Behind the Scenes
By Producer Marcia Franklin
I heard about Writers@Harriman many years ago when I was at a musical performance and sitting next to Yvonne Ferrell, the former director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. She told me she was working on the idea of a young writers' camp at one of Idaho's most iconic state parks, Harriman. Even then, I knew it would make an interesting Outdoor Idaho documentary if it came to pass.
The setting alone, at Harriman State Park, amidst trumpeter swans, bald eagles, rainbow trout, and yes, grizzly bears, makes for fine television. But I also felt the stories of the young people coming together from all over the state would be compelling. Not only would they be learning about writing, a skill and an art I think is often undervalued, but they'd be learning about each other and themselves.
After the camp's initial year in 2009, I approached director Margaret Marti to see if we could film the next session. She said yes. Margaret was both welcoming and organized (very helpful for a producer, especially when you're dealing with getting release forms for 35 students.)
The students were also gracious. It's not easy reading your work in front of others, much less a television camera. They were warm, polite and inquisitive.
Jonathan Enoch O'Gara wakes his fellow campers with bagpipe music.
They're unique, maybe even considered a little off-center in their schools, and that's cool with them--and me. These are teens (for the most part!) who don't mind going without cell phones, who call themselves "nerds" and who revel in a still mysterious game to me called "Ninja."
In their midst you'll find a bagpiper, a rodeo lover, a football player, and a budding activist with two mothers. What they all have in common is they feel life very deeply, and they're in love with writing.
Coming to Harriman gives them a place where they're not only OK, but celebrated. It's also a place where they learn they may not be the publishable writers they thought they were---yet. The seminars, taught by talented writers who use interesting "prompts," put them through their paces and force them to write, write and rewrite.
"I think that's the hardest thing for anybody to learn, is, "How do I revise a paper?" says teacher Chris Dempsey. "I'll be sitting with kids and saying, "What if we do this? What if we do that? What if you rearrange this? Do you really need this part? So that they can start to refine their own work, and realize that getting something on paper is just the first step."
Boy, do I know that! How I would have liked to have had a teacher like Dempsey to edit me before I had to write for "real." And how I would have enjoyed meeting other young writers when I was a teen.
That's not to say this project was easy. Videotaping the classes turned out to be quite a challenge. Videographer Jay Krajic and I found ourselves running from one part of the park to another, since the classes weren't always close to each other. And since these were groups of at least eight people, we couldn't put a microphone on everyone. Instead, I held the boom mike, with varying degrees of success.
I had chosen several students to interview before camp, based on their entrance essays and their geographic location. When I got to camp, I found more students to include. But sometimes we'd arrive at a class just as one of the students we wanted to hear had finished talking. Sometimes they didn't want to share their work. Sometimes the instruction was too technical for television. Sometimes the class was inside and dark. In one instance, we lost power altogether. And then there were long periods where the students were just writing.
But those challenges just made finding the stories even more rewarding. I look forward to seeing what these delightful young writers do with the lessons learned at Harriman. As director Margaret Marti says, "We can hope for great things. I think we'll get 'em."