LIVERMORE -- Livermore has snared more cinematic shine with the recent announcement of a new filmmaking school courtesy of Joey Travolta's Inclusion Films and Lafayette-based nonprofit Futures Explored Inc.

On Feb. 25, the first of two, 10-week courses began for the "Practical Film and Media Workshop," which will provide real, hands-on, job-centric training for adults with developmental disabilities. Graduates will have expertise in writing, editing, filming and producing everything from feature films to 30-second public service announcements.

Adding a Northern California location to Inclusion Films' established schools in Burbank and Bakersfield has been a long-sought goal for Travolta, a highly-regarded director and educator (and brother of actor John Travolta) and Will Sanford, the executive director of Futures Explored.

"We've been working with Inclusion Films for several years on our summer film camps and have seen a tremendous impact on participants year after year," Sanford said in statement referring to the annual, two-week camps held at Saint Mary's College in Moraga.

In the fall of 2012, summertime dreams jumped the scale to become fiscal support for the program and "location, location," became their mantra.

"I love Livermore," Travolta declared, in an interview during the first week of classes at the 5,500-square-feet facility.

Praising the town's "great restaurants," clear air ("Remember, I'm coming from L.A.," he jokes) and accessibility, Travolta said linking up with local television stations, community, school and civic groups and businesses in need of industrial commercial films or online content is an upcoming priority.

But first, there were the school's nine inaugural students.

Gathered in a large classroom, just steps from offices for editing, production, costume and set design and a spacious warehouse, the filmmakers-to-be brainstormed on a PSA video.

It wasn't hypothetical: it was their first project and will result in a 30-second film promoting a local nonprofit's active community involvement.

Like a conductor, Travolta ushered new ideas into the room, then allowed them to float. The students picked up suggestions and ran wild -- until lead instructor Hester Wagner redirected their attention. Within 20 minutes, they had logo proposals, enough understanding of copyright laws to have planned for original music, a tag line and a schedule for location scouting.

In Los Angeles county, Inclusion Films produced a statewide baby safe campaign. In Bakersfield, a local TV station broadcasts 30-minute Inclusion Film-generated news segments several times a year. For Travolta, filmmaking is not these students' future hobby: it will be their vocation.

Student Michael Tuttle, 24, of Oakland, is already a filmmaker.

"Some of the material is refresher, but I'm interested in learning about potential achievements. I wanted inspiration, and I looked up to see if there were any professionals in my field who had autism. I haven't met any, and it would be a huge boost for me. It would give me a sign that people with an interesting need have a unique eye for themes and stories," he says.

San Ramon's Stephanie Brock, 23, is seeking action, but says learning to listen well and remembering everything are what she plans to master.

And Eliot Felde, 23, of Dublin, who intends to direct comedies, would like to learn "the whole realm." He is working on a documentary titled, "Teens on Wheels" that will explain -- and show -- what it is like to have a disability.

"I used to not like being disabled, but I've learned to accept it. It's important to not treat people in wheelchairs like they can't tell you a joke or have a girlfriend -- or to be condescending and talk slowly or exaggeratedly," he said.

Livermore Mayor John Marchand called the film school exciting and "a wonderful opportunity for collaboration" with the Chamber of Commerce's Film Commission.

"The Bay Area has also been the home of the new technological Renaissance of filmmaking," he wrote in an email. "I'm looking forward to great things from the Institute as it expands and works with our community."

Livermore Film Commission Director Jeanie Haigh brings a background in recreational programming and a film-lover's fascination to her 24-7 position.

"I'm part-time, but all the time," she laughed. "They can call me anytime and that's big for film production people."

Livermore's variety of locations and easy access, especially with the airport, she said, resulted in 2012 financials showing the film industry had a $1.68 million impact on the area.

"I can help with finding locations, engineering encroachments, arranging police or fire department support ... I can even find horses if they need them," Haigh said.

Her words -- sweet music to the ears of Travolta, who will begin stretching his legs outside of the school's spanking-new walls and appealing to local businesses this summer -- parallel Marchand's enthusiasm.

"Films can transport you to any time and to any world," he said. "They can cause you to suspend disbelief or they can compel you into deep contemplation. They can bring you face-to-face with your own mortality, and yet their characters and themes can be immortal and timeless."

FYI
For information about how to register for the Practical Film and Media Workshop, contact Aileen Timmers at aileentimmers@futures-explored.org or 925-284-3240, extension 215.
Spring Workshop
Schedule and Location
SESSION 1A: Feb. 25 through May 3
SESSION 1B: May 6 through July 12
DAYS/HOURS: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday
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    PUBLIC OPEN HOUSE
    WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon March 20
    WHERE: 2021 Las Positas Court, Suite 147, Livermore
    CONTACT: 925-456-0255

    PUBLIC OPEN HOUSE
    WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon March 20
    WHERE: 2021 Las Positas Court, Suite 147, Livermore
    CONTACT: 925-456-0255