Making The Vermont High School Musical!

02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Movie musicals are back in style! They seem to be everywhere, so why not make one in Vermont? As a long time independent film producer I wanted to create an original musical that was entertaining but also tackled some of the most pressing issues in teenager's lives. Of course, the last time I was in high school was in the late 1970s -- I needed to jump into the trenches and find out what kids today were going through.

My co-writer Abby Paige and I began by interviewing more than 1000 Vermont teens from many diverse backgrounds. Listening to kids telling their stories of struggle, perseverance and overcoming the odds was inspirational. Whether it was talking to boys at the "Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center" -- a lock down unit -- or speaking to kids of color living in the whitest state in the union (Vermont), or hanging out with farm kids discussing the dilemma of whether to stay on the farm or go to college-- these authentic stories provided a rich backdrop for the script and created a sense of deep empathy and pride in the many kids that I spent time with.

After writing the script we gathered a group of students together to write all the songs in the film. The young composers created a stirring and uplifting score with the help of musical director Roger Grow.

Casting the film was next! I was deeply inspired by the Vermont teen actors that I worked with on Shout it Out. Vermont is a small state, but we have a heck of a lot of talent here. None of the teen actors had ever been on a film set, but took to the camera immediately and impressed our professional film crew with their determination, concentration and talent. Slum Dog Millionaire worked with a lot of "non-professional" actors and I can attest to the fact that sometimes the most intimate, fresh and real performances come from young actors who are just starting out!

The cast members were thrilled to be in a "real" movie, but they were also filled with pride to be able to tell the stories of their peers-stories that many of them had also experienced themselves. For instance, Ryan Howland who plays the character of "Danny" in Shout it Out--an awkward freshman kid who is bullied and gets too involved with the internet, related to his character because he too was bullied in school

Annalise Shelmandine who plays "Vita" in the movie had a particularly profound experience because her character was based on her own life! She was interviewed during the research phase and shared her story of being overweight, grappling with low-self esteem and wanting to be a dancer. Annalise auditioned for the production and was cast as herself! Annalise told me," Being a part of Shout it Out has been so cathartic, to tell my story, to act in a professional film, to feel pride in who I really am!"

To date, the reaction of audience members to this grassroots film has been tremendously rewarding. Both adults and teens love the movie! We even have groupies!! Shout it Out is starting to make its way beyond Vermont. We are getting into film festivals, looking for distribution, producing a study guide that can be used with the film in schools, and continuing to spread the word. Someone asked me recently what I wanted the movie to say. I replied, "What I want this movie to say is exactly what the title says, Shout it Out! Kids need to shout out what they feel, what they need, what's going on in their lives -- and adults need to listen!"

You can reach Bess O'Brien at Kingdom County Productions: 802-592-3190 or