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Former Lebanon High teacher makes award-winning film

A daughter’s message to her dad about her frantic day trying to get to an acting audition has been turned into an award-winning short film by a former Lebanon High School teacher that will be screened at the school this week.

Brad Hawkins is the writer, director and producer of “Roller Coaster,” which recently won five awards at the Indie Film Festival and will be shown, along with several other short films at Lebanon High School on Wednesday night.

Hawkins taught courses in humanities, acting and film at Lebanon for 12 years before retiring in 2012. But he has always had a passion for creating films, dating to when he was a teen growing up in the San Francisco Bay area.

“As a kid, I was the guy, like Steven Spielberg, running around with the 8 mm camera and filming his brothers and all that kind of a thing,” he recalled during an interview last week.

While he did some acting in his younger days, Hawkins' diverse career path exited the stage and led him to become a marching band instructor in California. At the age of 40, he made another career change, going back to college to earn his teaching certification.

It wasn't that far of a leap, he explained.

"All teachers are really actors," he said. "You are playing a role, it’s not really who you are; you wear a costume; you have a script, being your lesson plan; and you have a captive audience, being your students."

As his career evolved, Hawkins and his wife, Terry, who teaches gifted students in the Conestoga Valley School District, decided to leave the frenzy of the west coast to settle in Lancaster County, where they raised their two children.

Since retiring, the 59-year-old Hawkins said he has been able to resume pursuing his film aspirations, traveling frequently from his home in Lancaster County for acting gigs in Los Angeles, where he stays with his 25-year-old daughter Sarah, who also works in the film industry there.

"I'm very comfortable out there," he said. "LA has been keeping me very busy as an actor. The film thing kind of developed through us wanting to find a project for both my daughter and I, because she is an actor also. With her pursuing acting and me pursuing acting, we knew there was a lot of material there, potentially for a father-daughter thing."

The opportunity came in the form of an email he received a year ago from Sarah that inspired the 15-minute comedy called he called “Roller Coaster” – a title unveiled in the film.

"I got this message from Sarah about this horrific audition she was trying to get to,” Hawkins recalled. “She gave me a play-by-play of her day in this email, and then I wrote back and said, ‘there is a short movie in here.’”

The tag line for the movie – “A young actress runs smack dab into Murphy’s Law on the way to a potentially career-making audition”  – explains the plot, Hawkins said.

“It’s sort of an anything that could go wrong does go wrong,” he explained. “It’s definitely a comedy. One of those films where the humor is in the horror, and it’s definitely based on a true story. A lot of it is right from the email I got from my daughter.”

Within two weeks, Hawkins had whipped up a script which he sent to some producer friends he has made over the years and who had given him guidance on a 35-minute father-daughter themed film script he previously had written.

When he didn’t hear from anyone for several months, Hawkins thought it had been shelved. So he was surprised when he got a call in February from one of his producer friends who told him a photography director was available for six days of filming in March and asked if he could be ready in time.

Hawkins promised he would.

“It came together with very little prep time,” he said. “Thankfully, I had the script all polished. The lead actor in the movie is my daughter, so that was easy.”

Hawkins put out the word to others friends and quickly found a cast and crew who were willing to work at little or no cost.

“Had we done this with no contacts and having to hire people, I doubt this would be made for less than $75,000, and for a short film, that is a lot of money,” he said.

When filming wrapped in March, Hawkins did post-production work with editors and added sound and music over the summer.

Since then it has been shown at a screening of films in Los Angeles, San Francisco and most recently at the MoonFaze Festival in Hollywood.

With help from friends and former students, Hawkins was also able to raise money for the film through the crowd sourcing website Indiegogo, which is helping him to cover the expense of applying to film festivals.

It is screenings at film festivals that will determine the success of the film, Hawkins said. He has already submitted it to 40 festivals in the U.S. and Europe, targeting those that would qualify the film for Oscar consideration if selected. He plans to spend much of next year escorting the film to those festivals.

"For me, 2016 will be riding the coaster throughout the country," he said.

Winning five “Award of Merit” recognitions at Indie Fest – for short film, directing, editing, original musical score and sound editing  –  should improve the chances that it will qualify for short-film festivals.

“It’s given us a huge shot in the arm,” he said. "It will help us tremendously with other film festivals throughout the country and should really be a huge catalyst for giving us an edge over some of the other films in order to try to get screen time, because screen time is very valuable.”

Hawkins has lofty hopes that the film might be picked up for wider distribution and possibly be developed into a feature-length film tied to his longer father-daughter themed screenplay. But that would be a bonus, he said.

“I know for myself, though, that I’ve found what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And as long as God gives me breath, this is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my days,” Hawkins said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about me finally, after being the guy at 14 running around with the 8 mm camera, I’m able to now really truly pursue my dream.”

Wednesday’s screening at Lebanon High School, 1000 S. Eighth St., is open to the public with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door for a donation, with all proceeds going to the school’s theater arts department.

The night will include five other short films, including two starring Hawkins and another featuring his daughter. They will be followed by a 30-minute question and answer period when Hawkins will talk in depth about the film.