Blog : The Film

In the tradition of 5th-Grade productions everywhere, School Play works best when it involves the whole community. We’ve gathered a continuous selection of thoughts (both big and small) below.

Miss Shade is Missing

Posted by amie

 | in The Film

This is a cool short film we made, that actually works great as a companion piece for SCHOOL PLAY. It's won a bunch of awards too. The basic gist: A third grade class in Brooklyn recounts its worst day in school. It was a surprisingly bad day. And, surprisingly funny. 


I've always loved watching Tim O'Brien draw. Tim is a friend, a neighbor, boxer, runner, husband and dad. He's also one of America's best illustrators. (Whether you know it or not, you've been looking at Tim's work for years - on the covers of magazines, on postage stamps, on your favorite book covers...)

Some of Tim's recent artwork. You can see why he was named the 'illustrator of the year' in 2009!

I've watched Tim paint and draw for hours in the past. Our families go on vacation together and, when you're with Tim, you see that he just can't help himself. He sketches while we make supper. He even paints on the kids, turning them into superheroes before bedtime. If there's a surface to draw on and a minute to spare, Tim's happy.

With Tim on vacation: Sketching me cooking dinner. Tim, after painting on the kids. Once, he even painted a window onto the wood ceiling of the beach house - so realistic, you'd think it opens!

We were really lucky in that Tim was willing to draw the art work for SCHOOL PLAY. I got to hang out in his studio, the famous Tim O'Brien lair on the top floor of his house in Brooklyn, and watch him bring our poster to life. It's like watching a magic show  - lines coming together to form emotions. A hand waves across a page, whole stories spring to life. He really should charge admission!

Watching Tim draw the SCHOOL PLAY artwork was particularly cool because I'd never seen him work on the computer before.

The funny thing about the SCHOOL PLAY poster is that it's not really a typical "Tim O'Brien" illustration. Tim's known for his startling realism and extraordinary detail. But for this painting, Rick and I wanted less 'realism'. Yes, it is for a documentary film. But our goal from the beginning was to make more of 'a memory play' than a realistic rendering. We were hoping to capture childhood through rose-colored glassed. The art work had to capture this notion too.

Tim was of course more than up to the task. We think he's created another iconic image, perfectly capturing the fear and excitement of a child stepping out onto a stage for the first time. Thanks, Tim!

To see how the SCHOOL PLAY art work came together from Tim's perspective, check out his blog. And while you're there, look at some of his other amazing work! TIM O'BRIEN'S BLOG

You know how nothing ever happens exactly as planned? A while back, we were sick of making "films for hire", and really wanted to create something that fed our souls. SCHOOL PLAY is the result-- a labor of love and a great example of finding both art and drama right in your own back yard.

But: who would have ever guessed it would take this long to get it out into the world?

Like everything always does, SCHOOL PLAY continues to find its own path (and time schedule). We've watched enthusiastic festival audiences laugh, cry and be transformed by this film. We're extremely excited that this site will finally allow us to reach the vast audience of documentary lovers, theatre fans and advocates of arts education.

Welcome.  And please tell your friends about us!

Local Actress, 13, Featured in BIFF Program

May 27, 2010


Elizabeth Gale, a resident of Hillsdale, is one of the brightest stars of the family documentary ‘School Play’, screening as part of this year’s ‘Free Films for Kids’ program at the Berkshire International Film Festival. Filmed when she was in the 4th grade, Gale is the youngest of five featured actors seen struggling through their elementary school production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

While ‘School Play’ was Gale’s first film, it’s not likely to be her last.  Now a seventh-grader at the Hawthorne Valley School in Harlemville, the diminutive Elizabeth is represented by a New York City agent and goes on frequent auditions (most recently she was seen for the new Coen Brother’s film ‘True Grit’). But theatre and dance remains her first love: she’s a veteran of five plays, and is a regular fixture at ‘The Pulse’ dance studio in Housatonic.

“Elizabeth lives for the arts”, says her mother, Julie Gale, who gives gourmet cooking classes from their Hillsdale home. “She’s been seeing art shows and theatre and dance performances virtually since the day she was born. It’s just a part of her DNA.


The value of the arts in education is one of several themes that run through ‘School Play’. While on the surface it’s a film about the trials and tribulations of the ‘Oz’ production, the filmmakers take us into the home of each child, allowing us a first-hand view of how this multi-dimensional mix survives the pressure of growing up. We quickly see that the interior lives of these 'tweens are as complex and chaotic as any adults (except adults are rarely so honest or so vulnerable in their musings). Ultimately what is confirmed is the utter power of art to transform and illuminate life.

“Audiences around the country really love the film”, says co-director Rick Velleu, “and I think Elizabeth–who’s utterly charming–is a major reason why.  That, and I think people are surprised at how funny and entertaining a documentary can be.”

Of ‘Free Films for Kids’, BIFFMA Executive Assistant Lauren Ferin emphasized the importance of hosting the program at the Mahaiwe Theatre. “We’re really trying to grow the next generation of film lovers”, Ferin said. “So this year we not only have a great lineup of films, but we want kids to be wowed by the beauty of the venue”. Showing just before ‘School Play’ is a series of animated shorts entitled ‘Kid Flix Mix 2009’.

‘School Play’, which has garnered three ‘Best Documentary’ Awards at festivals nationwide, will be screened at Great Barrington’s historic Mahaiwe Theatre on Sunday, June 6th at 12:00 pm.  

Tickets are free, and Gale (along with the directors and several other cast members) will answer questions following the film. 

To view a trailer of ‘School Play’ go to