Cecil Poole-Alderley was short and fat and had Asperger’s. Looked like an obese Alfred E. Neuman. He must’ve been 10 or 11 years old when he attended my hands-on-camera class at the NYC Tween Summer Filmmaking Workshop.
Most of the campers were the progeny of wealthy Upper East Siders. Many wore designer clothes and watched Lynch films. A lot of parents missed the graduation screenings.
Cecil was ten minutes late to my class on the first day. Just waltzed through the door like he owned the place. He surveyed the seating options from the front of the class for a painfully long time. Then he selected a center spot in the back row.
My opening routine was to ask the kids questions to get to know them. Do you want to be a filmmaker? Do you make movies at home? Cecil was quick to answer all the questions in the negative.
I asked him why he signed up for movie camp in the first place. He said that his mom told him that he had two choices that summer. Make friends or go to camp. So I picked camp, he said.
The class erupted in laughter. I laughed too. Cecil Poole-Alderley managed to win us over in one stroke.
On day two, I broke them into groups of four to conduct the first camera exercise. They were to implement the rule of thirds. Afterward, we reviewed each group’s work on the TV.
Cecil managed to photobomb every shot. He contorted his face like a stroke patient and flicked off the camera. Over and over and over again.
The class laughed in torrents. I laughed too. Then I told Cecil that he wasn’t permitted to flick off the camera or anybody ever again. Not ever. All the while I was biting the insides of my cheeks to keep a straight face.
On day three, the class shared their movie plots with me while Cecil poked at his iPad. Getting him to focus was too much. It was easier to let him play Angry Birds.
I told everyone, write what you know. Most of them chose to make films about detention. A handful selected topics such as love, theft, and cell phones.
Cecil was the last to share. He said he hadn’t thought much about his script. I told him he should get to writing because he’d be shooting in a day. Cecil considered my point and said he’d do a film about detention.
On day four we did lens tests in Bowling Green. I had them in groups of three on the grass behind the benches. They had an hour to complete the test.
I paid the most attention to Cecil’s group. They were the first to finish, despite Cecil’s lack of interest. He spent most of the lesson whacking the fence with a big stick. When they wrapped I told them to play with the camera until the other groups were finished.
That’s when I noticed a couple of thugs with large snakes arrive in front of The National Museum of the American Indian. They had three ten-foot red-tailed boas and an eight-foot Burmese python. One guy wore a snake around his neck while his partner put the others on the ground to slither around. Passersby were gawking and taking pictures.
I turned back to my students. Cecil was gone. I ran around the park and he was nowhere to be found. Then I saw him through the fence, with a boa constrictor around his neck. I told the rest of the class to stay in the park and ran over to the snake guys.
It took me a few minutes to unwrap the snake from Cecil’s neck. I told him that he was in a lot of trouble because there were no reptile waivers in the NYC Tween Filmmaking Workshop paperwork. I would be notifying the program director of the incident.
One of the snake guys commanded me to pay him five bucks. Apparently they were charging five bucks for passersby to handle the snakes. I was unwilling to pay, even though it was a reasonable fee considering the scarcity of large constrictors in lower Manhattan.
The following week the kids had their screening. A couple of TAs told me that Cecil was nightmarish during his shoot. Very demanding and anal and ultimately unhappy with his film.
A few parents showed up to watch the screening with their kids. Cecil sat alone in the back of the room. His venture capitalist father was at a conference in Hawaii. His fashionista mother had to work late on a new line.
Fifteen movies about detention screened that day. They were horribly shot. Terribly acted. Technically untechnical. By the third movie, the audience was lost. Parents and kids were shifting in their seats and chattering and not paying attention.
Then, Cecil’s film started. It was called Detention. The images were desaturated and set to a hellish ambiance. The audience fell silent.
A boy and a girl were seated in an empty classroom. The Boy threw his pencil at the Girl. The Girl threw her book at him in retaliation. He slapped her.
A fistfight ensued. Boy grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed Girl over and over and over and over and over again. It was shot as masterfully as the shower scene in Psycho.
The camera tracked Boy as he dragged Girl’s battered carcass through the classroom. He shoved her into a closet.
Then an adult, presumably a teacher, stepped in. She noticed Girl’s bloody hand wedged in the crack of the closet door. Boy chased her through the classroom and choked her to death.
Boy made a run for it. Reached the double doors and dashed through Lower Manhattan. The film closed with him waiting for a ferry.
The audience was pin-drop quiet. Then they gave a standing ovation. I loved and loathed Cecil Poole-Alderely, at once.
Cecil waited for his ride in the lobby after the other kids left. He was playing Angry Birds. His nanny arrived thirty minutes late.