Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bullis students get glimpse behind the big screen

Campus to be featured in film

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Actresses Louisa Krause (left) and Ally Walker gear up for a scene during the filming of ‘‘Toe to Toe,” a feature film being shot at the Bullis School in Potomac Friday.
Filmmaker Emily Abt, founder of the Brooklyn production company Pureland Pictures, was 19 when she took a summer internship in Washington, D.C. Experiencing vastly different parts of the area — from Anacostia in Southeast Washington to the home of family members in Georgetown and Bethesda — had an impact on her, she said.

Now 33, Abt is filming a movie called ‘‘Toe to Toe” about the relationship between Tosha, an African-American girl from Anacostia, and Jesse, a white girl from Bethesda.

Inspired in part by her experiences, Abt chose the Washington area as a location for the film.

‘‘I feel there’s no better place to set a race relations story than Washington, D.C.,” Abt said.

One of the filming locations for the movie is the Bullis School in Potomac. The school’s Falls Road campus will come alive onscreen as the fictional Potomac Friends School, where both characters attend. Abt said she based the Potomac Friends School in part on her own Massachusetts high school.

‘‘We’re trying to show what a different world this is for Tosha,” Abt said of the private school setting. The movie revolves around the love⁄hate relationship between the two young women, tying in the theme of girls’ high school lacrosse that exemplifies their competitive relationship.

The film will feature actress Ally Walker of the 1990s TV show ‘‘Profiler” and Louisa Krause of the movie ‘‘The Babysitters,” and will include musical performances by local artists including the BackYard Band, headed by Anwan Glover, an actor from the TV show ‘‘The Wire.”

Bringing a movie crew into Bullis — complete with lighting staff, makeup artists, camera crews and actors — did create a few hiccups at the school, according to Todd McCreight, business manager at the school.

The crew has been able to undertake much of the filming on the weekends and stick to contained locations, such as the Dean of Students’ Office, a conference room and the athletic field, in order to keep any disturbance to a minimum, according to school administrators.

But there were a few occasions when there was confusion. One such scenario arose when a routine evacuation drill drove about half of the school’s students onto the athletic field where the crew was filming a scene, McCreight said.

‘‘The filmmakers were hoping all our students would be quiet so they could continue shooting,” McCreight said. In the end, the situation was resolved when the crew decided to take a short break.

However, McCreight said that most of the filming has integrated smoothly with the school’s schedule. ‘‘In fact we have not had to shift any classes or games — it’s been the other way around,” said McCreight. ‘‘The film crew has worked around our schedule.”

Head of School Tom Farquhar laughed as he recalled running into an actor dressed in a rumpled gray suit, meant to portray a school administrator such as — well, Farquhar himself.

‘‘We shook hands and I thought, this is kind of an eerie experience for the school administrator to meet the actor playing the school administrator,” Farquhar said.

The film is not about Bullis, school administrators emphasize. But Bullis officials agreed to the filming project in part because the film, if distributed nationally, would bring the beauty of the schools’ campus to a wider audience, McCreight said. The film would also give students — some of whom act as extras in the film in the lacrosse scenes — a first-hand glimpse into the movie industry.

‘‘It’s interesting for [the students] to see how elaborate some of these productions really are in terms of all the infrastructure and support that’s required to pull off a film,” Farquhar said.

Though it remains to be seen, ‘‘Toe to Toe” may be picked up for national distribution, in which case, local residents will be seeing Bullis’ campus on the silver screen sometime in the near future.

‘‘It’s just a fun opportunity for us and we hope this will be very successful and we hope this will be showing in theaters across the country,” McCreight said.