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.


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!


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


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


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.


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.


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!

All-American High School Film Festival

After postponing Saturday’s post, I guess it’s about time I tell you what I was up to!

Over the summer, I met up with my best friend Emily (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/my-honey-bunches-of-oats/) for lunch. She was running late, so I fiddled around on my phone checking Facebook. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I saw a post by Andrew Jenks (whose show I wrote about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/). He was looking for interested applicants to volunteer for his upcoming film festival in October. Being that I’m such a fan of his work, it was no surprise that I submitted an application that night.

A few weeks later I got an e-mail from the All-American High School Film Festival (AAHSFF) saying they wanted me on their team. I was thrilled. No, thrilled doesn’t exactly cover it. I was ecstatic. But I minimized expectations in case something went terribly wrong. (Because knowing my past experiences, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I got an e-mail later that afternoon saying all the films had been destroyed in a flood and the festival had to be cancelled.)

Fortunately, I was spared from Murphy’s Law this time and over the following weeks, I got information about the festival and what my role will be within it.

The festival is an opportunity for high school filmmakers to submit their best work in the hopes of being chosen to have their film shown at the AMC Theater in Times Square from October 4th-6th. The films are viewed by a group of judges including big names like Kristen Stewart (actress from “Twilight” and “Panic Room”), Edward Burns (actor from “Saving Private Ryan”), Diablo Cody (writer of “Juno”), Michael Mayer (Director of “Smash”) as well as many others.

'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2' film photocall, Los Angeles, America - 02 Nov 2012                  edwardburns

(Kristen Stewart)                                                       (Edward Burns)

Awards are given for categories like “Best Film,” (duh!) which includes an all expense paid trip to LA to meet Tucker Tooley, one of the top producers in the bizz, a $1000 scholarship for college, an interview with Yahoo’s Daily Shot, and a private screening with industry professionals in NYC. Other awards include Best Drama, Documentary, Comedy, as well as Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography as well as countless others, all providing opportunities to young filmmakers from around the world.

This Saturday was extremely significant for the whole event, however. Along with my fellow volunteers, I attended an information session down in Manhattan. Again, I minimized expectations. I had no idea if the meeting would be in a high-class executive building or in a dumpster. Either way, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.

And so when I walked down the block with apartment style buildings, I knew I had arrived at an in-between place. Certainly not a dump—far from it—but not quite as intimidating as let’s say…the Time Warner Building (as seen below):


As I was welcomed through the door by a smiling blonde haired girl, I approached a six-flight walk-up. I knew I should’ve exercised more over the summer.

Echoing voices traveled down the stairwell but I couldn’t understand a word that was being said. Reaching the open door at the top, I met Andrew’s right and left hand guys and the other volunteers. I took a seat in a small cream leather chair and waited until everyone else arrived for the meeting to begin. While we waited, Andrew came into the room and sat down with us.

Not having expectations really worked out!

He didn’t say too much throughout the meeting but I must admit, it’s pretty damn cool to sit in the same room with someone whose work you admire so much.

The festival may be intended for up and coming filmmakers but I really think the opportunities exist for anyone who walks into that theater over the weekend. You never know who you might meet. Who you could make a connection with, or as one of my favorite professor’s would say, who you might “make friends” with (much less intimidating).

So if you’ll be in the neighborhood or you want to see the future of film, come check out the All-American High School Film Festival at the AMC Theater in Times Square from October 4th-6th! You can buy tickets online at http://www.hsfilmfest.com or at the door over the weekend! I hope to see you there!