Up Close with Jason Allard, Director of Woonsocket HS Documentary
Saturday, February 22, 2014
GoLocal spoke to Allard, a recent graduate of the University of Rhode Island (class of 2012), to learn about how the project came about; how the story of Woonsocket Middle/High School reflects on the rest of Rhode Island and the country as whole; and what he hopes viewers take away from watching the film.
An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Jason Allard
What was the inspiration behind My Old School?
My Old School began as a small project with my friend and executive producer, Scott Gabrielson. We originally wanted to document the building itself – just the architecture and how it was left abandoned. We both attended the school, so we already had a connection to it. Then former students and teachers started contacting us from as far back as the class of ’38. This old school really had history, and when the stories started coming in about the memories, the wars, the cultural changes, we felt we had to preserve those things. It was really inspiring to hear how much happened within those walls, and to hear people remember the school so fondly.
What was your reaction when you found out that PBS wanted to air your documentary?
Having a documentary air on PBS is a filmmaker’s dream come true. Since I was contacted the first week of January it made for a nice start to the New Year. Rhode Island PBS has such an impressive track record with local and national directors, so to be able to share My Old School with their audience is a great honor.
How were you able to produce the film on such a small budget?
Most of our filming equipment is gathered from past independent projects. It is a combination of old mics, studio lights, and a camera I bought after working a semester in college at a coffee shop. What we didn’t have, we created ourselves. I wanted something to capture the long hallways of the school and evoke a ghost-like feeling. To accomplish that, I ended up welding together a custom dolly from yard sale bicycles and steel rods in my basement. But that’s what made the whole project so fun – we didn’t have a huge budget so we had to get creative.
What surprised you the most when researching the film?
I was most surprised when we were talking with former students about huge historical events that happened while they were in school. Every generation has that defining moment that’s just stuck in their minds. For me, it’s 9/11. I’ll always remember sitting in class hearing the news. When you watch the film, you’ll hear former students talk about JFK the same way my generation speaks about 9/11. They remember exactly what class they were in and what they were doing when they heard the news. I was surprised that despite enduring so many other things in their lives, there’s always that one defining moment that every generation goes back to.
How does the story of Woonsocket Middle/High School reflect on RI and the rest of the country as whole?
When we began to spread the word about My Old School, I had people tell me they didn’t go to the school so they weren’t interested. I told them that this film isn’t just for the alumni of Woonsocket Middle/High School because the stories go beyond the school itself. It’s about growing up – every school had classes, sports and pranks. It’s really a nostalgic look back at any American school. This is a film that everyone can relate to – we just have it set to the backdrop of the largest abandoned school in New England.
What do you hope viewers take away from the film?
I hope viewers can watch this film and gain a new appreciation for the history that abandoned sites contain. Maybe it will inspire people to take the steps necessary to preserve these places, whether directly, or through film, print or photography. Based on the reaction we’ve had from My Old School it’s clear that these places are extremely important to communities. During this project we discovered so many untold stories, and it’s sad driving past vacant sites knowing what they once were. Ultimately, I think when the end credits roll viewers will be feeling nostalgic, hopeful, and curious about the future of places such as the old school.
Watch My Old School on RI PBS on Thursday, March 6 at 9:30 p.m. For more information about the film and to view the trailer, click here.
Related Slideshow: 25 Movies Filmed in Rhode Island
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray Frances McDormand
This Oscar nominated film features many local landmarks including Fort Wetherill State Park, Bayfield Farm, and the Conanicut Lighthouse.
Director: Danny Huston
Cast: Anthony Edwards, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall
Shot in Newport, this comedy-drama features Anthony Edwards as a con man attempting to break into the 1920s Newport social scene.
There's Something About Mary
Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller
Filmed partly in Providence, this movie was the highest-grossing comedy in 1998.
Director: Michael Corrente
Cast: Nicholas Turturro, Anthony DeSando, Libby Langdon
Set in Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood, the movie marks the directorial debut of Pawtucket native Michael Corrente.
Age of Innocence
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
This Oscar winning drama was partly filmed in Portsmouth.
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold
The ballroom scenes in the movie were filmed at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport.
Director: Charles Walters
Cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra
Nominated for two Academy Awards, the movie's opening shot features a flyover of Newport’s oceanfront mansions.
Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp
This docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis was partly shot in Newport.
Director: Todd Field
Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley
Shot partly in Providence, this critically acclaimed drama received three Academy Award nominations, including a Best Lead Actress nod for Kate Winslet.
Director: Peter M. Lenkov
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon
A car chase for this action-comedy was filmed in downtown Providence.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Dijimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey
Shot at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport and the State House in Providence, this drama received four Academy Award nominations in 1998.
Director: Michael Corrente
Cast: Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart, Alec Baldwin
Filmed in multiple locations throughout Rhode Island, this movie is an adaptation of Peter Farrelly's 1988 novel of the same name.
Me, Myself & Irene
Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Jim Carrey, Renée Zellweger. Chris Cooper, Robert Forster, Richard Jenkins
Filmed in Newport, Narragansett, Jamestown, and Galilee, this comedy centers on a Rhode Island State Trooper played by Jim Carrey.
Director: Lajos Koltai
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Meryl Streep
The film was primarily set in Newport and included large portions shot at Gooseberry Beach.
The Great Gatsby
Director: Jack Clayton
Cast: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern
This Academy Award-winning drama was filmed in Newport at the Rosecliff Mansion on Bellevue Ave.
Director: Tom DeNucci
Cast: Eric Roberts, Jonathan Silverman, Michael Berryman, Tom DeNucci
Filmed in a self storage facility in East Greenwich, this horror-comedy marks the directorial debut of Cranston native Tom DeNucci.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Åkerman, Ed Burns
Shot throughout Rhode Island, locations included the Rosecliff and Marble House mansions in Newport and a beach in Charlestown.
Dan in Real Life
Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill
Filmed primarily in Jamestown, the movie also features the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett.
Hachi: A Dog's Tale
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Jason Alexander
Filmed primarily in Bristol and Woonsocket, other locations included the Columbus Theater in Providence and the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.
The Education of Charlie Banks
Director: Fred Durst
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Eva Amurri
Shot partially in Brown University in Providence, the movie marks the directorial debut of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.
Meet Joe Black
Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani
Warwick's Aldrich Mansion served as the residence of Anthony Hopkins' character in the film.
Reversal of Fortune
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver
Jeremy Irons took home the Oscar for Best Actor for this drama, which was partly shot in Newport.
Director: Frederik Du Chau
Cast: Jason Lee, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Warburton, Amy Adams
Shot entirely in Rhode Island, filming locations included Hope High School on the East Side of Providence.
Directors: Francesca Gregorini, Tatiana von Furstenberg
Cast: Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson
Shot in Providence and Newport, the film marks the the directorial debut of Brown University graduates Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg.
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