A group of third-graders got a chance to be in a movie Tuesday as the cast and crew of an East Bay independent film production visited the campus of Tehiyah Day School on Tassajara Avenue in El Cerrito.
It was a little like herding cats at times, said production manager Marlenee Emigh, but everything eventually came together for the opening scene of "Emily and Billy," a production about a real phenomenon called prosopagnosia, or "face blindness."
People with face blindness are unable to recognize facial features and are thus unable to identify others.
The character of Emily in the film, played by 7-year-old Emily Kessel of San Ramon, suffers from face blindness. The opening scene, with about 20 extras age 7 to 9, deals with Emily's difficulties in class and in making friends because of her condition.
A friend of director and screenwriter Ari Sigal was able to arrange the use of the Tehiyah campus, where classes are out for the summer.
In filming sessions in Richmond, Pinole, Clayton and Santa Rosa in July, Emily will meet Billy, to be played by 9-year-old Everett Meckler of San Jose, and the two will become friends.
"Emily has face blindness and she's lonely and quiet," Sigal said. "Billy, who has a
Meckler's facial features will be obscured using a combination of makeup and postproduction special effects, Emigh said.
Sigal, who grew up in Albany, studied acting at New York University before returning to the Bay Area to attend the Berkeley Digital Film Institute, graduating about a year ago.
Dao, another film institute graduate, raised $3,000 for the production in about 10 days via Kickstarter.com, a website that displays artists' ideas and invites contributions from interested benefactors.
The two are now trying to raise an additional $6,000 using Kickstarter and applying for grants.
The movie is being shot with a high-definition video camera, Dao said.
"It's a more affordable option," Dao said. "You can keep on shooting and not worry about wasting film."
Face blindness was the subject of a "60 Minutes" segment in May, entitled "Face Blindness: When Everyone is a Stranger."
Primate expert Jane Goodall, psychiatrist Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close are among the more famous people who admit to having it, Sigal said.
"Sacks talks about a time he thought he was talking to someone else until he realized he was speaking to his own image in a mirror," Sigal said. "I find it an interesting disorder, and I wanted to write something about it."
Sigal and Dao plan to enter the movie into film festivals, including the Palm Springs Short Film Festival, the San Francisco Film Festival and the Albany Film Fest.
"The intention is to show off Ari as a writer and film director," Dao said. "You get more projects by showing people what you can do."