THE BLOG
01/25/2014 08:26 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2014

Hollywood With a Heart: Brightest Star Producer Gives Unforgettable Gift to High School Students

I was just giving him a call, being the nosy person that I can be. "How's your movie coming along?" I asked.

Former student and current producer Jason Potash was in New York prepping for the film Brightest Star, which opens Jan. 31. "Great!" he answered, ever positive. "How's the family?" he continued, ever quick to shift the spotlight back to someone else.

"Wish I could bring my class," I joked. "It'd be a great field trip!"

"Why not?"

"Ha!"

"No, really. We've got a few college lecture hall scenes, and we need extras."

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Brightest Star opens Jan. 31, 2014, in select theaters and on iTunes

Less than a month later, with the help of a wonderful travel agent (and high school classmate), Jeff Zielinski, combined with the trusting support of a principal and many parents, we flew out of Detroit -- 16 students and four other chaperons.

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My students, who stand out in a crowd -- even as extras.

The shoot took a full Sunday, and the students had to bring four changes of clothes to represent various times in the movie's plot. The fans of Veronica Mars and Private Practice were particularly excited to see a familiar face playing the lead. Chris Lowell would later be seen as Stuart Whitworth, Emma Stone's love interest, in The Help.

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Jason Potash (left) with Tribeca-winning director Maggie Kiley on the set of Brightest Star in New York, 2011

Jason arranged for the students to be in not only the lecture hall but a library scene. In the long spots of down time between shoots, he would chat with us about the process and introduce the students to many key crew members, who shared their stories and jobs.

After the film was completed, Chris Lowell had enjoyed working with Jason so much that he asked him to produce his own script that he would direct, Beside Still Waters. The following July, Jason and Lowell were in a cabin on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan shooting the comedy.

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So what was Jason's first big break after working successfully on films as a student at Columbia College in Chicago, including Fred Claus, The Express and The Dark Knight? What made him a successful producer? I can answer with a few short testimonials:
  • My wife: "He's your only friend who thought to bring a pie to our house -- and he's only 18."
  • A technician who came into my classroom to repair some technology who saw the ninth-grade Jason and said, "Mr. Walsh?" -- and Jason just nodded.
  • A garbage-truck driver whose route threatened to disrupt the chase scene in The Dark Knight, until Jason deftly moved him in and out of the set without disturbing anything -- or anyone.
  • My students, as Jason drove us back in the shuttle to our New York hotel because the film's driver was busy. One even remarked, "So that's what a producer does: everything, I guess."

I first met Jason when he was just a 40-year-old freshman at West Bloomfield High School. That was the joke around the school. He carried himself so confidently that he did seem like an older brother to my 36 years. I was hired into the district to create the video production program, but Jason had an equal hand in all of the equipment that was ordered and very good ideas for the flow of the curriculum as well as the floor design.

After he graduated from Columbia, Jason was introduced to Maggie Kiley, who, in 2009, had been accepted into the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women. Her short film Some Boys Don't Leave starred Jesse Eisenberg, an acting colleague of Kiley's from the 2007 Atlantic Theatre production Scarcity.

In 2010, I was thrilled to fly to New York to see a screening of the film, where Kiley had been honored at the Tribeca Film Festival with the Student Visionary Award.

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Maggie Kiley, director, with Jason Potash at the Tribeca Film Festival 2010

Jason was in his element. He met me and his parents the afternoon of the film's screening and we all went to an art gallery so Jason could pick up the poster for the night's after-glow party. Rather than being stressed, he chatted with the owner and asked how long he had been in business and what the history of the shop was. The following morning, after a great screening, Jason and Maggie were in meetings with developing the short into a feature -- one that Kiley would develop into the script she would direct for Brightest Star.

In New York, the students saw Jason's same calm "we'll-get-it-done" humor in the library shoot for Brightest Star as Jason walked across the set to hold up a piece of foam board in front of a window to help the lighting guys.

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Chris Lowell and Jason on the set of Beside Still Waters

Before the cast drove up I-75 to shoot Beside Still Waters, Jason asked me to be the narrator for the table read with the cast, who had all flown in the night before. While we were waiting for the actors to arrive, I chatted with Chris Lowell's co-writer (and Georgetown friend) Mohit Narang, who, like the shuttle driver on The Dark Knight , couldn't believe someone so young could be so together. I'd seen it a hundred times in high school with him. "I've been Potashed" was a gentle jab whenever I would find a pile of wires where some equipment had been earlier. Jason had needed another deck or computer in the middle of a late-night shoot and had talked a custodian into the studio to quickly replace a bum do-dad to be sure that we had a quality recording of the play or concert. He knew the big picture and got things done when many would not -- he produced.

High school teachers rarely get presents. I always envied the boxes of goodies that elementary teachers bring home at the holiday. But at the break of his first year in college, Jason called me and asked me for my address. Along with the pie for Patrice, he also brought me my very first Hanukkah present, a director's chair with my name on it.

There's a lot of schmoozing and vision that goes into being a producer. Patience and a good sense of humor don't hurt either. Jason is that rare combination of right and left brain, creativity with high technical know-how, along with great maturity, tact and, most importantly in a filmmaker, a great heart -- the kind of heart that remembers what it was like to be a high school student and to give them an experience they'll always treasure.

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Jason Potash, far left, with West Bloomfield High School students and staff.

And he still has time to smile for a group picture while making a feature film.

To listen to a podcast interview between Kevin Walsh and Jason Potash, click here.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Walsh

This post originally appeared on Kevin's personal blog, MyMediaDiary.com.