Fast Times at American High

“Shouldn’t you be filming this audition?” The nervous actress-hopeful asked me with a look of pure confusion. “I mean, how will they know if I’m really good?”

“Uh, well, actually if you’re really good, then I’m just gonna mark it down on this little notepad here and, um, then we’ll know. And then we’ll let you know. Ok, should we start?”

In July of 2019, I went to report on and write a story about a new local film production company called American High, which is based in little old Liverpool, NY. The company’s mission is to create classic, R-rated, high-school based comedies reminiscent of the John Hughes-era films of the 80s. This is a story of how, within one hour, I turned from a news reporter to a talent scout in charge of an auditioning room.

Throughout all of our lives, both good and bad things will happen to us. If we spend too much time thinking about why they’re happening, the good ones will surely pass us by.

The anxiety was kicking in to extreme-o levels and I was ready to turn the Jeep around and head home.

‘Fuck it. No chance I’m talking to anyone of any importance here. And even if I do, I’ll blow it some way. For sure.’

So, I drove away from the high school-turned film production site known as Syracuse Studios and pulled into the parking lot of a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. For some reason my nerves love taking shits and then drinking coffee. It’s a vicious cycle.

But after I had relieved myself and slurped half of the iced coffee plus an espresso shot down, I knew I had to go back.

When I returned to the building, my parking spot was gone and the line from the entrance of the ‘school’ had poured out to the front sidewalk and around the block. There were a few hundred hopeful background extras here, maybe a couple thousand.

Here in Liverpool, NY, just north of Syracuse, local actor wannabes were working on their vocals and practicing lines from their favorite movies, ready to be thrust into the next Hollywood film from American High founder Jeremy Garelick and his team.

I wasn’t here as an actor, but as a journalist. Finally gathering myself and preparing to interview some of the locals waiting in line about what it meant for their city to become the ‘Hollywood of the East Coast,’ I crawled out of my Jeep and approached the masses, notebook in hand.

I made it to the head of the line and peered around to see who might want to talk to a reporter – actually, who was I kidding? They would all love to pour their hearts out to a news guy, if given the shot.

Suddenly a figure emerged from the school’s front doors and leapt down the steps, meandering around the line of audition attendees. The man wearing a red, white and blue hat that read ‘American High’ and sweating through his t-shirt was a man that I immediately recognized from my research into the blossoming new film production company.

At this moment, I knew I had my shot.

You see, I was here to cover the new company and write a fluffy story about how the influx of a film industry would affect the economy and the people of Syracuse and Liverpool. But, once I learned more about American High and its mission, its early successes, and the drive of its leaders such as Garelick, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

With absolutely no experience in film, I was still cultivating just how to make that idea a reality. So, at first, I stuck with the journalist thing. I approached Garelick and explained that I was a journalism grad student at Syracuse University and that I wanted to interview him once he had wrapped up the day’s auditions. I mentioned that with the looks of the growing crowd, he might be in for a long day, but he promised he would talk to me afterwards.

Not two minutes later, he had emerged again from the building, pointed at me and waved me over.

“Hey, man, we didn’t really expect this many people to show up to the casting call today. Would you mind helping us out a little? Just pass out some of these casting sheets and make sure everyone in line gets one?”

It was at this moment I had to make a decision: Would I continue to be a reporter covering a story, or was I about to provide free labor to this sweaty guy who also happened to be a smart and successful Hollywood movie writer and creative?

Well, this story wouldn’t be nearly as fun if I stayed on as a boring old reporter would it?

After making sure that the few hundred people in line all had gotten their casting sheets, I went back up to Garelick and asked him if I could help with anything else.

“You want to conduct some auditions?” He asked me.

“I mean, I have no experience and have no idea what I’d be looking for, but I love movies so I’m sure I could figure it out.”

“Perfect. We’ll set you up in a room. All you have to do is read a few lines with them, take their picture and if they’re really awesome, then make a note of it and let us know afterwards.”

And with that, I was set up in a makeshift nurse’s office set with a few lines from American High’s newest movie.

I’m truly a lucky individual and have been given so much in my life and had the opportunities to experience life in wild ways. I’ve jumped out of a plane, lived in the Rocky Mountains and survived the ‘riots’ that encompassed the University of Dayton’s historic Elite 8 run in 2014.

But never have I felt the rush of intense energy, happiness and excitement that I felt that day. I’ve always wanted to create, and, with my abilities, that’s mostly meant in the writing world. However, making movies or even writing movie scripts was never a thought that had honestly crossed my mind. Now, it’s often all I can think about.

The team at American High is now in the throes of their newest film. They’ve already created five feature films, not to mention a show on Netflix. They’re serious about their craft and although I haven’t seen a single scene from one of their movies (since they haven’t been released yet), I have a feeling that each film will be heartfelt and genuine… and hopefully a bit raunchy, too.

Heartfelt and genuine. That was the vibe I got that day from my few hours spent at an American High casting call. That’s the vibe I will continue projecting into the universe regardless of where my career takes me. And from my brief interactions with some of American High’s team, I think they’re going to keep that vibe as well.

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