WOONSOCKET – The guys who turned a gritty remnant of the past into a feel-good documentary about high school life have landed a berth on the same channel known for showcasing Downton Abbey, Sesame Street and other icons of public television.
“My Old School” will be featured on the state Public Broadcasting System affiliate WSBE-TV during “pledge week,” one of the regular on-air drives for private donations that helps keep non-commercial TV alive.
It’s a major coup for the producers of “My Old School,” who were so pressed for cash they wouldn’t have been able to stage the only screening of the movie so far without help from Kickstarter. They raised $4,000 on the crowdfunding web site to show the movie to an audience of some 400 at Woonsocket High School last October.
“It’s a good feather in our cap, it’s good for our resumes and its good for our exposure,” Producer Scott Gabrielson said of the coming TV premiere.
“My Old School” is a feature-length film about the city’s original high school, which marks its hundredth birthday this year. The rambling brick and marble structure on West Park Place morphed into the biggest middle school in New England when the current Woonsocket High School was built in the 1970s and it was shuttered for good in 2010, when the new middle school complex opened on Hamlet Avenue.
Some might say the building was left to the scrap heap of history, but others thought it was just a plain scrap heap, filled with mountains of abandoned school property and debris.
Gabrielson and Director Jason Allard got an exclusive, inside look at the carcass of the old building, but they managed to come away with much more than a snapshot of a dead school.
By tracking down former teachers, students, and administrators, they painted a picture of a building that was alive with memories – a picture the managers of WSBE-TV apparently found pretty appealing.
“We had two meetings with them,” said Gabrielson. “They said it was a film that anyone who’d ever gone to high school anywhere could relate to, not just in Woonsocket. They said high school life is pretty much a universal experience.”
In a prepared statement, PBS said “My Old School” is also part of a filmmaking trend in the Ocean State that its want to share with viewers.
“With technology and editing equipment becoming more readily available, more independent filmmakers are able to create high-quality films,” the network said. “My Old School was produced with a budget of only $200. The entire project was a two-man team from the start.”
PBS said it learned about the existence of the film on Kickstarter, a site that uses the broad reach of the Internet to raise funds for business startups in culinary arts, entertainment, fashion and other creative ventures. Kickstarter campaigns simply ask patrons for a donation, for which they’re promised little more than some token of recognition – a commemorative T-shirt or a film prop, for example.
Allard and Gabrielson say they did have volunteer crew members who helped them make the film, and they’ll all be on hand at the WSBE studios for the TV premiere. They’ll do on-camera interviews and help staff the phone bank to accept pledges.
The film will be offered as part of a minimum pledge package, but Gabrielson said he isn’t sure how much donors will be asked to pledge to get a copy.
What he does know is that the film will get a coveted prime-time spot for its TV debut, 9:30 p.m. on March 6. That’s Cox Channel 08/1008HD; FiOS 08/508HD; DirecTV and Dish Network 36; and Comcast 819HD.
“After the premiere, the DVD will be available for sale at a number of locations in Woonsocket, including the three Li’l General Stores, Park Square Florist, Pepin Lumber, C’est Bon, Shear Odyssey and the Museum of Work and Culture.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo