Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series, which explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, Andrew Jenks -- award-winning filmmaker behind projects such as MTV’s “World of Jenks,” HBO’s “Andrew Jenks, Room 335,” and now the All-American High School Film Festival, a first-ever national festival for high school students taking place October 4-6 in New York -- shares how he got his start in film and why he wants to give a similar opportunity to high school students.
HLN: How old were you when you made your first film? What was it about?
Andrew Jenks: I traveled a lot as a kid, and I’d carry around my mom’s bulky video camera. I actually pretended to be a CNN correspondent. It didn’t matter if I was just filming out of the window while we were driving and it was nothing but empty streets. But the whole idea of the film festival started when I was in high school and made a short film called “The Five-Second Rule.” In it, a guy drops his M&Ms and he has five seconds to get them in order to feel like it’s OK to eat them. We put it to “Lord of the Rings” music and it was supposed to be funny. I shot it at a train station at night because when you’re younger, train stations seem really cool and they have great lighting.
HLN: What made you want to make films?
Jenks: I don’t remember. I just remember I always traveled around with that camera to random countries where no one spoke English. So the camera became my best friend and I used it as an outlet for everything. Even in high school, I wasn’t always a fan of math or science, but I remember we had this public access show called “Internal Injustice” -- it was like the “Today” show for our local high school -- that aired on Fridays at 8 a.m. on public access channel 6. I wasn’t very popular, but one very popular girl came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re the one from the public access show -- what are you doing here?” I said, “I’ve been in your grade this whole time…” So when the pretty girl compliments you, that’s it.
HLN: What made you want to work with high school students? You had a similar festival at your own high school, right?
Jenks: When I was 16, one or two of my friends and I would make movies in our backyard. We wanted them to play on the big screen, so we convinced our principal to play them in the auditorium and called it a film festival. Through a parent’s friend of a friend, James Earl Jones came and spoke at it one year. We were a small high school, and he was so humble and gracious and couldn’t have been nicer, so that got us a lot of attention. And over the last 10 years, the student films have gotten really good. So there are some festivals specifically for high school students, but not one that is national. This is its first year, and it was the quality of films that we were getting.
HLN: So you’re impressed with this year’s entries?
Jenks: Dude, you have no idea! They are unbelievable. I’m going to be out of work soon. I was talking to Diablo Cody, who’s one of our judges, and she said the same thing: They’re so good! I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on HBO documentaries and shorts. I honestly believe a lot of these films will get picked up by them. There’s one called “Rouge Blood” -- it’s by a student named Stephanie and she documents a man from Cambodia who survives the war and genocide and you’re wondering why she’s following him. At the end, you find out he’s her dad. It’s great storytelling and great cinematography.
HLN: You may be seen as a mentor by these students. Who was your mentor growing up?
Jenks: More than anything, it was my parents, because they gave me the freedom to go out and film random events, all the way to when I was in college. After my freshman year, I told them I wanted to drop out and move into a nursing home -- and they didn’t say no. Without them, I wouldn’t’ be able to do much of anything at all. They believed in me enough to let me pursue that, and they’re not in film or TV.
HLN: Your show, “World of Jenks,” presents the different voices of your generation. Do you hope the film festival will do the same for the next generations? What do you hope it will accomplish?
Jenks: I think there are a lot of different outlets for young people to put out their short films, but I think this is very unique in that we can get hundreds of young filmmakers from around the country to see each other face to face and see each other’s work. Being collaborative in that way is unique and doesn’t exist. There are a lot of art programs being cut, so this is an opportunity to let them know the work they’re doing is valuable and impressive. If you’re good at sports, you’re going to have top recruiters coming to you, so I think the same should be done for film students.