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CORRECTED: From the big house to the big screen

Community: Local filmmakers give classes at Pitchess Detention Center to give men a second chance

Posted: February 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Filmmakers (back row, from left) Erik Vigouroux, 32, Branden Morris, 62, Brandon Chandler, 28, Jainmy Martinez, 33, (front row, from left) Scott McLean, and Richard Lozano, 35, pose after a day of filming at Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch in Saugus on Saturday.

A half-dozen former inmates from the local jail spent the weekend slogging through the mud in a remote rainy area near the Angeles National Forest.

It wasn’t a jailbreak.

But in a way, it really was.

The former inmates, having done time for petty crimes, were given a break by people who believe in second chances to entrust each of them with the task of making a movie.

So for Saturday, Sunday and parts of today, select former inmates of the Pitchess Detention Center have been Santa Clarita Valley filmmakers.

Scott McLean is the film’s producer.

“We’re encouraged to be able to give the guys a chance to be on a professional film set where big-name, big-budget films and shows have been,” he said.

Other producers involved in changing the former inmates’ lives are facilitators of the MERIT program — called the Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation Program — which works in coordination with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department inside county jails and focuses on substance-abuse prevention and halting domestic violence.

At the end of the 12-week program, former inmates received a certificate.

The filmmaking former inmates will also receive from Hollywood Impact Studios a copy of the movie, film credits for their work, and added footage that they can edit into a self-promotion work-experience reel.

“Gary Hall and his wife, Cyndi, created Hollywood Impact Studios, which helps guys who are incarcerated and helps them get their lives back on track,” said film producer Brandon Chandler. “The whole idea is that we teach film classes inside Pitchess.”

On the weekend, former inmate filmmakers went on location.

They followed the muddy trail along the aqueduct, under the power lines, north from Copper Hill Road back to the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch.

Second chance
The movie is called “The Potter’s Hand.” It’s about a guy who, having made some bad choices in life, is a given a second chance.

Just as a badly crafted clay cup is reshaped and re-fired in a potter’s studio, the man changes his life.

The story mirrors the lives of former inmates chosen to help make it a reality.

“This is a second chance situation for me,” said Chad Hanley. “Going into jail and coming out, what I found was I have a great support group.”

Like the character in the movie — a short film that, when edited, will be about 10 minutes long — Chad was drawn into a wild, reckless and damaging lifestyle that netted him a nine-and-a-half-month jail sentence.

“I’ve been taking a look at my life and the pattern,” he said. “I tried to keep a productive life while entertaining the wild side, and I never really got anywhere serious. I was in and out of jobs, never been married, no children.

“This was definitely a godsend for me being incarcerated, because I met the people that I did,” Hanley said. “God had a hand in this. This is the fork in the road. This is where the decision is made.”

And what decision was that?

“Finally, you got the right people in your life; your family is rooting for you. So let’s make a change,” he said. “So ever since I was introduced to this program, the MERIT program, I’ve taken a change for the better and things have really been moving in my life.”

Seeing potential

Erik Vigouroux plays the older brother of the movie’s main character.

“I play Jimmy’s brother who is kind of a cowboy, a guy he looks up to,” Vigouroux said.

Vigouroux, like his pal Chad, also served in the United States military and also made some bad decisions that landed him in jail.

“You go to jail, you come out, you can’t get work, and you can’t do anything because you’ve got this thing that says you’re a bad person,” he said. “We’re normal, regular people who made one or two bad decisions.”

People in the MERIT program, however, see the potential in inmates.

“They don’t have to be here working with us,” Vigouroux said. “They didn’t have to call us. They did it because of the people they are. They realize more than the average person — that no one gets in trouble because they want to.

“They gave us the opportunity to do something different.”

Walk the walk
Former inmate Richard L. (who declined to give his full last name) plays the bartender in the movie.

“It’s very rare you find people who follow their career with such commitment who would help — as far as helping you out in life,” he said. “You get a lot of people who like to talk the talk but when it comes down to it, they don’t want to walk the walk unless they had something in it for them.

“That’s not the case with the people we’ve circulated ourselves with,” he said, referring to the film’s producers, the MERIT teachers and Hollywood Impact Studios.

“It’s a process,” he said. “They’re helping us but then we may help someone else down the road.”

TV writer and producer Gary Hall formed Hollywood Impact Studios in 2007 as a faith-based “outreach” program of Hollywood professionals positively affecting lives through mentoring.

The studio’s first production began in 2008.


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