Interview with Amanda France, Co-Producer of the “I, Pencil” movie

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Interview with Amanda France, Co-Producer of the “I, Pencil” movie

“Eloquent. Extraordinary. Timeless. Paradigm-shifting. Classic. Half a century after it first appeared, Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil” still evokes such adjectives of praise. Rightfully so, for this little essay opens eyes and minds among people of all ages.

-Lawrence W. Reed, President
Foundation for Economic Education


The following interview and discussion about the I, Pencil movie themes and creative process took place between Amanda France and the Pencils for Africa editorial team of Gloria, Athena and Mackenzie.

The discussion opened with Amanda expressing how enthusiastic she was to engage with the Pencils for Africa team and about the potential for more and more children around the world to explore and ponder the themes of the I, Pencil movie which includes collaboration and cooperation between individuals toward a worthy endeavor.

Amanda’s Interview by Gloria and Athena







ATHENA: Amanda, what inspired you to become a film producer?

Amanda: I have been more of an assistant producer on this film and I also have a day job which is working at a think tank that underwrote the production of this movie.

My specific role revolved more around the aftereffects of this film and how to introduce this film to schools and educators and to get the message of the film out into the public in a way that is practical and adds value. I worked peripherally on the film itself with my friends who have their own company, Passing Lane Films - the director and producer of this company, who put together the beautiful video which you have before you.







GLORIA: Amanda, please describe the creative process in making the film I, Pencil?

Amanda: Well, the whole process was in fact much longer than we anticipated - it was over 3 years ago that the idea for the I, Pencil movie was first conceived.

Specifically, the first year was spent building support for the film. The second year was spent in the screenwriting and composition of the film.

This meant adapting the original 1958 essay, I, Pencil, by Leonard Read into a modern presentation. That process took about a year and then the third and final year was spent on the technical aspects such as the animation and graphic design of the video that you now see.

There were many, many people involved in the making of this film and that is a fun story in itself.

Gloria: I, Pencil is an educational video. Why decide to go “educational” verses “entertainment”?

Amanda: I think that targeting something for educational use has the potential to be a much more long term resource for people. There can be some value in looking at something from an entertainment activity, but an educational activity has a longer staying power in terms of the message itself. It also alerts people that your focus is the message itself rather than the visuals or the aesthetic appeal.

Athena: Why did you decide to make a movie off the essay I, Pencil by Leonard Read?

Amanda: The themes and ideas in this 1958 essay were presented way before you and I were born and yet they will continue to persist as relevant and informative way beyond our lifetimes.

Those themes and ideas revolve around the beauty of people working together, the beauty of knowledge and ideas. It is about the profound collaborations that can occur and how people work together in important ways even though they may not see the resulting impact of their work. In this sense it is a timeless story.

Gloria: I feel that the study of Economics through your film I, Pencil would be a great way to add to our curriculum. From your experience how have schools incorporated your educational video and what impact has it made?

Amanda: We actually just released the video just over one month ago - the official release date was in fact November 15, 2012. As yet, we have not incorporated the video into schools. However, we have some plans to incorporate it into school for the winter semester in January, whereby we have partnered with a few schools and organizations that help with outreach. So, we have just begun the early stages of exploring with schools how they may use this resource and how we in turn may provide them with support and additional commentary that might supplement the curriculum.

If all goes well, this will be a continued resource for people here in the USA and around the world.

However, your school (Saint Hilary School in Tiburon, California) are in fact the first school I have spoken with and therefore you are ‘ahead of the curve’. I am really eager for your feedback on the whole theme of the film. Moreover, it would be interesting for me to see how the movie’s ideas might be adapted to address some of the pertinent and contemporary issues that you deal with as middle school students.

I would love for this to be a continued working collaboration in this regard.

Gloria: What specific subject do you think this I, Pencil movie theme would fall under in terms of the categories of learning curriculum?

Amanda: A lot depends on how your specific school is organized. I know that when I was in middle school we did not have a ‘Civics’ class but we definitely had something called ‘Social Science’.

So, I think Civics, Social Science, Economics, Government and Politics - since one one level this is also about the political world and what kind of society are we building and wanting to live in today. That is really in the realm of philosophical thought as well. The themes extend to a broad spectrum which encompass the ‘soft sciences’.

Gloria: Do you think kids and teens will view things differently after studying the curriculum themes related to the I, Pencil movie and what do you think is the main part of the video that you would like middle school students to learn and understand from this?

Amanda: I do not think you necessarily change someone’s mind with these open-ended ideas. However, I do think that it is an enriching process to explore the themes the movie discusses and build an engaging forum for looking at issues from new lens and different perspectives.

Thoughts and Responses to the I, Pencil movie

Amanda: Well, I would love any feedback for me of what you thought of the I, Pencil movie and what the story said to you or how it related to you or how or what you understood or did not understand.

Mackenzie and Lucia

Mackenzie (4th grader): What I learned from the I, Pencil movie is that it doesn’t take one person just to make a pencil, it takes a million people: the graphite comes from China and they have to bake it, the metal is important as well, so is the rubber, and so is the cedar wood.

The way they put the pencil together is really, really interesting. Without pencils we would not be able to design things or write down maps for traveling around the world, and compose architecture and buildings, and everything that we have.

Just a simple pencil can do a lot of things for a life.

Lucia (4th grader): A simple pencil can do so many things and I think it is very important that we don’t just sometimes take a pencil throw it away. You have just got to remember that those pencils have been made and you should do better stuff with them.

Gloria (7th grader): I think that the I, Pencil movie was very interesting and made me have a new perception of the world, and especially pencils. It just made me think of a lot of things now. For example, I didn’t realize that it took so much to make one thing. That thing I might take for granted or use on a daily basis. I didn’t realize that this thing came from many different countries assembled by many people, and would not be able to be made without those people.

Athena (7th grader): I also think - like Gloria - it made me think of a pencil in a whole new way. It takes so many people to make what I used to think was a simple thing. Now I know it takes many people and materials. In the I, Pencil movie, I really enjoyed the family tree - how it broke down where everything came from - it first came from the tree and the wood cutter, and then the wood cutter was fed from the waitress at the diner.

Gloria (7th grader): The graphics were really good too!

Mackenzie (4th grader): It is kind of like a circle of life the way a pencil is made.

Afterthoughts by Gloria, Editor-in-Chief

1) Just as we thought about the number of people involved in all aspects of making a pencil, it made me wonder about how kids would act differently toward using a pencil if the movie was included in our curriculum. What I mean by that is, if my classmates all were to watch this video, will they view the pencil the same way they saw it made in the movie, every time they picked it up?

Will they also think about all the other things they have that they take for granted that they buy from a store so easily?

2) The message in the movie is not just about the making of a pencil, but is also about how people all around the world help make the different parts like the wood and graphite and do not realize that it is going to be made together into a simple tool, like a pencil.

It’s about everybody in the community doing their part and not realizing that their simple acts might be useful to others - to someone they may have never met.

3) From watching this video, in a broad sense, everything we touch has a story. This video is about the rich history of a pencil and how it is made. It’s about the journey from an idea to the materials to the production to the design to the shelves in the stores and to the consumers. When I think about this, I realize the following:

An object, such as a pencil, is not as simple as it seems and there may be so much more to learn from each and every object we touch in or life.

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