Volunteering Rocks

This past weekend I was a volunteer for the All-American High School Film Festival, which took place at the AMC Theater in Times Square.

Late Friday afternoon, I hopped on the train and headed down to the city. As always, my heart raced as I started to see the buildings rise around me. After hitching the subway and some confusion finding AMC Theater (there are just way too many people and way too many shining lights in Times Square) I had finally arrived.

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That night, I was assigned to work at the information booth. I took the escalator to the fourth floor (nevermind my irrational fear of those machines) and met some of the volunteers I’d be working with.  Everyone was immediately friendly and welcoming. We were even written about here, at yojenks.com!

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As I sat there answering questions about the festival and handing out stickers with our logo on it:

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I watched streams of people come in and take their place on the red carpet for interviews and pictures.

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This was definitely one of the cooler things I’ve seen in my short little life.

As the evening progressed, everyone headed into one of the theaters for the opening ceremony. Co-founder Andrew Jenks would give a speech welcoming everyone, upcoming musician Kait Weston would perform, and the newest version of Romeo & Juliet would show a week before its release this Friday, October 11th.

Unfortunately, I didn’t witness any of this first-hand as I stayed outside at the information booth with a few other volunteers. I didn’t mind at all though, as I got to talk to some amazing people.

Over the course of the next two days, I got to know so many of these great volunteers. Each one that I talked to was incredibly friendly, excited to be a part of this event, and each were artists in their own right. I met musicians, television and radio majors, inventors, graphic designers, filmmakers, and fellow writers. This by far, was the best part of the entire festival. Having the opportunity to meet people my age who are pursuing the arts as I do, was incredibly inspirational.

But Saturday was probably the most inspirational day overall. First, with a fellow volunteer, I introduced myself to Andrew Jenks, the co-founder of the festival and creator of the TV show World of Jenks (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/). I’m typically a shy person, so this was a pretty big deal. It was important for me to do this however, because I truly admire his work. He was super nice and I’m so glad I got the chance to meet him.

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That night at the awards ceremony, the best high school films were chosen in categories such as Best Comedy, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, etc. The awards for these filmmakers included scholarships, private screenings with industry professionals, and the opportunity to talk with successful filmmakers. It was amazing to see the quality of work these students had created. I was reminded that if they could make such amazing movies at such a young age, there is no reason that I can’t create equally amazing art through my writing. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned—from an amazing high school teacher—was rather than be intimidated by such great artists, be inspired. And that’s exactly how I felt.

Both Ed Burns and Dylan McDermott spoke during the award ceremony as well. I even got to meet Ed Burns! And yes, his voice is just as raspy in real life too.

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The one thing that really stuck with me that Dylan said (I talk about him like we’re friends now) was that as artists, we come from a need to create. Sometimes we don’t want to do it. We simply need to. This is often how I feel about writing. Sometimes I don’t want to do it–I’d rather take a nap most of the time—but it’s something I need to do. I even wrote about it here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/why-do-i-write-anyway/.

Another thing that really resonated with me was when Chris Eyre, who worked on Friday Night Lights, came up to present Best Director and said, “It’s not about being the best. It’s about being the bravest.” I think this applies to each of us as we travel through life, especially for artists. Taking risks may seem scary at first, but once you suck it up and go for it, the end result can truly be amazing. But if it’s not, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure yields to learning.

By Sunday, exhausted and running purely on excitement, I returned to the AMC Theater for the last day of the festival. The day was slower than the ones before, so I finally had a chance to watch all of the winning films. As I sat in the dark theater, I thought about ideas for my own work and what my next project will be. I’ve had ideas swirling around in my head ever since and I’m starting to get them down on paper. This is invaluable.

I didn’t get the chance to truly tell the co-founders of the festival (Andrew, Tom, and Brian) as well as the head of the volunteer staff (Leah) just how grateful I am to have been a part of this event. Not only did it provide great opportunities for the high school filmmakers, but it affected each of the volunteers as well. I believe we all feel a little more inspired, a little more motivated, and a little more encouraged to do great work.

Thank you so much. And I can’t wait to see you all next year!

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