Monday, September 12, 2016

Santa's Boot Camp

Filmmaker Ken Feinberg doesn’t exactly have the profile of a guy who just made a film about Santa Claus. In fact, the Atlanta-born, Jewish-raised Feinberg once made a nice living in Los Angeles, playing big, bad-looking meanies (bikers, demons, etc.) on shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed,” and now, he’s helming a family holiday picture called SANTA’S BOOT CAMP starring a bunch of kids with a cameo by Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts? How did THAT happen?

It was in fact Feinberg running into a wall of “typecasting” the prompted him to move back to Atlanta a decade ago and start the Creative Studios of Atlanta Film Academy. Having learned the harsh realities of how to make a living as a working professional actor, he wanted to bring that knowledge back to the young actors in his home town. The focus on the academy is not only traditional acting instruction, but an opportunity for every student in the year-long program to work on a real film.

After producing dozens of short films featuring his students over the course of several years, Feinberg and his team produced their first feature, SANTA’S BOOT CAMP, a hilarious look behind the scenes at Santa’s Workshop where Santa’s Elves go on strike and a handful of regular kids must save the day. A story with valuable lessons that speak to contemporary issues and celebrate the universal holiday themes of generosity and kindness, the film was recently awarded the Director’s Gold Award at the International Family Film Festival, and will be distributed by SP Releasing on November 15.

Roberts stars as a beleaguered mall Santa, and nearly 50 young performers have speaking parts. As a mentor and teacher, Feinberg celebrates the success of a number of the academy’s graduates, who have gone on to earn roles in major projects, including “The Walking Dead,” “The Hunger Games,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “The Blind Side.” Recently, Feinberg, who is married with two young children of his own, expanded the CSA program to Cortona, Italy, continuing to embrace new opportunities to combine creativity and teaching. Writer/director Ken Feinberg is eager to spread the message of SANTA’S BOOT CAMP – that when young people put their best effort forward, they can do anything – which is delivered both on screen by the kids who come together to save Christmas, and off-screen by the talented young artists who bring their characters and the story to such vivid life.
I had a chance to interview him to learn more.

What was the inspiration behind Santa's Boot Camp? 
Wanted to make a movie that would be appealing to people outside of our film Academy. We felt Santa Claus was a universal icon for unconditional love and giving to others. We started there and built a story around what kind of characters would are acting students be in relation to Santa Claus. We had a lot of young actors they could play elves, so we thought what would Santa do if he didn't have his elves? And from there we start asking questions and building the story to get to Santa's Boot Camp. 

Why is stereotyping still such a big problem? 
Because people judge you by your look more so than your personality. We see it in movies all the time. I character walks onto the screen and we automatically know which role they are playing in the movie. So, we tend to do that in real life as well. Sometimes we judge people by what they look like. 

How are stereotyping and bullying related? 
I think stereotyping to the extreme becomes bullying. It's a form of discrimination. People judge others by what they look like instead of who they are. And sometimes if someone is new or different, believes will single others out. 

What can kids do about bullying? 
Most importantly: be yourself. Kids can walk away. They can tell others meaning adults. Other kids can step in and defend someone who's being bullied. A lot of times bullying starts at home, and kids are just repeating how they are being treated just in the opposite role. So, if this is happening, check with parents or siblings to see if something is happening at home. 

How can parents educate their kids to avoid stereotypes? 
Parents should find a way to talk to their kids and support their kids in a positive way. There's a book called "Positive Discipline" which is been helpful to me personally. Kids want to know that they're not alone and that they're supported. And they can learn to judge people by the content of their character and not what they look like. Surrounding yourself with others who do the same reinforces that idea.

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