Wednesday, Jul 16 2014 10:26 AM

Bakersfield film school reels them in

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    By courtesy of Dale Oprandy

    Dale Oprandy, left, works with a student from Inclusion Films.

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    By courtesy of Dale Oprandy

    Action on the set of "The Funeral Singer," the latest movie from Inclusion Films.

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    By courtesy of Dale Oprandy

    Dale Oprandy, left, with a student from Inclusion Films.

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BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing columnist gavinarts@aol.com

Filmmaker Dale Oprandy isn't kidding when he tells you, with great enthusiasm, what he sees in our city's future.

"Part of our mission is to make Bakersfield the next Hollywood," he said with a broad smile, spreading his arms wide while seated in his office at Inclusion Films, in a building on 19th Street that once was the home of Sam Woo Laundry.

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Until I had the chance to actually be in a film, I had no idea how much fun movie-making could be.

True, I have a very small part in "The Funeral Singer," three whole lines if the scene I'm in doesn't get cut in the post-production editing. But just being part of the whole was fascinating.

It all started about two months ago when Dale Oprandy, executive director of locally based Inclusion Films, invited residents of Rosewood Senior Living Community to audition for a bit part or as an extra in crowd scenes.

You see, the movie is set in a fictitious retirement community called Fair Oaks. It's a comedy and the plot involves a resident who's living at Fair Oaks under the federal witness protection program, until the mob from New Jersey discovers where he is and is determined to get revenge.

I live at Rosewood, and at first I wasn't interested in trying out. But then I got to thinking that being in a movie would fill a gap in my resume. After all, I'd done every other form of media.

Print is the primary one, of course, but I've also had jobs in radio and television, and done a few bits of live theater, but never a movie.

So, joined by a few others, I went to the Inclusion Films studio at 19th and O streets for what you might call a low-pressure screen test, reading a few lines from a script in front of very bright lights and a camera. Auditions were also held at Rosewood.

About two weeks later, Oprandy told me and three other Rosewood residents -- Betsy Kinney, Bill Fellows and Bill May -- that we had parts in the movie. A number of other residents were asked to be extras.

It's a fairly large cast and other roles went to Oprandy's students, ages 18 to 40, and to several members of the Bakersfield community.

I had no idea how complex shooting just one scene could be in terms of the lighting and camera angles. There's a lot of stop-and-go; the scene I'm in took more than two hours to shoot but I expect it will take up maybe two or three minutes in the finished film.

Oprandy has a major role (he's Ralphie, the funeral singer) and I am a resident who is gaga for him, especially after he sings "Amazing Grace."

Yet he also directed the film, which meant he had to position the actors before each take, tell the two cameramen what kind of shot he wanted and where they should be, make sure the clapboards had the correct information for each take -- vital when it comes to editing the raw film -- supervised sound checks and responded to several text messages from one of his assistants who was picking up a prop, a birthday cake, at Costco.

It was fascinating to see how calm and patient Oprandy was when he's working with his students, most of whom are autistic, as well as us amateurs who did our best to do what we were told.

Although he's had no formal training as teacher, he's a natural in that department, and also is blessed with a great sense of humor and a respectful and genuine caring attitude that isn't the least bit patronizing.

And I feel fortunate to be a part of "The Funeral Singer" and can't wait to see the finished product on the big screen at the Fox Theater in November.

-- Camille Gavin

"We've been doing just short films but we hope to do a feature (length) in a year or so," he went on. "We've got a complete studio setup here and there's a beautiful (outdoor) background here -- you've got everything, with oil wells you can make it look like Texas and the fields all around here look just like you're in the Midwest."

Oprandy, the company's executive artistic director, moved here from Southern California almost three years ago, at the request of Joey Travolta, founder of Inclusion Films, and quickly made connections with Kern Regional Center, a state-funded agency that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities.

"Bakersfield is a real hands-on town," he said, "and it's so wonderful to have people who are so willing to help the cause."

The "cause," in this case, is his and Travolta's dedication to teaching people with special needs every aspect of filmmaking, from scriptwriting to acting as well as cinematography, lighting, sound effects and editing techniques, with the goal of preparing them for jobs in the industry.

"These (individuals) are not academically inclined but they are artistically inclined," Oprandy said, adding that two of his six employees are former students.

Travolta, a former special education teacher, founded Inclusion Films in 2009 after a career as a singer, actor and producer.

Oprandy, 53, is candid about his lack of academic training but that hasn't hindered his professional career, which started with a magic act, "The Great Oprandy," when he was 10.

"I 'retired' from high school when I was a sophomore," he said, "but I did talk my parents into letting me study with Lee Strasberg in New York; that was a great experience -- I still use some of the (acting) methods with my students here."

For one such student, Jacob Saecker, 19 -- who wrote part of the script for "The Funeral Singer" -- involvement with Oprandy and Inclusion Films has been rewarding in many ways, said his mother, Kristi Saecker.

"Jacob has high-functioning autism and he's normally very introverted," she said.

"I'm very impressed with the skills he has learned; he loves the technology of film and it has given him a lot of self-confidence -- he's even acted in front of a camera."

Saecker and her son, accompanied by his service dog and constant companion, Thor, visited the studio before his enrollment last September.

"We went there to check it out -- toured all the classrooms and they showed us all the equipment," she said. "Jacob actually got to talk to Joey Travolta on the phone in Dale's (Oprandy) office, and he was very excited."

It was during Oprandy's own formative years, as a teen, that he got a taste for show business, developing a "daredevil" act that involved his escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a helicopter that hovered overhead.

"I traveled all over the world doing that," he said. "I was 15 when I did (the escape without the helicopter) live on the NBC 'Today' show with Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley."

By the time he was 17, Oprandy was producing entertainment acts for state fairs and other venues while developing his own career as an actor and singer. He doesn't do sleight-of-hand tricks anymore but he has worked as a magic consultant for several movies and for TV shows such as Dick Van Dyke's 1993-2001 series, "Diagnosis Murder."

With "The Funeral Singer" completed -- the film he and his students produced here -- Oprandy and Travolta, who's based in Burbank, hit the road on July 1 for a two-month tour throughout the country teaching two-week workshops on the art of filmmaking.

Oprandy will be back in town in September, however, to teach the 20-week fall semester of his film school.

"I don't know yet what we'll do this time -- maybe a zombie movie," he said. "We'll talk about it and it will be whatever the team picks."

One thing's for sure -- Oprandy and Travolta will be fully involved in the second annual Outside the Box Film Festival, which the two filmmakers helped inaugurate last year. It will be held Nov. 7-9 at the Fox Theater and is sponsored by Tejon Ranch and the Travolta family.

The competition is open to both regional and national entrants.

There are four different tracks, or categories: mainstream independent films; films made by or about people with disabilities; spiritually based films; and films about American veterans.

It also will be the venue for the Jett Travolta Vision award, given for general excellence in the disabilities track. It is named for John Travolta's son, who was autistic and died in 2009 at age 16. Joey Travolta is the actor's older brother.

Last year's award went to the documentary "David and Zack's Quest to Sacramento."

It tells the story of David Mensch and his son Zach, who set a world record by riding 300 miles to Sacramento -- Mensch in his wheelchair, his son on his bicycle -- to build awareness of possible budget cuts that could affect people with special needs.

For information about submitting a film, go to bakersfieldfilmfest.com. Deadline is Sept. 2.

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