Actor Atticus Shaffer shares filmmaking lessons at the Reagan Presidential Library

To register for the last available space for Film This! 2016 Filmmaking Workshop for high school students, email us at reaganeducation@nara.gov.

Last summer while visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a flier for Film This! caught the eye of actor Atticus Shaffer.  While Shaffer has spent plenty of time in front of the camera, having acted in several films and starred for years as Brick Heck on ABC’s “The Middle,” this workshop presented an opportunity to get behind the camera and do so with fellow teens away from the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry.  Over the course of the workshop Atticus shot two films, including the above Oppression to Freedom about the Berlin Wall, which won “Best Overall” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Film Festival in February 2016.

We caught up with Atticus, who will be returning this year as an assistant instructor for Film This! to ask him some questions about what drew him to the program.  If you’re interested in registering for this year’s Film This! and learning techniques from Atticus and our head instructors Sue and Eric Van Hamersveld, then sign up now by emailing reaganeducation@nara.gov as we only have one space still available for Film This! 2016 July 11-15.

Last year you came to Film This! as a student filmmaker, but this year you’re a student instructor.   What made you want to come back?

Atticus Shaffer:  I absolutely fell in love with it. I loved not only seeing the library in a new light…being able to see the archives and things of that nature, but also being able to hear Eric and Sue speak and being around, y’know, like-minded young filmmakers who really appreciate not only filmmmaking, but they appreciate the history.  It’s really cool to be able to be around those kind of people and also be able to make a documentary film using resources the Reagan Library provides–that’s nothing you can get anywhere else.  To really be able to get to sit down and make a film and really be able to commit to it creatively and also production wise was really, really cool and a lot of fun.

Having worked professionally as an actor, what’s it like being with a group of young filmmakers who haven’t had that experience of being on a set?

It’s the same thing as when you have lived in a particular state your entire life and you have a friend…who maybe they live out of state and they’re coming to your state to see it, as a vacation.  You’ve been here your whole life and you’ve seen it and you know what’s around, but then you have someone who comes in and they see as something completely new and different, it becomes new to you again as you show them around.

Being in this industry for the past ten years, going on eleven now, obviously I’ve gotten used to certain things–it’s still an adventure, but I’ve gotten used to a lot of it, and it becomes more of like a regular job to me.  Being able to see how they react to things is really cool and it excites me.  It excites me about the work that I’m in, because it kind of takes away the redundant edge that can be formed with any job and it replaces it with the excitement that I see in them toward the industry.

So speaking of people your age, I’m sure you’re getting a lot of questions, y’know, like everybody asks people your age about college, about career plans, about things like that.  Do you feel pressure to make long term decisions like that, or are you more at a place where you’re focused on continuing the career path you’ve been on and just sort of enjoying the present moment?

At my age most young men and women would just be starting a job or a career or even their first job at times, and for me I have already been working for the past ten years now.  Now I am that point where it’s like “yeah, work is work.”  It’s awesome to be able to have like a medical plan and stuff, but it is hard work.  So my plan, what I’m doing now, is obviously my job and being on the show “The Middle” it takes up a lot of time, so I’m not able to–well I am able to sit down and plan, but to sit down and do is another facet altogether.  For me my plan right now is, I enjoy learning, I enjoy my studies, I enjoy all that stuff.  And even though I’m 18 and I’m actually out of high school, I’m still continuing my studies because I want to keep my brain sharp and keep learning things for if I choose to go to college.

I’m currently beginning to write a book which could potentially be a book series.  That’s something I could potentially go into.  It could not happen at all and I could change it and it could be maybe a short film idea or feature film idea, and then I might create independent films and take them to film festivals or try to get them distributed.  So there’s a lot of things that you can do in this industry, but it’s a matter of how much work you’re willing to put into it, and it’s a lot of time and a lot of money.

So speaking of reading, or rather writing, I was gonna ask what have you been reading lately, which is even more appropriate since you’re talking about writing because reading a wide variety of books is one of the best things any writer can do, right?

Absolutely, most definitely!  That’s one of the best courses you could ever take is a literary course and just picking up books and reading.  Um, I’m actually, it was really cool.  My mom, she’s very frugal as am I, we’re still very frugal with everything–she found a sale on [Christian website]* and she bought up a bunch of C.S. Lewis books.  I’m a fan of C.S. Lewis from the Narnia series and the Screwtape Letters, and so she’s like “well, hey, here’s all the other books, and why don’t you just start reading?”  And I thought that was amazing and as of right now I’m reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  

But then I also enjoy military history books, because I’m a big history nerd, so I’m reading a book by Oliver North, I believe it’s called American Heroes.  It’s about, y’know, when Sadaam Hussein was overthrown and what happened during Operation Desert Storm, so that’s very interesting for me as well.

Great, well thank you so much.  I really appreciate you giving me some time to get an interview with you.  We look forward to seeing you next week.  Did you see Mira’s email about the Situation Room Experience?

I did not see that.

She was just letting you know that we’re actually going to be able to do that on Monday, so you’ll actually get a chance to do the Situation Room–

Fantastic!

And you’ll be, for the whole week you guys are gonna be in the Situation Room.  As a history buff I think you’ll appreciate that because you’ll actually be sitting at the same table that Presidents have sat at.

Oh my gosh, that is so fantastic!  Oh, I cannot wait!  That is awesome!

I think that’s  one of the great things about the Situation Room Experience and just a lot of the stuff that we do here is that it’s way more hands-on than most museums.  Y’know usually you go to a museum, everything’s under glass, there’s somebody that tells you to step back if you get too close to anything.  How many times do you get a chance to actually sit in the Situation Room and it’s the real room where the panels have been flown there from the White House?

Right, exactly!  Oh wow, that is so fantastic!  Oh I can’t wait now!  I couldn’t wait before, now I’m like “oh, I’m salivating!”  [laughs]

We look forward to having you here, thanks so much for your time.  See you next week!

To join Atticus Shaffer at the Reagan Presidential Library for Film This! 2016 email us now at reaganeducation@nara.gov.

*The name of the vendor was removed due to Federal rules that prevent Federal agencies like NARA from endorsing, or appearing to endorse vendors.

About Brett Robert

Brett Robert holds a Bachelor of the Arts degree in History from Sonoma State University and a Master of the Arts in History from California State University Northridge.
This entry was posted in Class Experiences, Film This!, Situation Room Experience, Student Stories and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Actor Atticus Shaffer shares filmmaking lessons at the Reagan Presidential Library

  1. Jenny Mandel says:

    Great interview!!

    Like

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