IS THIS SANTA MONICA OR PITTSBURGH? How can our local school board even consider defunding the exceptional film program at Samohi?
Given our history in Santa Monica, where the very earliest film companies set up shop before they moved to Hollywood, given that few towns anywhere, if any, can claim show business as such a preferred trade of its citizens, why aren’t we erecting a statue to Samohi film teacher Bill Wishart, instead of threatening to put him out of business?
Santa Monica born: Kenneth Anger, Sean Austin, Jack Black, Geraldine Chaplin (also Charlie’s daughter), Jamie Lee Curtis, Carson Daly, Shelley Fabares, Miguel Ferrer, Bonnie Franklin, Sara Gilbert, Adam Goldberg, Linda Gray, Lorenzo Lamas, Mariska Hargitay, Anjelica Huston (father John, grandfather Walter — only third-generation Oscar winner ever), Tobey Maguire. And that’s just the top half of one list. (Got to throw in the iconic Jack Webb and Shirley Temple from the bottom half.)
Besides the Chaplins, the Bruce Derns, the Martin Sheen family, the Ricky Nelsons and so many others who chose Santa Monica as their home, mega-producer Brian Grazer lives here, Jeremy Piven and more. Ted Danson, Jane Fonda, Tom Selleck all called Santa Monica home, native Robert Redford did till the traffic got to him.
Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe and so many more attended Samohi (wait — is there a pattern there?). Super duper Dean Cain, and Glenn Ford too. “Rebel Without a Cause” was filmed partly at Samohi. What did they film at your high school?
And don’t get me started on the musicians, closely associated with the film and TV worlds — Suzanne Vega, Dave Navarro, Teena Marie, Coco Montoya and more, born here. Dylan has a home north of Montana, and Jackson Browne, we can’t get rid of him (just kidding, love ya JB).
Don’t forget mobster Whitey Bulger, whose story, ending in Santa Monica, made it to the screen.
And I must include dearly beloved Stan Laurel, another one of those Englishman who came to Santa Monica and never left, and lived out his years overlooking the Pacific in his home on Ocean Avenue.
It’s a fascinating and impressive list, isn’t it? (I’ll bet you found a few surprises.) A sampling, really, but the point is, while other towns may make a big fuss over “The Star” who was born there (and probably couldn’t wait to leave), we’re filthy with them. We live and breathe show biz. The rest of the world still thinks of “Hollywood,” but Hollywood knows where it’s really at, and that’s at the beach. If you went to Samohi and didn’t have a classmate whose name everyone now knows — how did that happen?
Working in the film industry pays pretty well, too. Megabucks in front of the camera for some, of course, but very good money for all those other skilled people running around sets, too. How do you get your foot in that door? Where do you acquire those skills?
Bill Wishart’s classes are a very good way. You get high school credits, so even if you don’t pursue it, you haven’t thrown your money away on some expensive film industry factory. So many students have gained valuable lifelong skills and knowledge through his Running With Speakers A/V program, who have not chosen to go into film or TV specifically.
He works with each student in his classes to realize their dream of making a movie. Their own vision. But he throws the cold water of reality on those dreams if they’re not realistic. You have to get your project green lighted by him, so you have to keep reformulating until it’s possible. No one, even in “Hollywood,” has an unlimited budget and every actor and location they want.
So films get made, and some are good enough to be entered in film festivals. (Samohi has its own festival, which draws entries from around the world, and Wishart’s students manage every aspect of it.) And some win awards.
I’ve observed his classes firsthand over a period of eight years, and I can tell you real learning goes on there, real engagement by students, a passion for learning and accomplishing. Isn’t that what we want to see in our classrooms?
A minority of his students go there because they think it’s an easy grade. But most really want to be there, and keep coming back. Those will tell you passionately what a great teacher Bill Wishart is.
Here’s the short story. Gov. Brown’s budget for next year defunded all ROP classes. Go figure. The agriculture folks are especially upset. So our school board had to move forward and notify some teachers that they may not be rehired next year. The pink list passed on a 4-3 vote. The final vote isn’t until April or May, the district office told me.
There are options. It is within the school board’s power to find funding for Wishart’s valuable programs. They are meeting tomorrow evening at the District Admin Offices at 1651 16th Street. That’s the time to turn in Request to Address cards to speak publicly to the board at the beginning of their meeting. Catch up on the latest on the Facebook page “Alums for Mr Wishart.”
But it may not be as grim as it sounds. The district’s spokeswoman, Gail Pinsker, wrote:
“Classes such as film that are in high demand will continue to be offered at both Samo and Malibu. What is under review is what to call them … Students in these classes need to take something, whether for an elective, to meet a-g requirements or because they have a passion in this area and may want to pursue in college or career. We recognize the popularity of the film classes, along with others that also have high enrollment. In some cases, the designation of ROP is just being changed to better fit what the class is, and in some cases that will now fall into General Education, elective or CTE.”
I wouldn’t take that as a done deal. Go to the meeting tomorrow night to speak for our kids, for the students coming up who might never have the unique, irreplaceable opportunities Bill Wishart offers. They deserve it. This is not Albuquerque, it’s Santa Monica.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.