I think I want to find somebody who worked in The White House who shined shoes, who did the laundry, maybe a maid, and this last phrase fell out of my mouth, I still don’t know where it came from, I said, or maybe a butler. And I said I want to find one of those people who was working in The White House before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in this country that freed blacks.”
Wil Haygood

His editor said he needed him back out on the campaign trail, but gave him five days to somehow find that White House worker. Haygood’s next hurdle was how to find that person. Here’s the compressed journey of how Haygood hunted down that story—one that had never been told before.

—He called The White House but was told, “Because of confidentiality rules we don’t divulge who works at The White House.”

—He called his Washington, D.C. sources and was told it was a great idea, but no one knew such a person or where to find that person.

—On the fourth day he received a phone call from someone whose daughter was at a party in Georgetown and heard he was looking for someone who worked in the White House before the Civil Rights Act was passed. She gave him the name Eugene Allen, but had no idea on his contact information.

—He went to a library and started going through phone books of Maryland, DC, and Virginia looking for Eugene Allen. He made 56 phone calls and struck out 56 times looking for a Eugene Allen who worked at the White House.

“I was stubborn, because I wanted to prove to my editor that such a person existed. So students listen to this—I kept at it. I kept at it. On the 57 call I said, ‘Hello, my name is Wil Haygood, I’m a writer at the Washington Post and I’m looking for Mr. Eugene Allen who worked for two presidents at The White House.’ And the gentleman on the other end said, ‘Ah, that’s me. My name is Eugene Allen. Except sir, you have your facts wrong. I didn’t work for two presidents, I worked for eight. From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. So by my math, that’s eight.”
Wil Haygood

Allen’s life was a real life Forrest Gump-like experience. He not only worked for eight Presidents, but had a front row seat to some of the best (and worst) moments in modern American history, as well as seeing/meeting/serving a whole host of iconic Americans: Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Martin Luther King Jr.

Haygood’s article A Butler Well Served by This Election ran in The Washington Post November 7, 2008. Allen was invited to the inauguration and went escorted by his son and Haygood.

“He saw the first African American President take the oath of office. And he leaned over to me and said ‘This is the first inauguration I’ve ever been invited to.’ He also said as we were leaving,’When I was in The White House, you couldn’t even dream that you could dream of a moment like this.’ He used the word dream twice.”
Wil Haygood

Something else that I imagine Allen couldn’t dream was that his life (and Haygood’s article) would be the inspiration for the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler , starring a whole host of stars; Forest Whitaker, Oprah, Cuba Gooding Jr, Venessa Redgrave, John Cusack, and Terrence Howard. Allen died in 2010 before the move came out in 2013.

Haygood wrapped up his talk last week saying that Allen gave him a gold plated tie clip that  John F. Kennedy had given him. He added that he was wearing that tie clip, and ended saying that Allen’s house has been designated a historic landmark, and made this observation:

“In a way the story is almost spiritual. For it says in the Bible, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. ‘ I like to think that the butler is up there in heaven with Dr, King, with the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall , with all those he served who are up there are well. The butler, the man who used to sweep up the movie theater at The White House. And I’d like to think that he’s walking around saying to them, ‘Hey, would you like to watch a movie tonight? It’s about a butler.

Special thanks to John Watson at Valencia for securing a copy of Wil Haygood’s talk for me to pull exact quotes.

P.S. I bought Haygood’s book and he signed it for my high school English and creative writing teacher Dr. Annye Refoe who not only helped put me on the track where I have earned my creative living the past 30 years, but who being a black woman raised Sanford, Florida showed a class full of white students  A Raisin in the Sun and discussed the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. Later as work would take me through Watts in LA, Overtown in Miami, Cabrini Green in Chicago, Harlem in New York—and really everywhere—I’ve never stopped seeing the world through the lens she provided.

One butler, one writer, one teacher really can make a positive impact in the lives of many.

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And I’ll close with this the video below of the multi-media performance of Three Black Kings I shot and edited a few of years ago with artist Gary Kelley. It was performed live by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger.

Related posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks and Filmmaking
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting
President Obama, the Man & Iowa Seeds
Nelson Mandela, Robben Island & Nudging the World
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Writing ‘Good Will Hunting’ (That other movie)
The Perfect Ending Valencia College’s connection to Game of Thrones

 

Scott W. Smith

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“I was telling somebody yesterday that when I got to the airport in Cincinnati where I flew from that I ran into a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while. And he had seen the movie The Butler. And my friend Kevin— he and I hadn’t had the chance to talk about it since it came out— and he asked me, ‘Wil, has your life changed much since the movie came out?’ It made some money, it won some awards, it’s now played in 72 foreign countries. It became this wonderful, phenomenal hit. And I told Kevin my life is still the same. I’m still the same cat that I’ve always been. But I did make note of this little fact, that after the movie grosses exceeded 100 million dollars I heard from both of the ladies who turned me down for the high school prom. What’s up with that?”
Writer/reporter Wil Haygood (The Butler: A Witness to History)
Speaking at Valencia College on February 17, 2016
Haywood’s 2008 Washington Post article A Butler Well Served by This Election was the inspiration for the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler written by Danny Strong.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the journey of Wil Haygood in telling the story The White House butler who served under eight Presidents of the United States.

Scott W. Smith

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Game of Thrones broke a huge Emmys record at Sunday night’s ceremonies. With David Nutter’s win for best director of a drama series, the HBO show snagged its tenth Emmy this year, the most any series has ever won in a single year.” 
Eliana Dockterman, Time, September 20, 2015
(Game of Thrones would finish the night with 11 Emmys)

“What am I doing up here?”
David Nutter
(How Nutter began his Emmy acceptance speech)

It was the perfect ending. Perfect and poetic. I’m not talking about a movie or a TV show, but about yesterday—and about a life. And what made it really special is no one wrote the ending, it just happened in that mystical way where things align together perfectly. It was an ending that filmmaker/film teacher Ralph Clemente would have appreciated if he hadn’t died earlier this year, but one that happened because he lived.

When David Nutter was a 20-year-old music major he had a big dream—to be the next Barry Manilow. Nutter’s musical dreams died before he graduated from the University of Miami. But he also found a new dream in 1980 when he took an 8mm filmmaking class with Prof. George Capewell.

Then Nutter found a filmmaking mentor with Clemente, who Capewell had hired as filmmaker in residence at Miami. After graduating from Miami, Nutter launched his career when he directed the 1985 feature Cease Fire (starring Don Johnson), which Clemente worked on as an associate producer.

Fast forward 20 years to last night when Nutter accepted a Primetime Emmy for directing the Game of Thrones episode, Mother’s Mercy. A remarkable accomplishment because we are in what has been called the modern golden age of television. At the end of his acceptance speech Nutter said, “Thank you to Ralph Clemente, the man who taught me the most.” One little sentence made for the perfect ending.

Earlier in the day there was a tribute at Valencia College in Orlando for Ralph Clemente, where Clemente started the film program in the late ’80s. He would help students work on 47 feature films through a film program that he helped designed. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart spoke at the tribute about how Ralph taught him about vision, saying Clemente was like a gardener who could taste the fruit before he planted the seeds.

And Ralph Clemente planted a lot of seeds. Inspired a lot of people.  At the tribute they played a video of Nutter talking about how Clemente was not only his teacher and mentor but also a father figure. He also said that he changed is life because he ended up marrying the au pair that Ralph and his wife Emily had when they were raising their sons in Miami. Nutter said that he regretted not being at the tribute, but if he won an Emmy he’d be sure to mention Ralph—and that’s exactly how it went down. Fruit from seeds planted 35 years ago.

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Several people at the tribute mentioned affectionately how Clemente was a schmoozer.  He was a positive people person who got people on board with his vision. I wish I had a quote of his I could drop in here to show how that helps in the filmmaking process, but since I’ve been running Robert Rodriguez related posts all month I’ll hand it off to him to talk about the salesmanship side that is often needed with the creative and technical side of filmmaking:

“If you go to an actor and say, ‘hey, I’m a filmmaker and I’m making a low budget movie and I kind of need a marquee to kinda help sell it. I can’t pay you very much. And it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but do you want to be in it?’ you’re only thinking about yourself , and they’ll be like, ‘No, get the hell out of here.’ Because all you’re taking about is what you do and how you do it, which is I make low budget movies. Yeah, so what, that means ya got no money. Instead I always start with why. I go to [the actor] and say, ‘I love what you do. I’ve always been a big fan—I believe in creative freedom. I don’t work with the studios, I work independently. I’m the boss, it’s just me and my crew. It’s very creative, ask any of your actor friends. They’ll say go have that experience, you’re going to feel so invigorated. I shoot very quickly and you’ll be out [quickly]. Robert De Niro in Machete was out in four days. While you’ll be on your next movie for six months, you’ll be on my movie for four days, and it’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. And your performance is going to be really freeing, that’s why I do it. How do I do it? I work very independently. I have very few people on my crew and we do multiple jobs. We do it with less money so we have more freedom. Do you want to come make this movie?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes.’ Because it’s all about what they can do. What they can bring to it. How it’s going to fulfill them.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Tim Ferriss interview

Clemente wasn’t in it just for himself. He knew he could only do the kinds of things he wanted to do by helping people do the things they wanted to do. Win-win. I was part of the Miami film program during the Clemente era and know that he poured himself into students. So yesterday wasn’t the end of his legacy. There will be students of his that will take what they learned from him and pass it on to others they work with in that circle of life kind of way.

Link to donate to the Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship at Valencia College.

P.S. Back when I had a production company in Iowa I worked with Josh McCabe while he was still in college and tried to pass on what I knew to him in the few years we worked together. (I wrote about him in the 2011 post How to Get Started Working in Production.) Today Josh works in production in Denver, Colorado and just this weekend got married. Congrats to he and his wife Ashely.  He never met Ralph Clemente, but I hope I passed on a few things to him I learned working with Clemente that helped make him the creative producer/shooter/editor he is today.

Josh&Ashley

Photo by Jon Van Allen

Related posts:
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015)
‘It has to move me.’—David Nutter
Insanely Great Endings Screenwriting insight from Michael Arndt

Scott W. Smith

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“When you can have a positive effect on people’s lives and help them reach their dreams, that is the best reward a teacher can have.”
Ralph Clemente

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”
Goethe

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Ralph Clemente in his Valencia College office/Photo by Don Burlinson

Earlier this month filmmaker and educator Ralph Clemente died only three weeks after finding out he had  pancreatic cancer. He was a professor of mine at the University of Miami and known for his infectious inspiration—and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent.

In the late eighties he helped start the film program at Valencia College in Orlando where he and his students would have a hand in producing 47 feature films. Over the years the program allowed students to work with Oscar-nominated actresses Julie Harris and Ruby Dee, and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane). Steven Spielberg once called the program, “one of the best film schools in the county.”

Clemente actually had the distinction of being part of the inspiration for a couple of the filmmakers who would go on to make The Blair Witch Project, as well as just this past November having a small part playing a woodman in Game of Thrones

That Game of Thrones episode was directed by David Nutter who was also Clemente’s student at Miami. Clemente produced Nutter’s first feature Cease Fire (which starred an up and coming actor named Don Johnson) which helped launch Nutter’s career that’s included directing gigs on The Sopranos, The X-Files, Entourage, and Band of Brothers. Clemente and Nutter remained friends over the decades so I wasn’t surprised that he hired Clemente as an extra on the set of Game of Thrones shot in Ireland.

(Note: For the younger DSLR crowd, and those totally unfamiliar with Nutter or Clemente, as Vincent Lafort continues making the transition from photographer to filmmaker he’s recently been shadowing the Primetime Emmy-winning Nutter on production sets. It’s all one big interconnected tribe.)

Clemente was born in Germany and actually had his first acting role at the age of two. He moved to Florida as a teenager, studied acting, ending up serving in the Army, before going on to work in TV and film and landing at the University of Miami as filmmaker-in-residence for ten years.

What a life, right? But his legacy is the film program at Valencia which just earlier this year had a 20th Anniversary film festival to celebrate some of the films he and the school helped get made including Sealed with a Kiss which he directed from a script written by his wife Emily.

What sets the Valencia program apart is its early vision. In the late 80s, Disney and Universal built film studios in Orlando, and enough features and TV shows were being shot here (Parenthood, From Earth to the Moon, Passenger 57) that it looked like the promises of central Florida becoming Hollywood East were more than hype. But what there wasn’t a lot of was support personnel grounded in the area— grips, gaffers, camera assistance, etc.

Greg Hale, one of the producers of The Blair Witch project, went through the Valencia film program and more recently worked as an assistant director on The Avengers and Django Unchained. Producer/Director Ben Rock was also a student of Clemente’s:

“One of the best lessons 
Ralph teaches is that production should be fun…My best memories of Valencia are of Ralph, working the set, joking around, telling stories, keeping everybody’s morale up.”
Ben Rock
Vitae Magazine

Clemente always encouraged his students to take chances and I remember editing a student project at Miami where I risked using a Willie Nelson song (Nelson wasn’t quite as hip in Miami in the 80s as he would be with hipsters in Miami today) and it turned out Ralph loved Nelson’s music and would later use one of his songs in a feature he produced.

In college I also remember going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a couple of friends on one long weekend road trip but made it back in time for his class on Monday. When I told him I was just off a 12-hour drive to make the class he laughed and told me my grade just went up.

I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people Clemente touched in his life, but he was one of the good guys. In fact, Ralph also had students work on public awareness projects including Make-a-Wish, Health Care for the Homeless, and His House Children’s Home (for abused and neglected kids) which helped raised awareness, donations, and resulted in some adoptions.

This blog is the overflowing of the good influences in my life and part of that DNA is my time spent with Clemente in Miami. And just to come full-circle, since January of this year I’ve been producing projects at Valencia College and while my tools are not film and Moviola’s anymore, what I learned from Ralph Clemente transferred well to digital cameras and non-linear editing. But beyond the technical aspects and production tips you commonly learn in school, Clemente had an upbeat spirit that was less common.

Related Links:
Ralph Clemente: Valencia film pro inspired good stories, Orlando Sentinel
Filmmaking is a Team Art  Friend Oliver Peters who edited four of Clemente’s features remembers working with him.
Valencia Mourns Loss of Filmmaking Legend Ralph Clemente 

P.S. “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at Valencia Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835 or complete online donation form by selecting the Designation “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at donate.valencia.org.

Scott W. Smith

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