a couple of weeks ago i took a road trip to truro, ns, to go backstage with jonathan torrens. jonathan, who stars in tv with tv's jonathan torrens and as j-roc in the trailer park boys, has got a great idea to create a 'movie trailer' for schools that could do for film what the bookmobile did for books. his first step was to help kids at the local school turn their story ideas into films, complete with scripts, sets and greenscreen.
i spent an hour on set watching aliens eat mars bars and deliver their lines as jonathan coaxed a killer performance out of them. he also told me that contrary to what i thought, his first gig was not on street cents, but as one half of a horse in a tv commercial for the bayers road shopping centre. he didn't say which half he played.
here's the chronicle herald article:
By Jon Tattrie
Students at a Truro elementary school got a taste of Hollywood last week as actor Jonathan Torrens brought a film crew to town to help the kids turn scripts into movies.
Grade 3 students at Valley Elementary School have been working on the productions since October and the short films involved aliens invading Earth for chocolate bars to fuel their spaceship, adventures on the deserts of Egypt and a daring escape from a volcano.
Torrens, the actor and writer who played J-Roc in the Trailer Park Boys and stars in TV with TV’s Jonathan Torrens, said the idea came to him when talking with his sister-in-law, Donna MacLeod, a teacher at the Truro school. She said students usually wrote a short story and left it at that. Torrens wondered about turning those stories into movies. MacLeod loved the idea.
“It kind of snowballed,” Torrens said on the set of the alien movie, which featured a space craft and a copious supply of Mars bars. “I was inspired by the behind-the-scenes tours of McDonalds and stuff that
I got as a kid and the kind of Wizard-of-Oz, mind-blowing affect that had on me. I thought it would be just as cool to bring them somewhere like this.”
Eastlink donated the film set and technology while Torrens twisted arms and called in favours to assemble a crack team of volunteer filmmakers. “We’ve brought the kids to the circus, instead of the other way around,” Torrens explained.
Torrens created a green screen so kids wouldn’t be limited to what they could shoot locally. “We’re in a plane, we jump into a volcano, we open the door and it’s a desert island and we’re on a pyramid. They’re insane, the imaginations of these kids,” he said.
The 10 four-minute films will get a red-carpet premier Monday night at 6 p.m. at the Empire Theatres at the Truro Power Centre. Empire donated the facility, so the kids decided to turn it into a benefit for the Colchester Food Bank. Red-screen attendees will pay what they can in cash, unwrapped presents or non-perishable food items, all of which will go to the food bank.
“With arts funding in schools being cut way back, it’s kind of up to the artists who live in these communities to share what they can,” said Torrens, who lives near Truro with his wife and baby daughter.
Aliens Rebecca McGean, Pauline Francis and Liam Atwater patiently acted through cut after cut until they got their lines just right while Torrens directed.
“I hate Mars bars,” Pauline declared after yet another take of the scene where she had to bite off a piece of the snack.
“Acting was awesome. It was easy,” said Rebecca, though she admitted she and Pauline got tired as they had to crouch to get into the shot.
Teacher Shannon Thiesen said it was an exciting project for the two Grade 3 classes. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” she said. “We’ve been practicing a lot. It’s been a lot of work and certainly worthwhile. The
kids have been really creative.”
She said the film version of her language arts class was a first for the school. “The cool thing is this is a very real experience and they had a real purpose for their writing. To see it come to life on the screen is really the ultimate,” she said.
Torrens said he hopes to eventually create a “movie trailer” that could bring filmmaking equipment from school to school, just like the bookmobile did with books. “It’s ambitious, and by ambitious I mean it costs a lot of money. It’s in the very early stages, but that’s the dream,” he said. “Truro’s the new T-Dot.”
Photo caption: Soldiers Gary Nemis, Jayden Mackenzie (left to right) work on the set with aliens Rebecca McGean, Pauline Francis and Liam Atwater while Jonathan Torrens directs. (By Jon Tattrie)