In life, I believe there are no such things as coincidences. I am also a firm believer in the old adage, “everything happens for a reason.” I have been an attorney in the State of Rhode Island for sixteen years. I am honored to be a part of this profession and I enjoy the practice of law. However, over the last several years, the creative side of my brain has been daring me to try! Try! Try! In 2010, it was this voice that urged me to finally pursue my goal of becoming a published children’s book author. The published piece of that goal is something I’m working towards and in the meantime, I am very proud of the stories I have written. I am even more proud of the example I have been setting for my children as they witness the joy I’ve received in my practice of putting pen to paper.
My “make your mark” moment came in December 2016 when I dared myself to animate one of my stories. I took a leap of faith and when I landed, I was standing next to FableVision Studios and Peter H. Reynolds.
My Aunt Marcia has lived in Dedham, Massachusetts for over twenty years, and has visited Dedham Square hundreds of times—never once noticing Peter’s wonderful little bookstore, The Blue Bunny. In December 2015, I won a holiday writing contest held by The Providence Journal, a local newspaper in Providence, RI. As Aunt Marcia strolled through Dedham Square that December with my writing victory fresh on her mind, she looked up and, for the first time, noticed Peter’s store. As fate would have it, Peter was in the store that day. Armed with the knowledge of my love for writing, my aunt introduced herself and boldly asked Peter if he would meet me. Peter graciously invited us to attend The Mass Book Awards. On January 10, 2016, I attended the event and met Peter. We spoke for no more than two minutes, but as the conversation ended Peter shook my hand and said, “Make your mark.”
On my drive home that night, I decided to do just that. I gathered my courage and emailed Peter a story I had been working on, The Reflection in Me. Fortunately, Peter loved my story and provided me with some terrific editing suggestions. It was not until months later in December 2016 that I once again emailed Peter. I inquired as to whether or not his studio, FableVision, animated projects for the general public; Peter responded in the affirmative. The following month, I emailed The Reflection in Me to FableVision.
The story for The Reflection in Me was inspired by my family. My wife of eleven years, Lauren, and our three children, seven-year-old, Addison, and four-year-old twins, Ella and Mia, are the single most important things in my life. I often refer to my daughters as “beautiful chaos” and it befits them perfectly. One day, as I was watching my girls dance, sing, and laugh in front of the full length mirror in my home, I realized how incredibly different the experience in front of a mirror is for adults. As adults, we seek out mirrors to correct our perceived imperfections. We fix our hair, check our teeth, and tug at our clothes. But for children, they don’t fix a thing. They look at their reflection and they see perfection! I suddenly became sad as I realized that my girls, too, will someday look in the mirror and try to “fix” something. At that very moment, The Refection in Me popped into my head. As I contemplated that dreadful day when the dancing, singing, and laughing would end, I quietly prayed that my girls would always find a way to see themselves as I forever will…perfectly perfect.
I was familiar with Peter’s film I’m Here, so I was confident that his studio could bring my story to life. My confidence, however, grew exponentially when I received an email from Peter offering to be the executive producer on my film. I was ready to make my mark!
I first met the FableVision team on February 16, 2017 at FableVision Studios in Boston, Massachusetts. In attendance were Sarah Ditkoff (Marketing and Client Services Manager), Bob Flynn (Director of Art and Animation), Leigh Hallisey (Creative Director and Head Writer), Mikaela Johnson (Production Assistant), and Peter Stidwill (Senior Producer). And sitting to my right…Peter H. Reynolds! To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But my nerves quickly disappeared as I witnessed the genuine excitement this talented group of people had for my little story. From that meeting on, and over the next four months, I had the most enjoyable creative experience of my life. From the initial illustrations to the storyboard to the final film, I found the entire process fascinating. And I was equally fascinated by the people involved in the process.
Peter and Mikaela were my main points of contact throughout production. Not only were they passionate about the film, they truly understood how personal a story is to the person who wrote it. They allowed me to share my vision and ideas, but at the same time they were able to objectively move the film in a direction that allowed it to reach its full potential. I thoroughly enjoyed working and collaborating with these talented individuals.
Didi Hatcher was the animator on the film. I was amazed by the manner in which she interpreted the story. I wrote this story with the intent of creating something very simple, but with a powerful message. As such, Didi had the difficult task of creating emotion in a very basic setting; every scene is just the character and the mirror. Therefore, in order to evoke the true emotion of the story, the movements of the character had to be subtle yet meaningful. Every movement from the raise of an eyebrow to a clasp of the hands to a shrug of the shoulders was done brilliantly thanks to Didi’s expert eye and hands.
The narration was performed by the talented Candace Kozak. I was afforded the opportunity to sit in on the taping of her recording session. I was amazed by Candace’s ability to interpret the mood of the story so perfectly. This script is challenging in that it, technically, consists of three different characters: the character, the reflection, and the narrator. Candace, however, was able to deliver the lines in a way that differentiated between all three. The combination of Candace’s performance coupled with the richness in her voice truly conveyed the emotion of the story.
Peter Stidwill and Mikaela were able to locate the perfect musical composer for this film, David Nyman. I, admittedly, was concerned about this process because a musical score can make or break the emotion of a scene. But my concerns disappeared instantly upon hearing the first note – it was a homerun. I was extremely humbled by David’s talent and musical interpretation of the story.
While I truly enjoyed every aspect of this project, what mattered most to me was having Peter Reynolds’ signature illustrations as the face of this film. The moment I saw his initial sketches of the character, I instantly felt the emotion that embodies all of Peter’s stories. His role as executive producer made my story come to life. He was able to convey my vision perfectly and in many ways, better than I ever could have imagined. But my absolute favorite part of this entire journey was when Peter read my story aloud during the project kickoff to get the team’s creative juices flowing. Hearing this successful individual read something that I had written validated my decision to reach out to Peter and FableVision, and truly “make my mark.” It confirmed to me that this film was going to be special. And it is special. To me, it is perfectly perfect!
International Dot Day is a global celebration of creativity, courage, and collaboration. Personally, this special day embodies not only my journey with The Reflection in Me, but the creative journey I have been on throughout my entire life. Trying to succeed in the arts is a difficult task. Whether you are a musician, actor, writer, or painter, your work is always evaluated under a subjective microscope.
In Peter's book, The Dot, Vashti proclaims, “I just can’t draw!” and it is a feeling of self-doubt that resonates within all of us. But the secret to overcoming self-doubt, as taught by Vashti’s teacher, is to take a strong jab and shout, “There!” As I raise my children, I will impress upon them that success is not always measured by whether or not a goal is accomplished, but rather by the amount of courage and perseverance put forth into the effort. I will always be the voice inside their heads daring them to try! Try! Try! And to those of you reading this post, I dare you to “make a mark and see where it takes you.”
Join FableVision and me on September 15 to celebrate Dot Day. Catch Peter's TVOKids appearance on the LIVE afternoon block of The Space and don’t miss the live-stream where renowned illustrators from the world of children’s literature will be LIVE drawing to inspire everyone to take a chance and make their mark!
Want to see The Reflection in Me on the big screen?
Catch the film at these festivals:
20th Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults
When: September 18-22
Where: Sydney, Australia
Mill Valley Film Festival
When: October 5-15
Where: San Rafael, California