It started with what sounded like a naive question from a 10th grader in Gary Phillips’ typography class at Delcastle Technical High School several years ago.
In order to get the students engaged with digital media up close, he would invite local professionals in the industry to speak to the class. As they were studying typography, they came across the website of Hollywood title designer Dan Perri.
You know Dan Perri. Based on his body of work, you probably know Dan Perri very well. His best-known work is probably the “Star Wars” logo and the iconic opening crawl. His many other titles include “Raging Bull,” “Nighmare on Elm Street,” “Caddyshack” and “The Warriors.” He’s known for using typography to create memorable titles that fit the the feel and tone of the movie, a designer able to change styles like a chameleon based on the film.
The students were impressed, to say the least, and one suggested that Phillips invite Perri to come and do a talk for the class.
“I went kind of sarcastic, like ‘yeah, I’m sure Dan will just hop in his car in LA and drive to Delaware,'” Phillips recalls. “I said, ‘Tell you what, why don’t you call him?’ And the student did.”
Long story short, Perri came to speak at Delcastle, then rode down to Dover to speak to a class at Delaware Technical Community College, which had helped make the whole thing possible by agreeing to split the costs.
Phillips and Perri kept in contact over the years. Recently, Perri reached out to Phillips, now a digital media teacher at William Penn High School, and said he’d be interested in doing a film workshop. Not just a talk, but a one-week summer workshop for about 20 students in Phillips’ classroom.
“The students were so responsive and really appreciated it when I’d come to Delaware before,” Perri told Technical.ly. “So Gary and I began talking about the notion of a workshop of some kind that would allow the students to actually make a film.”
Perri is best known for his title design, but he also has experience as a director (including a Bangles video, 14 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” and the short film “Sharkskin,” which he also wrote and produced), second unit director (“Nightmare On Elm Street 3,” “Sister Act 2“) and visual effects (“Deep Cover,” “The Frankenstein Files“). What he proposed was six days of work, from pre-production to production to post production, with a student film festival on day seven.
“They need to be short, dramatic films, with a story and a message,” Perri said. “So, some entertainment and informational value that can be executed with the equipment and with time that we have to do them. I would guide it, Gary and I would act as producers and supervisors. It’s very much a learning experience and reformed method of both teaching and accomplishing a film in that short period of time.”
At this point, the workshop has enthusiasm and a curriculum. “Now I’m at the process of trying to find some kind of funding to make this happen,” Phillips said. “I spoke with a couple of places, we’re turning to social media. Everything we do is finding a way to tell a story, so I’m trying to put this out there to see if there is any other organization that would like to collaborate with us.”
If you’re interested in collaborating, you can reach Phillips via the WP Media Twitter, where you can also get a behind-the-scenes look at the students’ current projects.
— wp media (@wpmedia2) December 2, 2021
Phillips prioritizes immersive learning, not only with industry guest speakers coming to the classroom, but with yearly (safety precautions permitting) trips to ABC’s “Good Morning America” studio, where students sit in the audience and see what is involved with creating live television.
“I left Delcastle about three years ago because I wanted to come back to my alma mater William Penn to create something that had never been done, that was so innovative at that school, and find a way to give back,” Phillips said. “That’s what this whole thing is all about.”
Perri is motivated by the opportunity to find students with a passion for filmmaking and helping them find their way.
“For me,” said Perri, who also works with kids via Little Filmmakers in Philadelphia, “it’s about sharing what I know and what I would have done. I feel an obligation to do that. Drawing off of what I’ve done and what I know, students can glean something from and apply it to their own work, [as well as] the very basic notion of persistence. If you want to do something artistically — and filmmaking certainly is an art — you have to persist.”
Learn more about Perri and his iconic title work in this short documentary: