Homeless youths tell their stories in a movie they're making

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2014 - 2:05 PM

Under the tutelage of pros, young people from shelters are telling their stories in a language they understand: film.

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Leona Hawkins, 18, and Tzaria Hodges, 19, watched professional actors rehearse for the filming of “A Common Manor,” a script written by homeless kids about their lives.

Photo: MONICA HERNDON • monica.herndon@startribune.com,

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Like many people her age, Tzaria Hodges has dreams of making it big in show business. But unlike most of her fellow teens, she also has a more pragmatic dream: finding a place to live.

Her Hollywood aspirations seem to be coming true first.

The 19-year-old is part of a project in which homeless young adults are making a movie.

“This is our chance to tell our story about what we deal with on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It will make people understand us better.”

The movie is the brainchild of Richard Reeder, a filmmaker and founder of Minneapolis-based Lockhaven Communications. He paired disadvantaged teens from six Twin Cities homeless shelters with a crew of experienced filmmakers. He hopes the process will shed light on the challenges faced by the homeless and give the struggling young people a foot in the door.

“I didn’t want to make the movie — I wanted the youths to make the movie,” Reeder said. “This isn’t our movie, it’s their movie.”

He’s been working on it for 18 months, with the first year spent raising funds. The project kicked off with a series of workshops in which the fledgling filmmakers were briefed on everything from outlining a plot to setting up a dolly shot.

With three professional screenwriters serving as mentors, the teens wrote the script in the spring. Filming was done in June, with post-production — editing and a score, which Hodges hopes to help write — targeted for completion by the fall.

“We started with 17 youths, and now we’re down to 12,” Reeder said as he sat outside a St. Paul house where filming was taking place last month. “We had been warned that would happen, that some of the kids would have to drop out because they would move or face a crisis.”

But the 12 who are still with the project remain enthusiastically committed, said Joy Dolo, a member of the project’s leadership team and a St. Paul actor whose credits include Park Square Theatre, Frank Theatre and the Fringe Festival.

“This is an opportunity for them to get someone to listen to them,” she said. “They’re very passionate about it.”

The 16-minute film is being made with a cast made up entirely of professional actors and directed by Wendy Knox, artistic director of Frank Theatre. Some of the young adults who worked on the script were on the set observing — although they weren’t content to just watch.

“They’re giving me notes” on how the characters should be played, Knox said. “And I think that’s great. I value them and their opinions.”

Dolo also liked seeing them speak up. “It’s a good thing that they’re fighting for their characters,” she said. “They know what those characters sound like.”

One of the writers was Timothy Brook, 18, who has become fascinated by the process.

“I’ll ask, ‘Why did you light it that way?’ or ‘Why did you shoot it like that?’ and they’ll stop and explain it to me,” he said.

Interacting with the young adults “is the most valuable part of the experience,” said director of photography Greg Winter, whose credits include “Detective Fiction” and who helped lead the workshops. “Right from the outset, they were really attentive, really interested in film and learning the things they need to know. Film is their language.”

Real-life drama

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  • Director Greg Winter adjusted the camera during filming. Professional film crews, screenwriters and actors are serving as mentors on the short-film project.

  • Script supervisor Katrina Filek worked during the filming of “A Common Manor” on a recent afternoon.

  • Filmmaker Richard Reeder is the guiding force behind the project.

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