Minden students write 'Misssssing'

Hollywood's got nothing on Minden Elementary School. Its students have written a screenplay and are making it into a movie with the help of professional cinematographer Joe Valentine and screen writer David Gervais.

It began early in the school year when sixth/fifth grade teacher Claudia Bertolone-Smith asked Gervais, father of her student, to help her class write a screen play.

"During parent hours, he (Gervais) kept wanting to come in and help with spelling, and I said, 'No. Help us write a screenplay,'" said Bertolone-Smith.

Her class collaborated with students from Marlene Moyer's fifth/sixth grade class and produced "Misssssing," a comedy about Minden Elementary's pet corn snake, Casper, going missing in the school.

"I let the kids' imaginations run wild and dialed it into a story," said Gervais. "I pretty much just took their creativity, tightened it up and put it in screenplay format."

Valentine, whose daughter Rebecca is in Bertolone-Smith's class, came on board for the filming. Students auditioned for acting roles and applied for different jobs, like costume and makeup crews.

"The kids are having a ball," Valentine said. "This is a great experience."

On April 25, more than 250 students filed into the multipurpose room for an assembly scene. Students were told to act as naturally as possible.

"Some of the kindergartners kept their eyes closed, so they wouldn't look at the camera," Valentine said.

Carson Valley Community Theatre donated lighting equipment, and students from Douglas High School's video production class, Parker Winans, Dustin Cole and Kellen Dimitri, provided cameras and were eager to help shoot.

"This is great. This is what I want to do," said Dimitri.

"Roll cameras!" Gervais shouted from the stage.

Dimitri knelt on the gym floor and from a low angle shot sixth-grader Cooper Whittemore, who was playing the movie's nerdy, germ-ophobic hero, Herbie Fabreeze. Valentine helped Dimitri find the right angle and coached Whittemore on how to act for the scene.

"This is pretty phenomenal," said Minden principal Ken Stoll. "The response from the kids has been incredible. We asked them how many wanted to help make a movie and hundreds raised their hands."

Gardnerville resident Dave Anderson, an actor from the Dakota Organization, played Mr. Slitherlots, loosely based on Stoll. Anderson is traditionally a theater actor.

"It's a different kind of thing for me, but it's a lot of fun," he said.

Sixth-graders Darby Mattinson and Rebecca Valentine played junior journalists from The Record-Courier, following the drama of the missing snake.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Darby. "I like to act."

"It's something I would like to do in the future," said Rebecca, who has already worked on movie sets with her father, Joe Valentine.

"Joe has worked with Spielberg," said Gervais. "He's the real deal, and to have big Hollywood here at Minden Elementary School is just awesome."

After shooting the scene, Gervais told students all the work they had just done would only make up about 10 to 15 seconds in the actual movie.

"It's really neat to show the kids how a movie is really made, in bits and pieces," said sixth-grade teacher Dawn Caldwell-Rothfusz.

Gervais said filming would continue for a couple of weeks, and then he, Valentine and the video production students would edit the piece.

"We're not sure how it will end up, but we will make DVDs and have a premiere at the school," said Gervais. "We might use it for a fundraiser."

Gervais didn't want to ruin the ending, but he said Casper's fate involved Mr. Slitherlots, Herbie Fabreeze and the popular, attention-seeking, student body president Vicky, played by sixth-grader Sammy Vardas-Doane.

"It's so cool to expose the kids to the whole process," Gervais said. "I'm learning as much from them as they are from me."


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