The following is the first in a series of blog posts about Melborne High School.
This one's been a long time coming.
Two months ago, I released a six-episode web series entitled "Melborne High School." The series was co-written and co-directed by myself and best friend Josh Chodor. We also co-starred, playing ourselves. (Being avid procrastinators and lacking basic organizational skills, the series was not produced by us but instead by Hailey Burns. More on her another time.) The series was released on June 24th (the day after we graduated high school) and represented the as-of-yet culmination of our achievements, experience, and indeed, our friendship.
Now I try to write a blog post about each major project I complete, kind of as a behind-the-scenes look at the production process. The production of "Melborne," as we call it for short, was a enormous undertaking by the three of us, and definitely worthy of telling. However, this story isn't one of poorly balanced budgets, crippling technical malfunctions, last-minute cancellations, script revisions, and whatever else the universe thought would be funny to throw at us. In fact, the actual act of creating the series was just a small part of the whole. At its core, the story of the creation of "Melborne," is one of relationships; between a club and a school, between a teacher and a club, between two students and their teacher, and between those two students and each other. I was lucky enough to be one of those students, I was lucky enough for Josh to be the other.
I'll talk more about "Melborne" later, but this is a story about Josh. And this is a story with many starting points.
There's Mark Oppel's 8th grade, 5th period English class- where Josh Chodor and I became friends. Like two lone clowns passing in the night, each in need of an audience and an inspiration, so did Josh and I plant the initial seeds of friendship in the front row of the last room at the end of the 8th grade wing. And, like the clowns, each of us were clever, enthusiastic, and as I suspect of most clowns, a little bit lonely. Looking back, it seems that we both found a friend at the time we needed one most.
There's Six at Seven, a night of one-act plays Mr. Oppel puts on yearly. Josh and I had co-written a play about a crazy grandmother being paid a visit by her daughter and grandson as an assignment for english that year (the most fun I've ever had working on an english project, easily.) Every year, Oppel would select the six best plays and have teachers perform them onstage after school. "A Day at Grandma's" (now a major motion picture) was selected and for the first time in our lives, we got to watch a script we wrote come to life with actors and an audience. It was amazing. I think I can safely speak for the both of us when I say sitting in Mr. Oppel's 5th period English class was one of the most monumental, hilarious, eye-opening, life-changing experiences we ever had (to date!) and in point of fact a milestone of our young lives. So much so that every year afterwards, we snuck back behind Millburn Middle School, knocked on the window of the last room at the end of the 8th grade wing, and brought Mr. Oppel coffee and company. Mr. Oppel, if you're reading this, we really owe you the world.
And then there's sophomore year of high school, where we attempted our next project. This one was set in the fictional town of Melbourne, CT. The plot was this: due to state budget cuts, a well-hated high school is forced to be redistricted, and it's up to a small group of students to save the day. We wrote the script for a pilot episode, cast our friends (and ourselves) in roles, and at the end of sophomore year, began production. Long story short: it failed. We had little experience, insufficient equipment, and no producer. Everything came crashing down after a few failed shoots, bad acting, and a mishap where the boom mic had gotten disconnected rendering all our footage silent. By all accounts, the series was dead.
But as they say, when god closes a door, he opens a window. This is a phrase I never understood. Why did he close the door in the first place if he was just going to open a window? I prefer to liken life to a big game of whack-a-mole: a game where you swing a big foam mallet in an effort to concuss as many moles as you can before your time runs out. It doesn't matter if you whack said mole or you miss, there will always be another equally infuriating mole (or moles) popping up somewhere else. It's just a matter of anticipating where the next mole is going to be. Like in the back of the Millburn High School library at 2:45, where Josh Chodor had invited me to sit in on a meeting of "Production Club" and (in his words) "help him usurp some power." God had closed the door on our experimental little series. Screw windows, we were trying a different house.
About now would be a good time to mention Mr. Rhodes, continuing on with the theme of life-changing teachers. Josh and I might still have been friends had it not been for him, but we certainly would not have been anywhere near as close. Gabe Rhodes was our teacher for four years, a faculty advisor for three, and a friend always.
I can't tell the story of how "Melborne" came to be without talking about Production Club. After all, it's what inspired the series. Here's an abridged history:
To put it lightly, Production Club in its original state could be likened to a twelve-car pileup on a two-lane highway. Josh, Hailey and I have many metaphors for the state of the club (sinking ship, pile of garbage, etc.) but for this blog post I have decided to go with twelve-car pileup. Josh had already been to a few of these meetings before inviting me, and therefore I basically credit him as the inciting incident leading to the events that were to come. He joined the club with an intention to report on the school's sport scene. Really, he wanted to commentate live games, but he arrived and learned that they didn't really have that kind of capability. In fact, they weren't really doing much of anything. Sure, Mr. Rhodes was there. But there's only so much a teacher can do on his own without student support. To quote our own script, "What exactly do you do in Production Club?"
Flash forward a summer and things are happening. A few lunches with Mr. Rhodes over the summer, and some overtime at the high school yielded to a plan for the club, now dubbed "Studio 462," after the address of the high school. We boasted big plans: a live morning show, live sporting events, and an online 24/7 student-created-content channel. Although honestly this wasn't the sort of creative work I had envisioned myself doing, I really couldn't pass up an opportunity to work on something potentially great. In fact, we pretty much nailed a live morning show early on. Sure, the anchors were reading scripts out of their lap, and sure we were broadcasting during the school day meaning none of the students could really even tune in, but that wasn't the point. We were making something. Then there was our first football game. I'll save you the suspense: it was a hilarious disaster. First of all, it wasn't even live. We just recorded footage from several angles, including Josh and new co-commentator Luc Sigaud sitting beside the field, barely even able to see, speaking into a microphone. We never even edited the footage, but it served as a good test run. The rest of the football games were disasters, too. The highlight of our season was when the team (Josh, Luc, Hailey and myself- yes, we were a team now) arrived late to the game, and couldn't find the equipment. After making a few calls to Mr. Rhodes and the principal, we found it around halftime. I distinctly remember sprinting around the field carrying the heavy equipment, crying. I was angry and stressed out. Josh was stressed out and confused. We probably yelled at each other a lot. These were the moments we remember most fondly.
It was a roller coaster of success and failure. Everything fell into place for basketball season, boasting thousands of views. Everything fell apart again as we fought the ever-stubborn music department for use of the auditorium to broadcast assemblies. Josh and I were invited to the basketball team banquet. We had dinner with the principal and presented in front of the board of education. We were kicked out of spaces and got cancelled-on last minute throughout the year. We gathered members and made new friends. As a result of Studio, Josh and I started spending more time together. A lot more time together. Like, all the time together. It had been said that Josh and I (and Hailey) were hard to hang out with because of how in sync we were. During Junior year, most people do their growing outwards- expanding their friend groups, interests, experiences. We did our growing inward, circumstantially growing closer and closer and closer together. As the most eventful schoolyear of our lives so far came to a close, the two of us were tired. And frustrated. And angsty. We had experienced a lot more of the high school system than most students get the misfortune to.
Basically, we deserved a vacation. My grandparents have a house up in Martha's Vineyard and I always spend a week there during the summer. At this point the two of us were inseparable for better or worse, so it only made sense that I take him with me this particular summer. There's also have a small shed (just two beds, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a sofa) on the property without internet or TV. Of course, we took it. Some of the world's best literary works came from isolated sheds in the wilderness. Thoreau comes to mind immediately. Now, I'm not saying what we created in our little shed was "Walden." It wasn't. What we made was stupid and silly and wonderful.
Picture this: It's three in the morning. Two high school seniors in bathrobes (one wrapped in a cold towel underneath due to extreme sunburn) are eating donuts and cracking up over a computer screen in the dark. On the computer was an open document titled "Jokes." Josh and I were listing every stupid and/or hilarious thing that had happened to us in the past year, and every stupid and/or hilarious thing that could have happened to us. We were laughing at ourselves and the Studio and Mr. Rhodes and all our other teachers and everything else in the school and life. Maybe it was the hour of the night, or all the left over frustration from school, but we were seriously losing it. Rolling on the floor, coughing, wheezing, aching. It was the best of times. It was therapy.
In case you hadn't deduced it, that silly list we had created was soon to become "Melborne High School" mark II. And as our Senior year approached, we were feeling refreshed and ready to create. And oh, we did.
Today I waved goodbye to a best friend. Josh just went off to college, something he's been dreaming of for oh so long. I'm sitting writing this in the café we used to hang out at.
When I look at you I see someone who wanted to get out of here so badly you created a reason to stay. And actually made it a little better.
As the end draws close, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for the amazing person who made me all that I am today. All the stress, the frustration, the sadness, the joy, and not once since we joined lives did I face a moment of it alone. We're going our separate ways, and that scares me, but I'll take you wherever I go.
To quote our personal hero,
Although I search myself It's always someone else I see.
~ Elton John
UPDATE: I'm just finishing this as Josh texts Hailey and I:
Where are you guys?
We tell him where, ask him why.
I have something to give you
Don't go anywhere
Fifteen minutes later, he's here. He's handing me a thick stack of papers. The original, sophomore year script for Melborne.
Can't wait to read it again.