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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All-American High School Film Festival–Today and Tomorrow!

Hello all! A couple weeks ago I posted about the All-American High School Film Festival. If you’re around New York City TODAY and/or TOMORROW come on by! You’ll find us in the AMC Theater in Times Square! Last night was our first night, and it’s already been an amazing experience. Below are some pictures from last night as well as my original post describing the event. Hope to see you there! 

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The shameless bathroom selfie

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During the red carpet event

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And when it was all done

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):

Time_Warner_Center

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!

amctimessquare

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):

Time_Warner_Center

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!

amctimessquare

D-Real Dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Suit & Tie

Hey all! Remember D-Real from World of Jenks? (Seen here dancing: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/dancing-in-the-rain/ and written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/) Well, here he is dancing again! This time, to Justin Timberlake’s Suit & Tie. I really don’t understand how he moves his body the way he does. Amazing.

World of Jenks and Why It’s Awesome

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I’ve never watched a lot of TV that I actually cared about. Sure, throughout middle school I was entrenched in the story of none other than Ms. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, but aside from that not much else sticks out in my mind.

During my dad’s illness, I especially avoided watching TV because you never knew when a character would just be killed off. I vividly remember going to the movies with my best friend Emily to see The Last Song, a romantic drama based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel when suddenly, out of left field, with barely any foreshadowing to warn vulnerable audience members, the father gets cancer and dies. For “dramatic effect.”  Well, I was deeply insulted. All Emily could do was exaggeratedly mouth in the darkness, “I’m so sorry.” It’s okay Emily; it wasn’t your fault.

When I moved in with my grandparents after my dad died, I watched TV even less. I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom. I even began to hate having to hear the TV when other people had it on in the other room. (For this reason, I always have either a. a fan blowing in my room to muffle the TV’s sounds b. ear plugs stuffed so far in my ears I worry I’ll never be able to pull them out c. headphones snug atop my head with music pouring into my ears or d. a combination of all the above.) And so when I do like something on TV, I really like it. I mean, really.

While I was living in my apartment during the school year, it was never a problem when I wanted to watch the one show I do follow on TV. We only had one television but I was lucky to have a roommate that enjoyed watching the same show I did. Now that I’m home though, I realized that in order to watch the season finale of my favorite show, I was going to have to ask permission to watch the television in our living room at 11 o’clock at night. This wouldn’t be an issue in a normal house where teenagers–ahem, young adults (since I’m no longer a teenager anymore)–stay up late and grandparents go to bed early, but since my house is anything but normal, my grandpa watches TV every single night into the wee hours of the morning. Every. Single. Night.

And so I planned my attack to ask him at the opportune moment. Right after breakfast, before anyone had seriously bothered him (yet).

“Hey Grandpa, I have a question for you…”

“Yea, sure.”

All right, at least he seems open to hearing your idea.

“Well, tonight my favorite show is having its season finale at 11 and I was wondering if I could watch it?”

“Why are you asking me?”

Is this a test?

“Well, you always watch TV at that time.”

“You do realize we have more than one television in this house, right?”

Apparently my grandparents had made some changes to our house while I was away. Oh the joys of being a college student returning home for the summer.

 “Oh….okay. Duh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Home free. Get out fast before he asks more questions!

And just as I stood up to walk upstairs…

“What show is it anyway?”

Oh here we go.

It’s not that I don’t want to share the interesting, exciting things that I love with my grandpa. Really, I do. It’s just that with every interesting and exciting thing I do or discover he seems to question me.

For example:

1)   I became a vegetarian. FOUR YEARS AGO.
THIS Thanksgiving: “Abigail. Why would you want to be a vegetarian? I’ve never known a happy vegetarian. You’re missing out on all the good things in life!”

2)   I wanted to be a music major.
“Abigail. What kind of a job can you get with that?”

3)   I wanted to go to NYU’s creative nonfiction summer writing program.
“Abigail. How is that going to help you at all in life?” (Thanks to all my followers I managed to change his mind about this one!)

4)   I pitched my first book idea to him.
“Abigail. Why the hell would anyone want to read that?”

5)   I cut all my hair off.
“Abigail. Why did you do that? Are you a lesbian?”

Seriously. The list goes on.

So it’s no surprise that I didn’t want to reveal the one show on TV that actually makes me happy just so he can tell me why he thinks it sucks  stinks. But I can’t ignore him since he’s my grandfather after all so I took a deep breath in through my nose to prepare myself for what I knew was coming next and said,

“World of Jenks.”

“World of what?”

“Jenks, Grandpa. Jenks. It’s a guys last name.”

“And what’s it about?”

Time to say goodbye to the one show that brings you joy. It was nice knowing you Jenks, Kaylin, Chad, and D-Real.

Clenching my jaw, I hesitantly began. Because when I find something I really like, I don’t want people questioning why I like it, I just do. And sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand how some people wouldn’t also find the things I like as awesome and completely amazing and inspirational as I do.

 “Well…it’s about this guy…Andrew Jenks. And…he lives with these three people for a year and…documents their lives….

And with a blank stare that seriously suggested I continue on, I said,

“This year he lived with a young man with autism, a new father who is trying to promote peace in Oakland through dance, and a young woman who’s had cancer twice who just moved to New York” you know, that big city with all the lights that’s only a half an hour away from our house “to pursue a career in fashion.”

Perfect. Good job Abigail. Sweet and simple.

 “Abigail.

Oh for the love of God.

Why would you want to watch that? Who cares about those people’s lives? Don’t you want to watch the lives of interesting people, like movie stars?”

Movie stars? Really? That’s the best you got?

 “Because it shows that even though these people aren’t famous, they’re leading amazing lives all on their own!”

“It’s amazing that that girl had cancer?”

“No! Of course not! It’s amazing what she’s doing in spite of her cancer, Grandpa.”

You’re losing the battle Abigail.

“Alriiiiight.”

I didn’t say you had to watch it, did I?

And with that, I walked away and counted the hours until I could sit in front of the new television we apparently acquired while I was away at school to watch the season finale of my favorite show on TV.

*

I guess there are other people who wouldn’t understand why I love World of Jenks so much. So maybe I should try and explain it here. And then maybe my grandpa can read it and understand a little better (since verbal communication isn’t exactly my strong suit—as you can tell from our conversation).

The biggest reason I love this show is because it’s real. The people being filmed aren’t actors. They’re just regular people like you and me. And that’s super cool, because it makes me feel like I could be doing just as cool things as they’re doing.

These people’s stories are true. Neither their pain and struggles nor their victories and triumphs are made up for dramatic effect (take note, Nicholas Sparks). And the best part is that they don’t let the obstacles in their lives—whether it be autism in Chad’s case, Kaylin’s pain after chemotherapy, or the violence where D-Real lives—identify them or keep them from doing amazing things. Jenks and his crew use the show to humanize these individuals instead of letting stereotypes define them.

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For example, despite the challenges that Chad faces because of his autism, in the year that Jenks followed his life, he graduated high school, got himself a job, and even moved with his family despite the anxiety it brought him.

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D-Real (who I posted a video of here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/dancing-in-the-rain/) created dance competitions in Oakland to promote nonviolence and his dance crew performed for Mac Miller and even got signed with an extremely well-known choreographer.

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Kaylin said f*ck you to cancer and moved from California to New York while in remission, published a comic series about cancer, got a job with a fashion designer, and even put together her own line that was shown at Brooklyn’s Fashion Week despite having to make it all in a few short days when her sample maker failed to make the pieces correctly.

I especially relate to Kaylin since I watched my dad battle cancer. I was so proud to see the way she handled her diagnosis (with a kick butt, take names later attitude) and the way she persevered to create a better life for herself while she could. Kaylin has a blog, which I highly recommend checking out here: http://cancerisnotfunny.blogspot.com. Unfortunately, from what I can tell from her blog, Kaylin’s cancer returned and it appears she’s needed help paying for medical services. I don’t know Kaylin personally but I do know her story and believe she would greatly appreciate any donation, no matter how small. (Despite this jab at trying to advertise on Kaylin’s behalf, I really recommend checking out her site, if only to read the unique way she has documented her experiences with cancer.)

I also love that the show is a documentary. There is rarely a time when the camera isn’t rolling because you never know when something important may happen. I think this is a testament to both the people behind the camera and the people on it because there is really no time to “take five,” making this the most demanding type of filmography (is that even a word?) there is, in my opinion. Not to mention all the editors who have to watch all the hours of footage and piece together the important parts to create a cohesive story for each individual. They work through the night, through the tears, and through the smiles of each of their subjects gracefully and honestly. And by doing so, Jenks and his team educate their audience on different ways of life and expose the audience to different perspectives, something we can all learn from. Jenks has my dream job. Telling other people’s stories.

Most importantly, I like watching these individual’s lives because it makes me feel like I stand a chance in this world that at times makes no sense at all. If these people can overcome the obstacles in their lives, I can certainly work my way to create a life that is different from the one I have been born into.

I guess the best way to put it is that the show gives me hope for a better life.

And so I write this post as a way to say thanks to everyone who was a part of the show for keeping that light at the end of the tunnel shining bright for me.

Here’s the trailer for the show if you’d like to check it out!

Dancing in the Rain

Four men dance in the rain to pay tribute to their late brother and friend who was killed in Oakland. (Fun fact: When the video was taken, there was no music playing. It was added in later.) To see where these guys are now, check out MTV’s show, World of Jenks, where these guys are promoting peace in Oakland through dance.