Flying across the court, East Technical High School basketball star Terrance Grant Jr. makes the winning shot. But his joy is short-lived when his father, the Cleveland mayor, steals his spotlight, using the moment to announce that the city council approved his plan to upgrade the school’s sports facilities.
With his father’s high profile, and high expectations, Terrance struggles to balance his own mental health. He finds an outlet in his new artistic talent, which he discovers in a vacant-home-turned-art-studio run by his best friend’s uncle.
This is the plot of the heartfelt film “Time Out,” which began as a two-page story written by Jalen Cater.
Cater wrote the story last spring, when he was a 7th grader at Harvey Rice Elementary School. He was part of a writing program called Art of Me, where teachers and staff prompt students to write a narrative story about change they’d like to see in the world. Students in the program can submit their stories, usually between one and five pages, to a writing contest. This year, entries addressed the question, “What is power and community?”
As this year’s winner, Cater got to workshop his story into a feature-length film with the help of professional screenwriters, filmmakers, and even some mental health experts. They worked with Cater to develop the characters and write realistic dialogue. After about six months, his two-page story turned into a 60-page script.
This weekend, Cater reflected on his story and the workshop process during the film’s gala premiere, a red carpet event at the Cleveland Natural History Museum where the films’ writers and actors got to dress up and share the final product with their friends and families. The event was also a fundraiser for Art of Me.
He said seeing people go through things in everyday life inspired the film.
“People with mental health problems get looked over,” he said. “People try to make them seem like they’re not OK or like they’re bad people because they suffer from mental health problems, when, at the end of the day, that’s not it at all… [I learned that] if you just try to sit down and talk or try to help them in that way, you can change their life tremendously.”
‘Everyone has a story to tell’
The creative force behind the whole operation is Cleveland-born educator and filmmaker Stephanie Wahome-Lassiter, who founded Art of Me in 2017.
Wahome-Lassiter told Signal Cleveland that not everyone is a screenwriter or filmmaker, but everyone has a story to tell—and that’s why she started Art of Me.
“[People] all have, at least, 15 or 20 stories a day. So our goal is to help people see their place in the world with their stories. And we bring all the technical and all the professional support to show the world what they have to share,” she said.
Art of Me partners with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to run the after-school program aimed at helping young people identify who they are and who they want to be through the art of storytelling. Wahome-Lassiter said that this program is a fun way for students to become engaged in the act of writing.
Art of Me first trains Cleveland teachers interested in running a program at their school. Teachers then host their own writing workshops, either as after-school programs during the school year or as Summer Learning Experience sessions. When students have prepared and edited their stories, they can submit them to the story-to-film contest.
After the contest deadline in April, Wahome-Lassiter brings together more than 150 people from across the country to pick a winning story. Art of Me uses a team of local directors and filmmakers to transform the stories into scripts. She said these films are also great opportunities to highlight local directing talent and show off the city of Cleveland.
In another professional touch, Wahome-Lassiter said she even brings in a casting director to recruit actors. Many of the films’ actors attend Cleveland-area schools.
In past years, Art of Me has showcased the films at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival at the Atlas Theater on Shaker Square.
This year, Art of Me also invited adults to submit a story to be developed into a film.
The second film featured at the gala premiere, “Stream This!” was written by a group of senior citizens from the Mount Pleasant Community Center.
Wahome-Lassiter told Signal Cleveland that while the adult contest is open to anyone over 18, the folks most interested have been senior centers from across the city.
In “Stream This!”, a tech-addicted teen, Corey, is shocked when he sees that his aunt, uncle and grandfather have become 13 years old again after eating a magical birthday cake. The rejuvenated seniors take Corey and his friends outside for a few days, away from their phones and tablets, to show the kids they can have fun with nothing, like they did when they were kids.
Without the age gap, Corey and his friends bond with the older generation, learning a few old tricks and games that help them realize the value of friendships away from the screen. After an intense go-kart race with a silly twist, even Corey’s aunt, uncle, and grandfather have to choose whether they stay young or return to their adult selves.
For many of the senior writers and actors, this movie was a fun way to bridge the generation gap, as was the process of filming it.
“It’ll be an ice-breaking conversation when people watch this movie. It will get the young people to talk to their grandparents, their parents, and say, ‘Tell us about your life when you were a kid,’” said Kevin Taylor, the film’s director. “We all want to be seen. We want to be heard.”
Luadrie Turner, one of the Mount Pleasant Community Center seniors who wrote the film, said he hopes this movie will create opportunities for older people to share their favorite childhood games with their kids and grandkids.
Want to get involved?
Art of Me is holding another story-writing contest that will yield two more feature films by the end of this year, said Wahome-Lassiter.
Enter your story: Contest applications are due April 3. Read more about how to submit.
In addition to the contest, Art of Me will offer several other opportunities to get involved, including an acting camp, a youth filmmakers’ workshop, and media internships.
Interested in these opportunities? Reach out to Art of Me by email at Info@ArtofMe.org.