On our first day in seventh grade at Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School in Little Rock, Arkansas, we entered the Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) classroom. The EAST program began in Greenbrier, Arkansas in 1996 and has since spread to 170 schools all around the nation (as of 2009). EAST provides all the technology and support a student needs to go out and help the community. Two years before, a group of students from Mann EAST had made a documentary on the Japanese-Americans interned at Jerome and Rower, Arkansas called Arkansas' Forgotten. We had decided we wanted to make a film also, but it wasn’t until we saw that documentary that it really seemed like we actually could. The documentary wasn't just good; it sent shivers down our spines and sniffles all around the audience. We turned to each other and said, “We have to make a film as good as or better than this.”
We never meant to enter our first film, Separate But Equal, into any film festivals. We made the film just because we could. We entered it into the History Day Competition just because we happened to be in the history club at school. When we failed to advance past the regional level, we planed to simply put it in a cupboard and move onto something new. But our EAST facilitator, Mr. Richard Washam, wasn't going to let us. On March 31, 2006, he came up to us with an entry form for the T Tauri Film Festival (for more information see www.ttaurifilmfestival.org) and told us to fill it out and get it in the mail by that afternoon because it was due the next day. No way were we going to say no to a teacher, so we did as he asked. We got it to the post office five minutes before it closed. We never thought we'd win. When we heard we had, we were dumbstruck. From that point on, we were officially filmmakers and there was no turning back.
We were in the car with our father shortly after we won at T Tauri when, jokingly, he said, “I guess now you will have to start up your own production company.” By the time we had pulled into our driveway, DoubleTroublets Productions had been born.
We returned to EAST as eighth graders. We knew we wanted to make another documentary, but we still didn't have a topic. Our mother had recently completed the book Rising Tide by J. M. Barry. She told us how unknown the flood of 1927 was and how interesting it might be as a documentary. As we had no other ideas, we said yes. That year we got more adventurous. We travelled to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's library to get most of our information and then traveled to Forest City for, if nothing else, some nice pictures of the Arkansas Delta. We came across the Saint Francis County Visitor Center and thereby the footage by accident. We got lost, saw the sign pointing to the museum and decided to stop there and ask for directions. Inside, we got started talking to the curator, Harvey Hanna. We told him we were there to research the flood, and he said he just happened to be researching a different flood when he came across a German website with all this footage from 1927. He offered to send it to us. We thanked him and left with directions, doubting we would ever hear from him again. Three weeks later, a package from Harvey Hanna arrived with a note apologizing for the delay. The footage he sent saved the film as we had nearly given up from lack of pictures.
After Watching the Waters Rise, our name had gotten out. We were at the Clinton School of Public Service doing a Q & A for one of the documentaries when Mr. Matt Dozier, president of the EAST Initiative, approached us. He had a proposition for us. He was assembling a team of students to make a short promotional film and two commercials for the Arkansas Department of Education's new, advanced school curriculum, Smart Core, during the summer of that year. We said yes. A month later we were introduced to our teammates: Neelam Vyas, a rising tenth grader at Little Rock Central High School, former Mann EAST student, and the “cover girl” for one of Mann EAST's longest running nature projects; Justin Rowland, a rising senior at Bryant High School and an expert in SoftImage and editing; Romero Pleasants, a rising senior at McClellan High School and a proficient music composer; and Lauren Dozier, a rising seventh grader at Mann. Our facilitators were Mr. Washam and Come Early Morning production assistant and EAST alumni Christie Kratz. We were given a two-week crash course in every aspect of filmmaking from filming to lighting to editing. Two weeks later, we began filming. Our main job was lighting, although we all did a little of everything. We used our earnings from that summer to buy our iMac and Final Cut Pro Studio 2.
We started at Little Rock Central High School and its EAST program in the fall of 2007. We had decided over the summer to focus on Fort Chaffee and had already traveled to the University of Fayetteville. However, by the time we returned to school, we still hadn't figured out how the story ended. Our father said he didn't think this subject was possible and we should choose another one, but we said no and persisted. We eventually found the ending in January, four months after we started researching and one month before our first competition. Later our father confessed that it was our best film yet and he never should have doubted us. Needless to say, we don't let him forget it.
For our birthday, in 2007, our grandfather gave us a PanasonicDVX100b camera and a professional lighting set. With those additions, our studio was complete.
In November of 2007, we were asked to travel to Washington, D.C. with Neelam and Lauren to present on EAST and our work on the Smart Core films as keynote speakers at a luncheon at the States Educational Technology Directors Association meeting. Mr. Dozier and Ms. Melanie Bradford, the technology director of the Arkansas Department of Education, were our chaperones. We spent a few days touring D.C. and a few nights getting lessons on how to give a speech from Mr. Dozier. It was our first major speech.
We first heard about the 48 Hour Film Festival in 2007, but our parents decided we were too young to enter. We convinced them to let us the next year. We sent out emails to all our acting friends, but only one was available: Janean Jordan. At the time, Janean was a student at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School. We had met at Mann and she had worked with us before on Watching the Water Rise. Although our team was the smallest, we still managed to complete the film in 27 hours. Perhaps it was our inexperience when it came to writing fiction, but the film proved the old saying “slow and steady wins the race.” Our film entitled Just Plain Odd, about an incompetent and talkative cook auditioning for a part on the Abreaction Television Station, won no awards in the competition.
Shortly after the completion of Return To Sender, we got a notice from the T Tauri Film Festival saying that they were accepting applications for four positions as teen net advisors for their upcoming website for youth filmmakers nicknamed “The Galaxy.” We applied and got two of the positions. Our job description included writing reviews of films and websites, writing tutorials based on our experiences, and giving advice to anyone who asked for it (and some who didn't.) We were forced to resign full time work the following fall when school took priority.
DoubleTroublets Productions had taken off after the Smart Core Films. We were hired to make a short film for the Wolfe Street Foundation's annual Oscar Night Watch Party on films with a connection to Arkansas that won at the Academy Awards. The film was called Arkansas at the Oscars and included film clips from Gone With The Wind, True Grit, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Our next commissioned work was two films for The Colon Club (for more information on The Colon Club visit www.thecolonclub.com.) Will To Fight: The Making of the Colondar was a thirty-minute documentary on the history of the Colondar. Stories From The Front was two and a half hours of personal stories from survivors of colon cancer and The Colon Club staff. We worked on those two films from July to October of 2008.
In the fall of 2008, we returned to Central as tenth graders. Unfortunately, we were unable to fit EAST into our schedules that year, but decided not to stop making films. And so we began work on our fourth documentary, A Soldier in Skirts. Perhaps the hardest film to complete as of then in our career, it was finished three months behind schedule just days before our first competition. It was done mostly on the weekends and breaks. Our sisters soon tired of our lectures on women's rights in the military pre and post war. The original idea was actually to follow a set of letters written by an Arkansan in the Women's Army Corps, but upon finding an old, forgotten memoir in a collection at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, we changed the focus. That was in January of 2009.
Our tenth grade year was very active on the film front. Despite no longer being in an EAST class, we remained very close to the program. We became EAST ambassadors, traveling to conferences and interviews with Mr. Dozier to advertise and promote EAST. At the EAST Conference, we were presenters of a presentation on how to make documentary films called “What's Up Doc.?” We gave the presentation again in June of that year at the Arkansas Bar Association meeting. In addition to our EAST work, we helped launch a film club at Central. We were also asked to once again film the Wolfe Street Foundation's annual Oscar Night America Gala and create a seven-minute film of the event.
We will return to Central next year and plan to continue our filmmaking. Our tentative next documentary topic is the establishment of the censorship committee in Little Rock in the 1940s and 50s.