On The Set of American Dropout

I pull into the parking lot at 6 AM. A silent Sunday morning; spring birds have yet to rouse themselves. Across the street, a power plant; next to me, the metro line; behind and ahead, nondescript business park buildings. I see a glow through a glass-paned garage door, approach, and enter the Garden, a co-working and maker space.

Production staff say hello and bring me to a multi-use studio, where gaffers are rigging lights and the DP is discussing camera operation with the director.

Initial lighting tests, setting up for first interview.

Initial lighting tests, setting up for first interview.

So begins the day on set. In production is a documentary titled American Dropout, which will shed light on the issues surrounding high school dropout rates and how these problems can be resolved. Today, three women who have left the public school system for various reasons, as well as several experts with a variety of perspectives and experiences, share their stories. Filming, already ongoing on the west coast, will continue in Chicago and elsewhere.

As still photographer, I capture the day - setup, interviews, off-camera goings-on, and all the rest. The opportunity to be present for these storytelling hours is an honor. I hear of the difficulties that led to choices to drop out of school, of overcoming obstacles, of mentorship and relationship and real-world solutions that have helped many graduate and move forward. The director, Rob Carpenter, takes time out of the busy schedule to chat with me and share his vision for this film, as well as several others.

Rob talks with Ashley, one of the interviewees.

Rob talks with Ashley, one of the interviewees.

Most inspiring to me is the interview with Bill Milliken (see another one of his talks here). For 50 years, he has been a mentor and friend to young men who would likely have otherwise been swallowed up by gangs and prisons. After himself struggling in school, he moved to Harlem and began simply spending time with the young men that were out on the streets. That relationship, that love, brought hope to many young men who would otherwise have had none. Decades later, those relationships have grown into the Communities in Schools program, which β€œconnects students and their families to critical community resources tailored to local needs. Working in nearly 2,700 in the most challenged communities, in 28 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools serves nearly 1.26 million young people and their families. It has become the nation's leading dropout prevention organization, and the only one proven to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.” To see this man continue to build relationships and speak about the need for love and for people in high-risk areas to get connected with resources to help them succeed is incredible.

American Dropout is slated to be released in late 2019. Based on these interviews (just a few of many), Rob’s passionate directing, and the attention to detail given by all, this will surely be an excellent and eye-opening film!

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