Monday, April 14, 2008

The Choices We Make

The Choices We Make

Young lovers struggle to make the right decision about becoming parents.

The Choices We Make addresses relationships, fatherhood, unintended pregnancy, and abortion.

The Choices We Make was written by 17-year old Tiara Bennett of East Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY. The film was directed by Alison Maclean (Jesus' Son, "The Tudors"), shot by Luke Geissbuhler (Borat) and produced by Lalou Dammond, Rob York and Mark Santora and stars Tyra Colar and Dennis Johnson.

Click here for the full cast and crew.

* Writer Tiara Bennett interviewed on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show" in 2007
* 2006 New York Contest Winner, Brooklyn, NY

The story behind the story

Tiara Bennett wrote the story for The Choices We Make for a writing assignment as a graduating senior from Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, NY. The assignment was given to the class by teacher Gloria Jung, who had also taught Chantel Woolridge, winner of the 2004 "What's the REAL DEAL?" Contest and writer of All Falls Down. Tiara had all but forgotten about the assignment until the day before it was due, and although she had always been a writer she never expected to win.

Tiara says her inspiration for The Choices We Make came from observing friends and classmates in her community struggling with decisions about unintended pregnancies. To explore a new angle on this issue, Tiara decided to write a story in which a young African-American woman wants to protect her future while her loving boyfriend is eager to become a young father. Tiara felt her story uprooted gender and racial stereotypes around how young people weigh outcomes and make difficult choices.

The Choices We Make was filmed in the Seagate Community in Coney Island, Brooklyn in January 2007. Tiara was just one week into her first semester at Georgia Southern University, where she plans to major in Biology, when it was time to fly back to New York City to shoot her film with director Alison Maclean and a professional film crew. A dozen students from all over NYC, most of whom had entered the “What’s the REAL DEAL?” contest themselves, interned on set alongside the professional film crew. Reporters from New York One, The New York Daily News, and New York Metro interviewed Tiara and Alison on set.



Three best friends learn to take the risk of HIV/AIDS seriously as they navigate romantic relationships in an urban environment mired in economic strife, drugs, and limited options.

Reflections addresses HIV testing, self-esteem, communication, drugs, dating, commitment, and friendship.

Reflections was written by 17-year old Keyana Ray of Maywood, IL, a suburb outside of Chicago. The film was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), shot by Johnny Jensen (Rosewood), and produced by Billy Higgins (Honey) and stars Dominique Stallings, Madeekah Smith and Itasia Wyatt.

Click here for the full cast and crew.

* 2006 National Contest Winner, Maywood, IL
* Keyana Ray and Gina Prince-Bythewood interviewed on nationally syndicated radio program "The Michael Baisden Show" in 2007
* Premiered on BET in February of 2007. Aired multiple times on BET in 2007
* Screened at The 26th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival
* Screened at the New York AIDS Festival, 2007
* Aired on Manhattan Neighborhood Network

The story behind the story

Keyana's story was selected as part of a special national contest that Scenarios launched in 2006 with the RAP IT UP campaign – a partnership of BET and the Kaiser Family Foundation. When the question "What's the REAL DEAL on Growing Up in the Age of HIV/AIDS?" was posed, Keyana knew she had plenty to say on the subject. Her beloved aunt had been a poet and HIV/AIDS awareness activist and Keyana was already following in her footsteps as a prolific poet herself.

Keyana flew to Los Angeles, CA to meet with director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) and husband Reggie Rock Bythewood (Get on the Bus, Biker Boyz) to develop her script. One of the most heavily debated aspects of Keyana's script was the central character's fate after her HIV test. Keyana felt strongly that it was important to show that although treatments are becoming more effective, HIV/AIDS is still a disease with serious consequences. Without scaring her audience, Keyana wanted to ensure that viewers understand how devastating the consequences of unprotected sex can be.

Reflections was filmed in Keyana's hometown of Maywood, Illinois in November 2006. Keyana has since graduated from Proviso East High School and is considering college options, including Columbia College in Chicago and School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who I am

Who I Am


Two young women confront their sexuality at the crossroads of race and class.

Who I Am addresses stereotypes, racism, and homophobia.

Who I Am was written by 17-year old Whitney Peters of MAST Academy in Miami, FL. The film was directed by Jesse Peretz (The Ex) and produced by Julian Valdes and Andy Schefter and stars Rebecca Borbe and Tashelle Whyte.

Click here for the full cast and crew.

* 2006 Florida Contest Winner, Miami, FL
* Aired on Manhattan Neighborhood Network

The story behind the story

Whitney Peters didn't consider herself much of a writer and she had “never even considered film as anything I could do” when she entered the 2006 contest as part of her Television Production class. She did consider herself an artist and an activist, however, and she took advantage of the chance to have her voice heard.

Whitney wanted to tackle a complex topic that she felt other students wouldn't be writing about: identity. She carefully constructed characters who straddle often-times conflicting aspects of their identities--race, class, gender and sexuality. Whitney hopes her story will encourage deeper thinking about how community expectations affect youth trying to decide for themselves who they are and what they want.

Who I Am was filmed at MAST Academy in Miami, Florida in January 2007. Over 100 students from the Miami area worked as extras in the film, and a professional crew gave their time and talents in the middle of Miami's peak production season.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The power of film

Rewriting a script

This page has been created to support educators and facilitators who are using the Scenarios USA Films in a classroom or community setting or implementing the Scenarios USA "What's the Real Deal?" writing contest.

The "What's the REAL DEAL?" writing contest

The annual "What's the REAL DEAL?" contest offers youth, ages 12–22, a creative forum to explore their own identity, personal choices and possible outcomes, and weave stories from their experiences. The Contest offers educators an inter-disciplinary approach to promoting healthy behaviors, writing, creativity, critical thinking, research skills and literacy.

The winning writers are partnered with some of Hollywood's finest filmmakers to transform their stories into award-winning short films. 15 million people a year watch the Scenarios films in classrooms, community organizations, film festivals, on TV and the Internet. The films generate healthy and meaningful dialogue among youth about sexual responsibility.

The 2007 "What's the REAL DEAL about Masculinity?" deadline was November 28, 2007. Scenarios USA is currently not running a contest.

The 2007 contest topic was"What's the REAL DEAL about Masculinity?", and the contest is open to students ages 12-22 living in:

  • New York City, NY
  • Greater Cleveland, OH
  • The Rio Grande Valley, TX

Each year our “What’s the REAL DEAL?” program poses a critical question to young people, and their educators. The focus of the question this year is masculinity. We chose this topic because it is important and relevant to teens, both male and female, as well as to their educators, parents and communities. We see many boys struggle to fulfill the perceived “male job description,” whether that involves success in athletics, in academics, in the work world, as young fathers, or in gang life. In addition, research has shown that adolescents’ attitudes about gender equality and masculinity are correlated to a wide range of adolescent health outcomes, including the risk of perpetrating violence and the risk of contracting HIV, the age of sexual debut, and condom and contraceptive use.

The Scenarios USA creative writing approach asks young people to reflect on, discuss and write about the critical question we have posed to them. In doing this, we are asking young people to take on the role of the artist in society and to wrestle with questions about what it means to live in this world. We encourage them to interact with and challenge the expectations, images and ideas that surround them personally and on a societal level. We also ask young people to write stories with characters who exhibit respect, compassion and empathy, with an understanding that we all do things in the moment to prevent a confrontation, avoid ridicule, escape heartbreak and find comfort.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Verifying films

What issues come up when evaluating film as historical evidence? How can we know that an early film is authentic? What does the film show and how might its images have been manipulated? Finally, what are film's strengths and weaknesses as a historical record?

A recent experience will help explore these questions. A producer preparing a film on Teddy Roosevelt sent me a bit of film (transferred to video). He doubted the film's authenticity, and asked me to judge the nature of the images it contained. An authentic image of Roosevelt, particularly one not well known, would be rare and valuable evidence. Given the physical deterioration of early film, I was likely to be viewing a later print, made either from the original negatives or by duping (photographing a film to make a copy rather than making a positive print from the original negatives) a positive print. These processes not only remove the physical material of the original film but can also change the framing of the image and contrast of tones. (Read more about the physical properties of film). Duping reduces an image's clarity, and sometimes duped prints go through several generations -- a photograph of a photograph of a photograph -- and lose clarity at every point.

These changes are compounded when viewing a film electronically, whether on video or computer. The original frame area may be altered to fit the screen, cutting off essential information. The proportions of the film frame most frequently found on video monitors and computer screens is based on the film frame that existed until the 1950s, when theatre owners widened movie screens to compete with television. Because of the overspill built into most monitors, film images lose information from their left and right edges when shown on a monitor, and color can vary greatly when color film is transferred to an electronic format. Film images hold more information, and more detail, than current electronic modes of presentation (except for high definition TV) can display.

In other words, the film image as it was originally produced may have undergone an enormous number of transformations before we actually look at it. While these transformations can make studying film difficult (for example, if the footage of Teddy Roosevelt had been duped so many times that I could hardly see his facial features), knowledge of them allows historians to make use of films as historical documents. Therefore film documents must be treated with the same skepticism and scrutiny that you bring to any evidence. In the case of the Teddy Roosevelt film, the footage was in black and white and had the same original proportions as the monitor, so some distortion was minimized. Although some clarity of detail was missing (probably due to both duping and the transfer to video), the images were still recognizable.

Understanding a film as historical evidence requires informed judgement based on knowledge from outside of the film. The Teddy Roosevelt footage showed a mustached, bespectacled man in a hunting suit and pith helmet waving from a hill. This was followed by a shot of African natives looking off-screen, as if frightened, then a close-up of Roosevelt as the "great white hunter." It is well documented that in 1909 Roosevelt went big game hunting in Africa and took a cameraman with him to record his exploits. Could these images be authentic documentary evidence of that hunting trip? Two clues led me to confirm the suspicion that the film was staged. First, the figure, while clearly made up to resemble Roosevelt (the glasses, the mustache), did not really match other photographs of Roosevelt from this period. This was an actor portraying the former president. Second, and perhaps most important, the cut to the African natives indicated images that had been arranged to give the impression of simultaneity -- to indicate that the natives were looking at, and reacting to, Roosevelt). But the hunter and the African natives were almost certainly not filmed at the same time (the lighting and backgrounds of the two shots did not match). This points to one of the aspects of filmmaking most significant in the use of film as historical evidence: film cutting or editing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making Sense of Films

Making Sense of Films offers a place for students and teachers to begin working with early twentieth-century film as historical evidence. Written by Tom Gunning, this guide offers an overview of early film and how historians use it, tips on what questions to ask when watching early films, an annotated bibliography, and a guide to finding and using early film online. Tom Gunning is a Professor in the Art Department and the Cinema and Media Committee at the University of Chicago. Author of D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (University of Illinois Press), and the recently published The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Modernity and Vision (BFI), he has written numerous essays on early and international silent cinema, and on the development of later American cinema, in terms of Hollywood genres and directors as well as the avant-garde film. He has lectured around the world and his works have been published in a dozen different languages.

Published online February 2002. Cite as: Tom Gunning, "Making Sense of Films," History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, February 2002.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Leslie , a mother of two rambunctious young boys, is barely holding things together while her husband’s National Guard unit is off fighting in Iraq. Desperate for some help, she agrees to let her husband's brother, Salman come to act as a make-shift nanny.But Salman’s parenting skills are questionable at best and soon all hell has broken loose. In order to keep the family afloat, Salman must take a job as a corporate mascot for a failing Internet company. But then things start to turn around for Salman inside his big, blue suit. Anonymity offers him a fresh start and surprising new opportunities.And when he accidentally stumbles upon his sister-in-law’s secret, Salman and his alter ego “KABLUEY” must struggle to make things right and to keep the family together.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Intervention offers a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors, when an eclectic group of people drawn from all walks of life find themselves under one roof for twentyeight days with one thing in common – addiction. Mark, a former porn star-turned-producer, is addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex; Joe is a Kiwi comedian with a drink problem; Sara is a former model, muse and recovering heroin addict with anger and food issues; and Harry is a prescription drug addict from a privileged family. Under the treatment of Counselors Bill and his wife Kelly, their friends, family and significant others join them for the family program weekend, the process of group therapy, results in a series of emotional and physical meltdowns.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sex and Breakfast

Sex and Breakfast explores the intimacy in the lives of two couples, and uncovers what it takes to achieve a long-term union while maintaining a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship. The couples experiment with group sex as a way to sort out the rudiments of a successful relationship—sex, love, and communication. What is the secret to great sex? Maybe it has nothing to do with sex at all.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Day Zero

Day Zero, follows the lives of three best friends in New York City who have thirty days to come to terms with their fate. Rifkin (Chris Klein) is a married lawyer whose career is on the rise. Feller (Elijah Wood) is working on his second novel. The first was a smash success, but he’s having a writer’s block. Dixon (Jon Bernthal) drives a cab, lives a solitary life until he meets someone and finally has something to lose. Over thirty days, they will find their relationships tested as they confront long held beliefs about life, death, courage and love.