CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Jackson Elementary School students walked the red carpet recently at Marcus Theatres for the premiere of a movie they made in an after-school club.
About 200 people watched the 25-minute courtroom drama on May 14. The plot involves a chef accused of poisoning an actress to keep her from getting a big role in a movie.
The film was produced by students in Jackson Elementary’s Film Club, where students write a screenplay, build sets and props, act, direct and edit a short film.
“There’s a spot for everyone,” said Ryan Patterson, a fifth-grade teacher at Jackson and the Film Club adviser. “If they want to act, we guarantee at least one line of dialogue.”
Some students had to memorize “hundreds of words of dialogue,” said Patterson, who said he enjoys helping students “bring their vision to life.”
Students, he told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, learn to be vulnerable when acting, with some using accents, others dressing up in outlandish costumes.
The club used Patterson’s phone to film the video. The majority of the scenes were filmed in Jackson’s library, where the courtroom set still stands.
This is the third movie created by the club.
The last time the club completed a film was in 2019. The film being produced during the 2019-20 school year had to be canceled when schools closed in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We lost two years,” Patterson said. “A few grades missed out on the project entirely.”
Three sixth-graders at Taft Middle School — who were among those who missed out on doing a film at Jackson — returned this year to help write the screenplay and direct the film.
Taft sixth-grader Mary Corizzo, 11, helped write the screenplay, and said her inspiration came from the TV show “Blue Bloods,” a drama about a multigenerational family of cops in New York City.
The two other scriptwriters, Kaitlyn Miller, 12, and Ainsley Nydle, 12, also Taft sixth-graders, contributed real-life experiences from having parents who are lawyers.
Ainsley also is on Taft’s mock trial team, where she learned how to write questions, cross-examine a witness and write opening statements and closing arguments.
Kaitlyn, who helped direct the film, said she enjoyed helping students memorize their lines and bring expression to the words. The students, she said, worked hard to develop their film character’s personality.
Tenley Hamer, 11, a Jackson fifth-grader, played the prosecutor, Nicole Jones, who is trying to prove the actress was poisoned.
Tenley is a “really good actor,” Kaitlyn said.
Tenley said she liked playing her character, who is outgoing and has important dialogue.
The cameras, lights and set made it feel like a real movie, she added.
Patterson said the Film Club is unique to Jackson Elementary, 1300 38th St. NW, and he hopes it will continue next year when Jackson students move into the new Maple Grove Elementary, built next to their current school.
Film Club members each received a copy of their film, which is not available for public viewing.