Katy ISD students co-write, direct film exposing cruelty
He was a kid just like anyone else, perhaps 16 or 17 years old. He likely woke up every morning at six, dressed accordingly and probably sat quietly beside you in algebra, itching in his seat as he was relentlessly mocked by students for his sexual orientation. The unconventional aspect of this story is that one morning, after struggling through years of bullying, Weston decided to kill himself.
Weston is a character, loosely based on the personal struggles of Seven Lakes junior Joseph Bowman, but was inspired by the suicide of a gay Houston teenager. Weston’s story will be featured in a student made film, A Place for Weston, which is currently being developed by co-directors and writers Bowman and Cinco Ranch junior Kendall McElhaney.
“This movie is about somebody’s life,” McElhaney said. “[Weston] is someone who killed himself at [a bully’s] hands just because someone doesn’t know when to stop talking. You can’t erase words.”
McElhaney and Bowman met through LifeGroups, a Christian organization, and found common ground through their desire to spread awareness and fuel the effort to end needless bullying in high schools.
“If through this movie I can change one person’s thought about bullying or homosexuality, I’m completely satisfied with all the work I put into this,” Bowman said
With the help of Friday Night Lights producer Darrel Supercinski, the students hope to begin the auditions for cast and crew in December, but the bulk of filming and production will take place next summer. They also plan to hold a benefit concert to raise funds for their film.
However, there has been resistance from the local community. Bowman has had trouble finding audition space from local businesses, who do not want backlash from supporting a film that features homosexuality. Katy ISD also does not allow filming on school grounds without a sizeable fee.
“We have a mentality of if there is a will there is a way, so I know we’re going to find the space we need,” McElhaney said. “Just expect lots of posters on trees because no one owns the trees.”
McElhaney and Bowman have had indirect contact with the family of the Houston teenager, whose story inspired the film. While they wish to remain anonymous, due to legal entanglements, the family does support the production process.
“But this [film] isn’t just subjected to this one situation, bullying and teen suicides happen all around the world,” McElhaney said.
Bowman has spent most of his spare time writing, while also balancing two jobs, American Sign Language club, and creative writing club.
”The thing about writing for me is that it’s kind of like how photography is, where you have to take hundreds of photos to find that good one,” Bowman said. “So I seriously have three or four notebooks with scenes for this [movie] and I keep writing until I find a good one.”
The script as a whole is chronological but features details and events that are placed out of sequence. Although McElhaney and Bowman condemn offensive language and find it difficult to incorporate certain explicit phrases into the dialogue, Bowman does not plan to censor any of his writing.
”This story is real and I’m not going to censor reality,” Bowman said. “Every other bullying movie is censored and the bully just calls you stupid or dumb or a jerk. That is bullying but it’s just not the way bullying goes on today.”
Bowman has endured a personal struggle to find acceptance and understanding from his peers. However, his primary conflict has been with his family, who do not approve his decision to abandon their strict Jewish faith for Christianity .
”The screenplay is written from my experience, but the idea started from someone else’s story that I had read about in the paper,” Bowman said. “I kind of looked back on my life since elementary school and I realized I had been bullied a lot throughout my life, so I added a bunch of things that happened to me. The film is pretty personal.”
The film does not focus solely on student perspectives, but also features teachers’ roles. A particular scene has parents discussing the bullying problem with counselors, who simply say that kids will be kids and the problem will resolve itself, until Weston kills himself a week later.
KatyISD supports district wide bullying prevention and immediate intervention from teachers to avoid any deliberate indifference from teachers. McElhaney believes confiding in adults is an essential way for students to find support.
”I know staff members at this school that will be there for you like they are your own parent,” Mcelhaney said. “It is really humbling because there are such good teachers at Cinco and they really will support you.”
A Place for Weston is a medium through which Bowman and McElhaney hope to end physical, verbal and online bullying, which they believe has become a new social norm in teenage interaction. McElhaney said that it is often the unnecessary and rude ‘jokes’ that affect students the most, especially girls who throw around negatively charged words in the hallway without any inhibitions or thought for the consequences
“What I’m starting to find out and what is really helping me through my own experiences with bullying is that life really does get better,” Bowman said. “The whole stigma of how after high school everything will be better and people will be more mature helped me realize that these people are temporary. So you should never let what anyone else says change who you are.”
Although neither Bowman nor McElhaney plan to pursue filmmaking as a primary career choice, they believe that their film could change the perspective of at least one person and has the potential to change the world. They plan to submit the film to Sundance, Lifetime movies, and kickstarter.com.
”It’s crazy to me that someone can just end [their life] because of something someone else says,” McElhaney said. “It just makes me want to travel back in time and go to them at that moment and just hug them and let them know they’re not alone. That’s why I really want to do this movie because it’s my own personal way saying ‘please don’t listen to anyone else because you really are loved.’”