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The Times Herald: Serving Norristown, PA and Montgomery County

Norristown and Montgomery County, PA

Lights, camera, action for Project Twenty1

Published: Sunday, August 16, 2009

(original source)


Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN — With Project Twenty 1, Stephanie Yuhas and Matt Conant are not only removing all the usual roadblocks independent filmmakers encounter trying to get their work screened; they’re opening up those avenues to regular people too.

“We are literally one of the only arts organizations out there that will take people off the street and throw them in the ring with filmmakers to help them get into the arts community,” noted Yuhas.

“We are open to anyone and everyone that wants to be involved. We believe that the best way to learn is by doing, so people that are outside of the industry that are curious are welcome to volunteer their support in many ways.”

Project Twenty 1, which recently moved its facility from Manayunk to West Elm Street in Norristown, stems from a 21-day movie-making competition that keeps the plates of its founders and dozens of others full year-round.

The “lights, camera, action” portion of the organization’s mission is in full throttle right now, as the calendar counts down the 21 days to the deadline of Aug. 22.

But there’s still time for anyone who wants to be in movies or hustle behind the scenes to come forward and show what they can do, Yuhas said.

“We launched this year’s project a week ago with a networking meeting. Someone would say, “I have a camera,’ or ‘I’m a good writer,’ or ‘I can act,’ and that’s how all our teams got together.”

A “team” could consist of one person, or as many as 50 people, she pointed out.

“We’ve had that much of a variation and scope. This is open basically to anybody who has a passion and a drive and wants a guaranteed screening and to know that an arts organization is looking out for them.

“It doesn’t matter how much money they make and what experience they have. We have filmmakers who have been professionals for 20 years, to someone who was so excited about our project that he went out and bought some equipment and he’s now making the first movie of his life.”

With 43 short films already in production, participants are coming from “everywhere,” Yuhas said.

“There’s a strong concentration of people from the area — Lansdale, King of Prussia, Jenkintown to South Jersey. And, surprisingly enough, we have a couple of people participating from Greece and the United Kingdom, simply because they heard about it on the Internet.

“All anybody has to do is log onto our Web site (www.projecttwenty1.com) and say, ‘Hey, I’m here to help,’ and they’ll just be ambushed by people. It’s kind of neat.”

So you’ve always wanted to be an extra in a movie? Never harbored a desire to be the star, just happy being the fourth guy on the right, wearing a baseball cap, or the coffee-sipping executive whiling away the afternoon over a laptop at the corner café?

“Sometimes there might be a scene of a movie that needs to be a crowded bar, for example,” Yuhas said. “They might need 50 people in that crowded bar. Sure, it’s just going to be the side of your face, but you still get credit in a movie and can see yourself in the background. And some people get really thrilled about that.”

The movies — all less than 10 minutes long and homogeneously linked by the word “key” (to give people “inspiration and something to start with,” Yuhas said — will be shown in October at the International House of Philadelphia, which is sponsoring Project Twenty 1.

“Our goal is always to get screenings anywhere in the world,” Yuhas noted.

The arts organization was founded by Yuhas and Conant in 2006 because neither wanted to settle into the daily grind at the local coffee emporium and watch their movie-making dreams slowly erode.

“Matt went to school for films, I went to school for animation, and all of our friends went to Starbucks and got jobs and left their dreams within four years of getting out of college,” Yuhas remembered.

“There’s nothing wrong with working at Starbucks, but if you just spent $80,000 on an art degree and you’re not drawing, it hurts your soul.

“So we wanted to find a way to get our friends and colleagues to start making art again. We promised them that no matter what they made, we’d put it up on a screen and that somebody would be looking after them, trying to get them as much exhibition as possible.”

As Project Twenty 1 settles in Norristown, the original mission — “Turn the often-arduous task of making a film back into an exciting, enjoyable activity, and build a supportive network and a prestigious venue through which motivated filmmakers and artists can get their work in front of the world” — is unchanged, Yuhas said.

“The reason we came to Norristown is that we found cheaper property here and we think that in the next five years it’s going to be a really booming arts center. We’re on the board for the new arts district that’s going to be going in on DeKalb Street, and we have a letter of recommendation from Senator Leach, who wants us to stay here in Norristown … and we’re very happy to do so.”

For more information, call 215-253-7640 or visit www.projecttwenty1.com

Gary Puleo can be reached at 610-272-2500, ext. 205, or at gpuleo@timesherald.com.

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