Monday, March 30, 2009

Andrew Robinson - Class of 1999 - Filmmaker

Describe your experience during the tragedy.

I was in the school when it started; however, I was towards the center of the building in the computer lab so I didn’t hear any gunfire or commotion until later. The fire alarm went off and the students and teachers in the computer lab began the usual drill to evacuate the school. We figured it was a drill or a prank so there wasn’t any real urgency to any of our actions. When a group of us stepped out into the hallway we saw a large group of students running down the main hallway screaming and flailing their arms. Someone in the crowd shouted “gun” and “they’re shooting people,” which sent many into panic and back into the computer lab where kids dove under desks and in closets.

A couple of friends and I decided to run versus stay in the computer lab and we made our way down one of the side hallways on our way towards the art/music wing. We were able to exit the building from the band entrance and came across a construction fence with dozens of other students. Kids were climbing the fence and helping one another when another student said the shooters were outside. Once again, urgency and panic set in and the fence was brought down enough for everyone to run over and make their way into nearby Clement Park. My friends and I got about halfway across Clement Park, which is quite large, before we stopped to see more students running our way and the police coming in the distance. Helicopters started circling overhead and within moments nearly every square inch of Littleton around Columbine was on lock down.

Prior to this brief moment of pause I didn’t really think about much. However, as we caught our breath the reality of the situation and the need to know the whereabouts of our other friends became priority. We decided to run back towards the school, though it was well blocked off by this time, so we made our way around the back of the student parking lot into a nearby neighborhood. The neighborhood was swarming with police, SWAT and sharpshooters scaling the rooftops of the homes facing Columbine. In the cul-de-sac a triage of sorts had been set up where walking wounded and even the more serious injuries were being treated by parents and a pair of EMTs. The whole scene was very surreal. It was at this time we learned who was doing the shooting, which hit two of my friends whom I was with very hard. Still wanting to find some of our missing friends we ran down the street and flagged down a passing pickup truck who heard on the radio that the displaced students were to go to nearby Leawood Elementary School.

We arrived at Leawood and remained there for the rest of the evening where we got word of those who died and were reunited with those who made it out. The weeks that followed, more importantly the week that followed was absolutely surreal. I didn’t really sleep the night of the shooting, I had gone to my girlfriend’s house to kind of escape it all and ended up watching the news coverage all night. The next morning I went to Clement Park and the place was overrun with news vans, camera men, lights and more people than I think actually live in Littleton. It was a circus. The whole week kind of played out like that, in a sort of fishbowl, pseudo slow motion, pantomime of real life. I remember thinking and many of my friends reiterated this to me that it felt like we were strangers in our own home. We didn’t recognize it. I went one further and likened it to being an animal at a zoo, where the general public wants to see you but still keep their distance. You could tell who the students and teacher were and you could tell who the spectators were, and somewhere amidst it all was the media. I have to admit the way the week that followed played out was at times as violent or more violent, emotionally, to many people myself included than was the actual shooting.

Then, like a light switch being turned on and off, the media disappeared and the public interest waned allowing for much of the real healing and rehabilitation to begin. The weeks that followed I didn’t have much to do with the school. I wanted to be away form all of that so I worked double shifts, spent time with friends away from Littleton and basically closed myself off.

How has the healing process been for you over the past ten years? Please describe it.

Truthfully, I think I’m one of the more fortunate ones in that I was able to deal with the reality and gravity of what had happened fairly well. I had spells where something would get to me or I’d actually forget that it had all happened and I’d catch myself phoning my slain friend, but that stuff didn’t really last long for me. I had a brief bout with survivor guilt, which was replaced by a fair amount of anger but that too passed.

Leaving Colorado a few months later and relocating to California helped a great deal as well for it allowed me to be a new person in many regards. I never told anyone where I was from or where I went to school, they knew me as Andrew Robinson, the kid that showed up at Art Center. Moving to California also exposed me to a much larger world that you just don’t see in Littleton, which also helped tremendously with my perspective on life. I spent a lot of time breaking it and myself down and going over not so much what happened but what I wanted to learn and or come away with. I suppose I’ll always have a stray memory or two that will catch me from time to time but I’d like to think for the most part, I’m okay with it all.

Update me on your professional life - what have you been doing over the past ten years?

Professionally my life has been a rollercoaster ride and a good one at that. I graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and went to work a week later in entertainment advertising for ABC. I worked on a lot of great television shows and some, not so great reality shows. My job was to create print campaigns and strategically market new shows to the general public. I left my gig working for ABC after a year and did some work for CBS, helping with the launch of CSI: Miami, and a couple of other pilots. I was a freelance employee so when my contract expired I began working for a smaller entertainment firm called Crew Creative Advertising. I spent the last five or so years at Crew working on a number of theatrical releases and marketing campaigns ranging from Harry Potter to Rambo 4 and seemingly everything in between. A little over 2 years ago I went to help form a television division of Crew Creative where I remained until September of last year when I resigned my position and effectively retired from entertainment advertising to work on April Showers and Pure+Motive full time.

Describe your professional goals.

World domination really, I mean is that too much to ask? All kidding aside, I want to be happy and creative and help others do the same, which is why we’ve formed Pure+Motive. Filmmakers and even the audience don’t really have a voice anymore, the entire entertainment industry is running on auto pilot, just stamping out the same wares year after year. There is a lot of creativity and passion out there and the audience is clamoring for it there just isn’t a legitimate place for this creativity to call home. I want to help create that home and be responsible for putting out content, be it my own or someone else’s, that audiences respond too.

How did Columbine affect you spiritually?

Spirituality is a funny thing. I consider myself very spiritual but I am not religious. I believe its possible to be a decent human being that feels in someway connected to others and this universe without having to slap a label on it. I’m cool with people needing to believe what it is that makes them happy and secure for who am I to judge or say their way is wrong, but I’m anti the close-mindedness that doesn’t allow for others to believe what they want, which I equate to religion and not spirituality. No one’s “God” is better than another “God” and no one has the right to say his or her way of life is better than the next, it’s just different and that’s what I find interesting and compelling. I can’t say that Columbine provided me with this so-called insight but it did cement it to a fair extent. I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll just leave it at that.

Had Columbine not happened, how would you be different, personally and professionally?

Truthfully, I think I would’ve ended up largely the same way professionally for I made a pact with myself after Columbine that I would continue down the path I was pursuing prior to April 20. I’ve always wanted to be in the position professionally that I am in today, while I clearly wouldn’t have made April Showers or taken part in this interview had Columbine not occurred, I’m fairly certain I would still be in the entertainment industry.

Personally, I’d probably have a lot in common with myself now.

Looking around at the world today, what changes (positive OR negative) do you see as a result of Columbine?

Ahh, the question I always get asked and never seem to answer correctly for most people. I don’t think a whole lot of good has come out of Columbine on a mass scale. Personal level(s) are one thing, but on a cultural or social level I think we may have done more (and continue to do) permanent damage than overall good.

Please allow me to explain. School shootings are tragic but unfortunately seem to be a part of our culture now. I don’t think there is a clear-cut way to end them or prevent them. On a case-by-case basis some maybe more avoidable than others but on a whole I believe they are going to continue to happen as sad as that sounds. I know after Columbine (and other public events that result in mass death) we are quick to ban a lot of things, take a no tolerance policy, institute nametags etc. I think as a species we’re quick to fear what we don’t understand and instead of trying to truly learn from one another or what the universe is trying to tell us. Instead we sort of take half measures that go just far enough to curb our fear without ever really having to address the problem.

For example, after Columbine there was a big revolt against guns, violent video games, heavy metal music and black clothing to name a few. Schools around this country, including Columbine, went so far as to outright ban many of these items and frankly forms of self-expression. I don’t believe any of these things or any combination of these things make a person a killer, I believe it’s more complicated than that and over simplifying the issue to a few outside stimuli is actually dangerous because we’re not addressing the bigger issues. For instance, I listened to Marylyn Manson, I played violent video games, and I rather enjoy the occasional trip to a firing range does that make me a killer? No. There are millions of people, I’d say the vast majority of people, who can do all the same things day in and day out that these shooters do but don’t feel the need to take a life as a result of it.

So what drives a person to view reality through violent lenses versus the lenses we all seem to be able to see through without getting a skewed image? The issue(s) that serve as the breaking point and or motivator for these actions occurs long before they pick up a rock album or video game.

Another thing to consider is that the motivator is different for each individual and it’s reckless to assume all of these violent individuals had similar or identical motivations.

I wonder what would happen if we took the energy we spend being hyper vigilant for signs of danger and applied that same energy to being open, truly open, to knowing more about the person standing next to us what the result would be. Because all the cameras, name tags, metal detectors, uniforms etc aren’t going ultimately stop someone from doing harm to another if they want to. The cameras will only record the act, they won’t walk through the metal detectors and because they’re already students they’ll have their badges, which will grant them access to the school to carry out what ever they’ve planned. It’s half measures and money wasted. Now I agree and support the new law enforcement policies that state that if an active shooter is present they are to enter and neutralize the threat by any means necessary. That is a good thing, and evacuation drills are always good be it for a fire, earthquake or act of violence. When something like a Columbine event is happening you need to remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible, no question, and let law enforcement do their job to hopefully bring about a safe resolution. But I think steps can be taken long before a Columbine like event even arises.

Schools must truly promote knowledge, understanding, compassion and acceptance for all students regardless of who they are or what they believe. It’s actually harder than it sounds, for we’re all just people with our own prejudices and histories that can cloud our judgment, subsequently passing it along to impressionable minds. Kids must be free to express themselves openly without fear of being shunned, judged or bullied as a result. Education goes beyond books and simple tests taken in a beige building. It’s not about getting into a premiere college or scoring the high paying job. Education is exciting not something that should be put into little blocks of time between lunch and the weekend.

Then there is the issue with the media coverage but we’ll leave that for another day.

Where can people buy April Showers

After that last question this seems awkward and somewhat comical. People can view April Showers at their local theater provided it’s playing in their neighborhood or city on April 24 2009. If we’re not in your city you can purchase the film on iTunes starting on May 5 2009. It will be on DVD and other pay per view sights like Amazon in June.

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