Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Local fimmaker makes a difference

Michael Clair's Gooding film school flourishes


By MICHAEL AMES
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Michael Clair, holding a clapperboard, poses with a group of his students from Filer High School.

A Hollywood snob might think of southern Idaho as a Philistine backwater. A cursory glance at Michael Clair's Western States College in Gooding, however, would quickly erase such preconceived snobbery.

Clair commandeered WSC in 2002 and, since its inception, the college has grown into many things: a cultural studies center, a filmmaking mecca, and a legitimate producer of short films recognized by the prestigious Telluride and Sundance film festivals.

Clair's background is diverse. A touring country musician for 25 years, he played lead guitar for the Nashville All Star Band for eight years and is an accomplished composer, having scored music for several movies, including Bruce Willis' "Breakfast of Champions" and Ketchum-based documentarian Venessa Schulz's "Cost of Freedom."

Rounding out this impressive resume are the four years Clair spent as a professional wrestler.

After meeting his wife, Darcie, in Idaho, Clair fell in love with both the woman and the state and permanently relocated in 1991. He then spent 10 years in the Wood River Valley working for Willis doing sound and lighting at The Mint as well as home theater installation.

Post 9/11 Clair's business took a dive and after some soul-searching he decided to call upon his true passion, movie making.

In 2002, Clair purchased Gooding's historical Shubert Theater—built circa 1919—and launched WCS. The theater functions as college headquarters and classroom/performance space. Currently, Clair is in the midst of a two-year remodel of the aging building.

In the three years since its opening, WCS has mushroomed into a dynamic cultural tool. Together with friend and Magistrate Judge John Varin, Clair began a program in 2002 to teach his popular Art of Low-Budget Filmmaking class to juveniles on probation.

"We put our heads together to come up with this program to keep them from committing crimes," said Clair. By travelling to probation centers in Blaine, Lincoln, Twin Falls, Jerome, and Burley counties, he has brought a passion for movies to over 100 kids who might be otherwise tempted in their free time.

Clair has long been a believer in the rejuvenating effects that a film crew can bring to a rural community. Since 2002, he has doggedly lobbied Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's office, working to convince elected officials to offer more incentives for filmmakers to shoot in Idaho.

After the 2004 release of "Napolean Dynamite," which was filmed in the southeastern Idaho hamlet of Preston, Kempthore appointed a task force to study the benefits of bringing Hollywood movie crews to Idaho.

Filming a major Hollywood film in Idaho would "bring jobs here," said Clair. Combined with the peripheral costs of eating and sleeping, a major film can bring tens of millions of dollars into a small town economy, he said.

Clair said he was "always fanatical about making little movies," but since acquiring a windfall of professional studio production equipment in 2004, he has "taken it up a notch." The equipment—a 30-foot dolly with track, a nine foot crane, studio monitors, microphones, professional lighting and more—came as a tax-free donation from Bob Ewing Productions, a television production studio in Los Angeles.

Although WSC offers classes ranging from a one-day Stand Up Comedy Workshop to Advanced Reiki, Clair's film classes draw the most students, and the college's main focus remains on film.

From a professional standpoint, Clair has achieved his greatest and most unique accomplishments through his screenplay contests. Open to screenwriters nationwide, WSC offers semi-annual contests for short films, stage plays, and full-length films. The winning entry is then produced entirely by WCS.

"There is no other program out there like this," said Clair. After filming the most recent winning entries—"am i right?" written by Portland's Mark Sanders and "Krazy Kreatures Gone Wild," a "Crocodile Hunter" parody written by Clair and Mark Goodman—both were accepted by the Telluride Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.

With an impressive three years at the helm of Western States College, a successful community service project, and two films set to screen at highly competitive film festivals, Clair is on a roll. Stating every working man's dream, he said, "I am passionate about this."

Film auditions held

Western States College is holding auditions to cast the most recent winners of the WSC screenplay contests. Auditions will be held on Saturday, June 18 at the Lamphouse Theatre in old town Twin Falls at 2 p.m. for four short films and one feature length film.

Auditions are for all ages, although adults are needed only as extras at this time. Teenage boys and girls, 12-17, who appear to be 13-14 years old are particularly needed.

Auditions will be based on "cold-reading" of scripts. For more information, contact Michael Clair at 208-733-7695 or westernstatescollege@msn.com.




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