Last Friday, November 8th, Michelle Obama and Harvey Weinstein invited seven Reel Works teens along with other groups from Boston and Washington, DC to the first ever, all day symposium on Careers in Film at the White House.
The event included workshops on Acting with Whoopi Goldberg, Directing with Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and the 2013 Reel Works Visionary Filmmaker Award Winner), Music and Foley sound effects with Gary Hecker (The Empire Strikes Back, Spiderman) and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid), and Costumes and Makeup with Colleen Atwood (Chicago) and Ruth Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X).
“Getting invited to the White House to attend a symposium on careers in film hosted by the First Lady was a once in a lifetime event” said Reel Works filmmaker Stephanie Cherng, 16.
“I was on the edge of my seat, trying to suck in every word anyone said,” said Sara Zakrzewski, 16. “I wanted to make the most of it and I totally did. I got to hear from many inspiring people from the film industry and even met students from Washington, DC and Boston.”
Shortly after being welcomed by movie mogul and event sponsor Harvey Weinstein, the students were invited to the balcony overlooking the White House Lawn for a surprise glimpse of President Obama. “As I looked down, I saw President Obama walking to his helicopter and he turned around and gave a warm smile and a welcoming wave” said Stephanie Cherng. After watching Marine One take off over DC, the students began their afternoon of workshops.
“My first workshop was Sound Effects with artists Gary Hecker one of Hollywood’s most sought after and well-known Foley Artists,” said Stephanie.
Douglas Worthen, 18, was impressed by the Music workshop with Alan Menken. “It was life changing. I finally got a sense of direction about what I really want to do in life. Music production.” Douglas loves all kinds of music and knew every word to the songs that Menken sang from his long career. “Menken did scores and songs for Pocahontas, Hercules, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid” said Douglas. “I learned that when you look at the film, the music changes the way you feel about a scene.”
“In the makeup/costume workshop, Legacy Effects taught me how to do special effect makeup such as scars and bruises.” said Sara. “ It was amazing; I put fake scars and bruises on everyone.”
“The makeup/costume class helped me realize how much time and effort is involved in the application and removal of the tiny details that make movies ever more realistic,” said Mitchell Davis, 16. “It is like a science. It is a very tedious process to apply even the simplest of touch ups. We were taught the basics of applying makeup – scars, gashes, and cuts.”
It was during this workshop that Douglas was asked if he would like to be one of a select group of students to meet the First Lady.
“My first thought was my, she’s very beautiful. She was a nice person. I showed her how we made 3-D sculpting using a computer scanner. She asked me if this expanded my career options, and I told her yes!”
After lunch, Michelle Obama spoke with the students about the importance of education and hard work in achieving their dreams. “The way she said it was so powerful, “said Luckny Jacques, 18. “ It was like she was looking right at me and talking to me when she said that. It made me want to go back to school on Tuesday and do my homework!”
One theme of Mrs. Obama’s talk was that even successful people face hardships and self doubt that they had to overcome. It was a message the resonated with the teens. “I’ve heard that before, I hear that every day but when it’s coming from someone in such a high position , it hits you harder,” said Karim Alexander. “because they have success and that’s their philosophy, and so I take it really seriously.”
“She told us to never give up on what we want to do in life,” recalled Douglas. “Everyone on stage – Whoopi Goldberg, Ryan Coogler, Naomie Harris, Blake Lively, Harvey Weinstein – they all had tough times in their lives, but they buckled down and met their challenges head on.”
“My neighborhood has been an obstacle for me,” said Luckny. “School has been an obstacle. People around me are obstacles. Not everyone around me is happy about what I’m doing – they will find ways to stop me from getting an opportunity. I’ve never seen anybody from my neighborhood make it out. Before I came to Reel Works, I was just a lazy kid, not participating in my community or at school and hanging out on the streets with gangs. Now, look at me, me I’m in DC, I’m at the White House!”
Watch this video released by The White House to hear Michelle Obama address the crowd.