Local filmmaker Amy Weber believes the only way we’ll save the victim of bullying is to save the bully. And while every single victim of bullying deserves to share their story, Weber wants to shift our focus from the victim to the bully.
“Until we get to the heart of the issue, which is the bully, him or herself, we will not solve this problem,” she said. “Have we ever had the opportunity to know a bully and learn from them? Have we seen the experience of bullying through their eyes?”
We will now.
Through her most true-to-life fictional documentary, The Bully Chronicles, Weber will give bullying a face. For the 100 percent Michigan-made project, Weber will work with youth producers, including 17-year-old anti-bullying activist Katy Butler, who started the petition that changed the rating of the controversial movie Bully from R to PG-13. Together, they will develop script and story content, and will cast real high school students in each role.
The Bully Chronicles begins as a documentary investigation into the story of 16-year-old Jessica Burns, who lies in a coma after a nearly successful suicide attempt. The filmmakers examine Jessica’s life to uncover the reasons why. Confessional tapes recorded in secret by Jessica and her best friend Brian surface. The recordings show an unblinking look into the world of bullying through the victim’s eyes. As she languishes in a coma, her story unfolds in the “found footage” style through self-recorded interviews and actual confrontations with her bullies. Jessica’s primary bully, Avery, initially denies that she’s been tormenting Jessica. But once given the opportunity to film her own thoughts and experiences, we see the other side of the story for the first time – the bully’s side.
“It is absolutely impossible not to know these multi-layered characters inside and out who show us their world. It will lead to emotions that many people aren’t expecting to feel for a bully,” she said.
A subject near and dear to her heart, Weber has made it her personal quest to discover what’s really happening inside the mind of a bully. “I was bullied and turned into a bully. I did not have the courage back then to admit it. There is no safe place for a bully to come forward and explain their behavior. I was not happy and didn’t have a lot of friends. I realized that if I am really going to make a difference, I have to give these kids an opportunity to use their own voices and their past experiences to teach us,” said Weber, a Birmingham resident who has developed, written and produced more than 40 award-winning educational documentaries dealing with youth issues and education. She was honored as the 2011 Michigan Filmmaker of the Year for her first feature film, Annabelle and Bear. She is a former university educator, and the founder and owner of production company Radish Creative Group, Inc. in Royal Oak where she is holding open casting calls for hundreds of roles in the film.
“This is an unpaid, great experience for kids that really want to come out and make a difference and be a part of a historical story that is going to offer true solutions. Teachers, administrators and parents who have an open heart and a willingness to work with young people are also invited,” said Weber. Many of the roles will be for teens under 18 years of age and parental permission will be mandatory. The Bully Chronicles, LLC will be abiding by the child labor laws of Michigan. “No experience is necessary. This is not scripted. I will set the actors up with a scenario, tell them what the scene is and what the motive for the scene is and they are free to play it out in their own words. A lot of it will unfold and develop as it goes on. The kids are going to be awesome. I can just feel it.”
When asked how this film will help to combat the issue of bullying, Weber said she understands it will take time, but hopes to lead us in the right direction with education and awareness.
“It starts with the way we speak to and treat each other. It’s so easy to let our feelings roll off our tongues without thinking about what this will do and how it will impact a child’s life. As adults, we truly need to think before we speak. Everyone is allowed to have their personal beliefs, but as leaders, we are being listened to and watched. The manifestation of cruelty in our world has fallen upon our kids. It’s not an innate thing. Kids are not conscious of what they’re doing at a young age. They are mimicking behavior,” she said.
That’s why Weber, with her wife Tina and two young daughters, spoke up against Troy Mayor Janice Daniels at a December Troy City Council meeting. In light of past events involving Mayor Daniels and her anti-gay comments, Weber was moved to create this film in a society where bullying has become a hot topic and social behaviors need to be redefined.
“When we allow public leaders and prominent figures to use their position of power and ‘popularity’ in any negative way toward a person or group of people, we are sending a message loud and clear to our kids…bullying is okay as long as it is justified and the views are shared by the majority,” she said.
Weber is prepared to deal with the type of emotions this film may conjure up. She is building relationships with counselors and organizations like NOH8, Stop Bullying Now, and HIBhub to provide connections and resources for kids who need support and encouragement. Locally, youth advocate and national youth speaker Jim Tuman is also on board. Tuman of Royal Oak is the founder and director of Jimmy’s Kids charity, started in 1989.
“He is the greatest, most knowledgeable gentleman I know. I absolutely welcome anybody that wants to help. We are just starting and my plan is to have places online and within the community where these kids will have access to people who can help,” she said.
“This is a true example of a grassroots effort. We need supporters and we have to pull together as a community in order to make this happen,” she said. So far, supporters have donated more than $20,000 toward making the film at Indiegogo http://www.indiegogo.com/TheBullyChronicles, the world’s largest global funding platform. Weber said she hopes to raise a total of $100,000 before filming starts at Seaholm High School in Birmingham by the middle of July, beginning of August.