Detroit News - May 7, 2001

"Hooray for Hollywood!"

By Students of The Huron High School Intensive English Seminar 05/07/2001

Ann Arbor writing students learn what Tinseltown’s top talents can teach you. 

The Huron High School Intensive English Seminar student traveled to Los Angeles April 17-23 with teacher Ryan R. Goble and Jennifer A. Boylan. Check out these highlights from journals kept by Paul Baldoni, Katelyn Baskin, Patrick Commisky, Monica Converse, Marta Galecki, Ali Hussain, Chris Kunkel, Gayle McElvain and Kristi Paris.


On our first day, we take a sightseeing tour. In Beverly Hills, the houses are on tiny lots and are ornamented by extravagant BMWs and lion statues. Everything about them cries out for attention. Later, we drive up to Griffith Park, where we get a birds eye view of the beauty of California’s rolling hills.

That night, we meet agent Dan Rabinow and Phillip Stark, who writes on That ’70s Show and wrote Dude, Where’s My Car? They are a funny team. Dan seems like a shark in a suit, a man with a mission. His was a career where he had to say, “It’s not personal; it’s just business” a lot.

WednesdayThe UCLA campus is surrounded by green on all sides - palm trees, oaks, even pine. It’s like an oasis in the middle of the desert. I have never seen a campus like this before. How does anyone get any work done?On campus, we visit Hal Ackerman, a screenwriter, actor, playwright, teacher and director. He delivers an intense lecture about the basics of screenwriting. We learn more in two hours than in our first two years of high school English. The art of screenwriting is mastering the art of storytelling, simply described as the WADOOGE: what do the characters want and what do they do to get it in the course of the narrative? Stories are driven by their characters’ desires rather than the themes expressed behind them. The best screenwriters, he says, “are able to create complex layers in a one dimensional film strip. It’s about finding external images to represent internal ideas.”

ThursdayIt’s exciting to be on a set at paramount studios, but the glamour and mystery disappeared when we learned how shots are created. It is a tedious process. Take for example The Net’s dramatic boat chase that takes place near an exotic island. In reality it was filmed in a tank of water. We also see a half-hour sitcom pilot filmed. It takes four hours. A comedian keeps us entertained between takes.Meeting producer Robert Evans in his office at Paramount is incredible. We want to ask this Hollywood god so many things, but there’s so little time. We stutter and frantically try to think of questions worthy of his response. “which of your movies is your favorite?” he responds, “Love Story, of course.” He soon retreats to another room, leaving us to watch his biographical movie. It may sound corny, but it was a magical experience.

FridayWe are huddled on a rainy afternoon, trying to squeeze under an awning when a man says, “Excuse me.” A familiar face peeks out from an orange rain parka. Conversations cease as our crown slowly parts; we are star-struck. Twenty sets of eyes are on him until he reaches the top of the stairs. As soon as Robin Williams is out of sight, we lose it; a grand roar of high school chatter erupts on the streets of San Francisco. We sound like crazed Beatles fans.


We walk into a small forest owned by Warner Bros. Studios in the middle of Burbank and stand behind a set of cameras, lights, and monitors. A scene is being filmed for Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, in which a car crash takes place in the Florida Everglades. This cute little man in a fedora turns around. Spike Jonze-actor, director and producer of some of the finest music videos and Being John Malkovich (his first feature)- starts talking to US. He is kind and sincere and welcomes us. Our meeting with him is action packed. As the cars collide, one student lets out the essence of our visit, a gasp.

MondayWe had an amazing tour of Dreamworks animation and met with one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood Scott Frank. It’s the last day, and we don’t want to leave. It was amazing to see he different aspects of Hollywood- directors, producers, screenwriters, agents, actors, and animators- to catch them in action while the are doing what they love. The LA Adventure let us learn by living and doing rather than just reading a textbook. It motivated some of us to pursue the dreams we thought were out of reach.Teacher Ryan Goble, 25, talks with students about screenwriting Wednesday in his after-school Intensive English Seminar at Huron High School. Goble uses pop culture to teach literature and entrepreneurship. Below, students from Goble’s class met with actor Robin Williams, center, on their spring break trip to Los Angeles. Atypical approach designed to motive. Huron High School English teacher looks for creative ways to help students relate to learning. With a montage of Rock ‘n’ roll posters on the wall, a flower-print couch in the corner and 20 kids spending Sundays in class, Huron High School’s Intensive English Seminar is anything but typical. “Everything about this class is different than every other class,” said Patrick Commiskey, 17, a student in the junior-year seminar. The difference is due to the instructor, Ryan Goble, 25, who speaks to students in their language and uses pop culture to teach literature and entrepreneurship. “If kids are going to spend their time in front of MTV, Nintendo and movie theatres, we may as well show them how sophisticated some of those things can be,” Goble said.

Literature, entrepreneurship and pop culture merged for the students two weeks ago when the class hosted a genetics symposium in Huron’s auditorium. The symposium featured scientists, a poet and a historian from as far away as California. Students recruited the speakers, produced a video on the subject and raised money to fund the event. “ (The symposium) is pretty much mixing genetics and pop culture and the way it will affect us in the future,” said Marta Galecki, 17. Sophomore Katelyn Baskin, 16, said the English seminar is more engaging than other classes. “ It’s more like experiential learning rather than busy work,” Katelyn said. The symposium was not the student’s encounter with hands-on learning. 

During spring break, Goble and co-teacher Jennifer Boylan led the students to Los Angeles to learn from the likes of Spike Jonze, director of “ Being John Malkovich,” and actor Robin Williams. Before the trip, the class sent countless letters and faxes attempting to arrange meetings with Hollywood’s movers and shakers. For Ali Hussain, 17, the process was about attitude. “ We had to think, We’re 20 high school students, we’ve done bigger than this, and we can get whatever we want,” he said. That kind of moxie opened doors on the West coast and helped the students raise $30,000 to pay for the trip. Because of the district’s budget constraints, the class had to find outside funding. In addition to dollars, space at Huron is limited. So, the class meets after school and on Sundays.

Goble teaches the class in addition to his regular course load. He is not paid for his extra effort, but said he is happy to devote the time because his students are willing to dedicate themselves to learning. The students appreciate Goble’s efforts. “ (Mr. Goble) becomes more of your big brother who gives advice rather than a teacher who just give worksheets and quizzes every day,” Ali said. While the class is a success, it’s future is uncertain. Constraints of time and money might prevent it from continuing. “ 

It is really hard to do new and different things in public high schools.” Goble said. “ That’s no one’s fault. It’s just how the system is set up.”