IOW: Our kids stay in the pictures

Yesterday, we published the core program for the second annual gala of the Pens to Lens (P2L) program developed by the Champaign-Urbana Film Society (CUFS) as a method through which to teach the children of Champaign County how to tell their stories as screenplays. The ultimate reward for some participants, of course, is to see their ideas translated into short-form cinema such as the 22 pieces that will be unveiled midday tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, at the Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign. The P2L Web site neatly addresses the goals and scope of the program, with additions relating to the new batch sure to appear shortly. One concrete peek we can offer you is this teaser trailer during which a gaggle of colorfully myriad fragments flash before your eyeballs in 90 seconds flat:

Those who want to learn more about the P2L experience can hear from one of its organizers later tonight during Pecha Kucha Night, Vol. 16 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, UIUC, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. This entertaining presentation format, introduced in Japan and sponsored locally by the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO), features community members who volunteer to speak knowledgeably about topics that excite them. The challenge (or, gimmick) is they are allowed 20 seconds each for 20 total image slides to get their point across visually to the audience. With the direct involvement of CUDO in the P2L movie poster designs, it is no surprise that Thomas Nicol will appear at Pecha Kucha to discuss the value and growth of P2L less than 24 hours before show time.

“I directed one short, ZACK AND THE MOUNTAIN MAN, and co-directed two others, MR. SNUGGLES [with Andrew Gleason and Anna Zorn] and WATCH OUT FOR BUTTERFLIES [with Joe Taylor]. They each had something different about them that really spoke to me and my co-creators,” CUBlog learns via e-mail from Nicol, who recently married the lovely Becky Griesheimer and also devotes time in various behind-the-scenes capacities to P2L, CUFS, and Champaign Movie Makers. “We’re super excited about how much the program has expanded this year … Students submitted even more scripts [that were] even better than the already wonderful work turned in last year, more filmmakers took on shorts, more designers took on posters, and everyone really upped their game to make this event fantastic.”

Nicol’s penchant for the dark and weird in his personal film work is apparent in his P2L story choices. “ZACK is a wonderfully odd script,” he describes with more than a little kid-like glee. “If Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Wes Anderson (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) were fired at each other in a particle accelerator, this might be the result. It has an endearingly awkward sense of humor with a strong undercurrent of melancholy as these two lonely guys discover friendship for the first time.” Conversely, MR. SNUGGLES concerns a boy named Tyler who is struggling to part ways with the eponymous stuffed animal he’s known all his life. “At its heart, it’s a story about how hard it can be to let go of childhood,” says the filmmaker. “Also, a demon-bear.”

Possibly more than the aforementioned shorts, WATCH OUT FOR BUTTERFLIES called for Nicol to employ a distinct effects technique he is best known for in the Champaign-Urbana crowd. “BUTTERFLIES leapt out at Joe and me as the awesomely oddball brain-dump from the imaginations of a group of third graders that it is,” Nicol explains. “With Joe’s background in fabrication [honed at Taylor Studios in Rantoul] and my background in stop-motion animation [which he wrote about for C-U Confidential #5] we really felt there was a moral imperative to bring the koalaoctopus [in the script] to life.” This is not one bit inspired, we’re sure, by a certain monster movie franchise airing on a certain basic cable network that is produced by a certain B-movie legend. Still, we thank them in advance for it.

Consideration has already been poured into where Pens to Lens could go next. “We may have some things to announce at or after the Gala,” confides Nicol when asked what lies ahead, “but for now I’ll just say we’re already talking about how to make next year even bigger and better, and we really can’t wait to see what the kids come up with next!” To remind, the “all ages” block begins at 2 p.m. Saturday and features 12 shorts, while the “older kids” block starts at 6 p.m. and will present the remaining 10 shorts. Admission is $8 per show or $12 for both; 19 and under get in free to be amazed and inspired. On the other hand, hip parental units, beware that Pecha Kucha (7:45 p.m. door, 8:20 p.m. show) is free entry for everyone but is geared towards mature audiences and koalaoctopus-makers.

~ Jason Pankoke

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