"Behind the Scenes: The Making of 'Poppy'" is a short documentary, directed and co-produced by Dave Hendrie, and produced by Allison Silberberg in 1994.
The documentary is gritty and uplifting as it follows the ups and downs of making "Poppy," an inspiring, award-winning film about a boy and his grandfather living in Anacostia. It is the grandfather's dying wish for the boy to be the first in the family to go to college.
A Lights, Camera, Action! (LCA!) production, "Poppy" is a short film that was made in 1994 with LCA! participants in the heart of Anacostia in record summer heat in Washington, D.C.
Lights, Camera, Action! (LCA!) was a nonprofit committed to helping teens in Anacostia realize their potential through film. A mentor program in the mid-1990s that used film to reach the students, LCA! taught the teens about filmmaking, writing, communications, teamwork, negotiation, and leadership. LCA! also taught them life lessons, creating a place for them to learn to believe in themselves, to tap into their dreams, and to know that anything is possible.
At the time, Washington had been dubbed the murder capital of the nation. It was the height of the crack wars, and Anacostia was in the thick of the pain and seemingly endless violence.
Lights, Camera, Action! became a safe place for the students to learn, grow and be part of something larger than themselves. The culmination of the LCA! mentor program was the process of writing and making a short film.
For "Poppy," the LCA! students worked on the writing of the script, acted in the film, and served as Allison Silberberg's first assistant directors.
At the end of "Poppy" and after the credits roll, there is a five-minute segment where the LCA! participants talk about their lives, goals, and hopes.
Allison Silberberg, who directed and produced "Poppy," founded LCA! and served as its executive director. In addition, she taught LCA!‘s pilot program. With generous support from the community and numerous donors, LCA! was able to make a difference.
Lights, Camera, Action! was about much more than filmmaking. From the very beginning of LCA!, Allison said that the kids just needed and deserved a chance to shine. And given that chance, they would hit the ball out of the park. And the kids did.
Seven of the eight LCA! participants went to college.
As with the making of any film, there were hurdles, and the oppressive heat was only one of many during the week of the film shoot on location in Anacostia. Dave Hendrie's "Behind the Scenes" captures the can-do spirit and teamwork of LCA!. He also caught the kids in candid, thoughtful moments between shots.
Some of the hurdles were not mentioned in Dave's documentary, including the knowledge that there were drug dealers on the corner at the end of the block making all kinds of noise, and there were half a dozen shootings around the film location that week.
A police cruiser tailed Allison and her three-man crew when they were in the open-air jeep the first morning getting the opening shots for "Poppy." When asked why they were being tailed, the police warned Allison that a violent car-jacking had just taken place in that area, and the police felt Allison and her team were "sitting ducks" anyway. Within an hour of that warning, the jeep overheated and broke down.
Generosity made "Poppy," the documentary about the making of "Poppy," and the whole LCA! mentor program possible and a miracle of sorts.
LCA! had no funds for film equipment. The film camera and all equipment were borrowed from local filmmakers, and National Public Radio loaned the sound equipment to Allison.
Allison and Nate Clapp, the film's cinematographer, and all the teens were extremely careful with the equipment, but a small piece of plastic that held the boom mike in place broke on day two, probably due to the heat. It was taped back together with bright yellow tape, which can be seen in the documentary, "Behind the Scenes." The sound equipment was temperamental and "went on strike" a couple of times and had to be replaced. Despite the hurdles and short shooting schedule, the laughter was constant.
The LCA! participants kept their cool and brought creativity and ingenuity to each scene. They were suddenly professionals working well as a team. Though they had never worked on a film, they were excited about it, had worked hard on the script and the pre-production and now wanted to do a great job and show the world their film.
The week before the film shoot, Troy Mitchell, one of the LCA! participants, learned that he landed a summer job that was starting the week of the shoot, and he suddenly felt torn about being able to play his role of Red Man and help on crew. In the end, he delayed the job for a week even though that meant a loss of income and could have meant the loss of his job.
James "Duke" Jackson, who played Poppy, was the real-life grandfather of LCA! participant Ernest Solomon, who played Rayvon's best friend, Pooh. Mr. Jackson was a critical part of the film and the experience for the students. Mr. Jackson, a retired postal worker, and his wife, Frances Jackson, graciously opened their home to LCA! for the film shoot. But then, Mr. Jackson could not sleep at all the night before the shoot and was extremely nervous about forgetting his lines and suddenly uncomfortable about being filmed. Soon he saw that he would be fine. He and Mrs. Jackson were an integral part of the film's completion and success. In fact, it was their newborn grandson who played the crying baby Rayvon in the opening sequence.
Coach Willie Stewart, a renowned local high school coach, played the basketball coach in the film.
Eastman KODAK donated the film stock, and Colorlab and Henninger donated the post-production work. Double R Productions donated the digitizing of both films. The incredibly long list of all donors can be seen at the end of Poppy. Each and every donation made a significant difference and is greatly appreciated.
In the fall of 1994, the American Film Institute, which was located at The Kennedy Center, held the premiere of "Poppy." For almost all of the LCA! teens, this would be their first time at The Kennedy Center.
The premiere was packed. The LCA! participants brought family with them, and most of the LCA! donors attended. After the screening of "Poppy" and "Behind the Scenes," the LCA! participants went up on stage, and Allison gave them their Certificates of Achievement, and then the audience gave the students a rousing standing ovation. Many in the audience had tears as they cheered. Following the premiere, Planet Hollywood in downtown D.C. closed its restaurant in order to host a beautiful reception and celebration for the LCA! students and their film. Local media coverage was extensive.
"Poppy" aired on local PBS stations numerous times.
In 1995, "Poppy" won a CINE Golden Eagle and an "Excellence in Local Programming Award" from the American Association of University Women.
Special thanks go to Nate Clapp, Dave Hendrie, and Sherwood Ballard. Nate Clapp, the cinematographer for "Poppy" who was discovered because of his connection with American University, and Dave Hendrie, who directed and co-produced "Behind the Scenes: The Making of 'Poppy,'" were excellent, generous, guiding forces on the set. Dave Hendrie was one of Allison’s former screenwriting students at American University. Sherwood Ballard, a D.C. police officer, encouraged Allison from the beginning and introduced her to Anacostia Senior High School and the neighborhood's police department.
Heartfelt thanks to the Seventh District Police Department (7th D, as it is known) for its generosity and warmth.
Serving on LCA!‘S Advisory Board were: Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is Harvard’s Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies.
Update about LCA!
Seven out of the eight LCA! participants went to college.
Rayvon Hicks graduated from college and today is a successful businessman. In his late twenties, he established an annual scholarship award for a graduating senior from Anacostia Senior High School, and he has supported other community programs.
Troy Mitchell is a network services manager who runs his own computer services company.
Robby Preston, who sang "Amazing Grace" in "Poppy" and then at the end of the film sang a song that he wrote, played one of the "tough" kids. Today, he teaches at-risk youth in DC.
Due to lack of funding, LCA! had to close operations. A few nonprofits around the nation showed interest in replicating LCA!’s successful program, but those nonprofits lacked funding as well.
Dave Hendrie and Nate Clapp continue to be filmmakers.
Allison Silberberg is a writer, advocate, public speaker, and photographer who has extensive grant making experience. Specialized in high-impact philanthropy and community action, her advocacy/communications consulting is focused on unmet social needs, social justice issues, and civic engagement. She is the author of two books, one of which is "Visionaries In Our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World," which is about individuals who are making a difference in our country. The book hit #1 on Amazon's Philanthropy & Charity list.
In 1994, she had been teaching a screenwriting course at American University's School of Communication, and that course became the basis of LCA!. Allison had previously worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-TX). Before moving to DC, she had written for a television show called "Mama's Family." While earning her M.F.A. in Playwriting from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, Allison had interned for Lion's Gate Studios and Sydney Pollack.
To learn more about Lights, Camera, Action!, to watch "Behind the Scenes: The Making of 'Poppy,'" or to see media hits for LCA!, please see: allisonsilberberg.com.