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Chapter 5 - BE A STAR

If you haven't read chapter 4 yet, read it first here.

Chapter 5 - BE A STAR

“Your assignment,” Professor Williams instructed, “is to create a 7-minute film that in some way promotes positive change throughout the world.”

Isabella’s eyes widened with delight. She moved around excitedly in her chair, looking at the other students, with a huge smile on her face. This is a subject close to her heart.

“Each student is to direct their own film and participate as crew members on two other student projects. All films will be screened at our local film festival in 1 month. The audience will vote on each film. The student whose film wins the title ‘Best Short Film’ will have their film shown at the National Film Festival.”

Isabella could hardly contain her excitement. My first film, she thought excitedly, envisioning it being shown at the film festival in front of hundreds and maybe thousands of people, if she won.

“We’re also going to make this fun,” Professor Williams continued. “I would like each of you to come up with a production company name and a 30-second trailer for your movie. We’ll release the trailer 1 week before the film festival and show them all in class. After your film is shown, we will discuss your experience in making it.”

Isabella’s mind was going a mile a minute with all sorts of ideas. She imagined how cool it would be to capture some of Michael’s messages to somehow include in the film.

Later that evening, Isabella sat at the desk in her dorm room contemplating what kind of film to make. She knew, of course, that her film would be about love in some way because that was the last message she received from Michael’s Magic Box. “We have an important message to give…to remind the world that love is important.” That’s the positive change she wants to promote throughout the world.

“Oh yeah, I need to come up with a name for my production company,” she said to herself. Leaning back into her chair, clutching the back of her head with her hands, she tried to think of some ideas. All of the sudden Michael’s Magic Box came into focus. Throwing her hands up in the air she shouted, “Of course! I’ll name it ‘Michael’s Magic Box’! Then, every film I make honors my grandma’s memory and enforces the pact I made with her to use his messages to live a life of love and help others do the same.”

Remembering a message she received recently from Michael that said, “Whenever you need me I’ll be there,” she picked the box up in her hands and said, “Okay, Michael, I need you. Where should I begin?” Isabella smiled as it began to shimmer.

How does it feel? How does it feel? How does it feel, when you’re alone and you’re cold inside?

“Hmmm…” she said out loud. “‘Stranger in Moscow’? What’s he trying to tell me with that song?” She wasn’t sure, but she had an idea of how she could find out. She had watched the Stranger in Moscow short film before, but now that she had received a message about the song, she knew it would take on new meaning.

As the haunting music began to play, she felt like she was being transported right into the film, becoming one with all the people sitting by themselves looking out into a world of strangers. She felt a deep void in her heart as she watched people who clearly felt all alone. A wave of sadness came over her as she listened to Michael sing about being “here abandoned in my fame.” The gray tone of the film seemed to match what she was feeling inside. She felt like she was experiencing their emotions within her. It was painful. “How does it feel when you’re alone and you’re cold inside?” she said out loud. “Lonely. Sad. Unloved.”

“Wow!” she said, shaking her body slightly, as if to rid herself of those painful feelings. “That was intense.” It made her appreciate something she read in Dancing the Dream. She pulled the book out from her desk drawer, turned to the reflection titled “That One in the Mirror” and read a passage from it:

What if that one in the mirror isn't me? He feels separate. He sees problems “out there” to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won't. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way—those problems aren’t “out there,” not really. I feel them inside me. A child crying in Ethiopia, a sea gull struggling pathetically in an oil spill, a mountain gorilla being mercilessly hunted, a teenage soldier trembling with terror when he hears the planes fly over. Aren't these happening in me when I see and hear about them?

Wow, I understand that so much more now, Isabella thought. “If I am moved emotionally by people in the world who feel unloved, then those problems aren’t ‘out there’ to be solved, they are within me, because my heart has connected with their heart, which makes me have compassion for them. I feel their pain and that compels me to lift them up.”

Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer with another message:

In our darkest hour In my deepest despair Will you still care? Will you be there?

“Oooh, that’s so good!” Isabella said upon hearing those words, but then she began to question something. “Can you still ‘be there’ for others, care for others, in their darkest hour, their deepest despair, when you lose that heart-to-heart connection?” She was about to find out.

Isabella’s roommate walked in with a friend and cheerfully said, “Hi. Whatcha doin’?”

Allison is a petite girl. Her hair is short, with very bouncy caramel-colored curls. She was wearing black shorts, a white tank top, and black and pink running shoes.

“I’m working on my first film!” Isabella responded back gleefully.

“This is my friend, Sydney,” Allison said, introducing her.

“Hi, Sydney. You look familiar.” Tilting her head to the left she said, “You’re in my film production class, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I think so. With Professor Williams, right?”

“Right,” Isabella confirmed.

“What’s your film about?” Allison asked, gently tossing her iPod onto the bed.

“Professor Williams gave us an assignment to do a 7-minute film that promotes positive change within the world.”

“Really? So what kind of change are you going to promote?”

“Love.”

“In what way? What do you mean?”

“I’m going to inspire the world to love.”

“I think this is a stupid assignment,” Sydney declared. “I mean, promoting positive change in the world? That’s a little optimistic, don’t you think, Isabella?” she said, looking for validation. “After all, we’re college students, not some big name influential people, and it’s a 7-minute film, not a major motion picture. We can’t possibly make a difference.”

“I’m going to run down the hall for a minute. I’ll be right back,” Allison said to both of them.

“You obviously haven’t heard ‘The Starfish Story’ have you, Sydney?” Isabella asked her.

“No, what is it?”

“It’s a story by Loren Eisley. Here, let me read it to you real quick.” Isabella pulled a sheet of paper out from her desk drawer and read it to Sydney:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

“Wow, that’s a great story!” Sydney said. “I guess it’s all in how you look at it, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” Isabella agreed.

“Is this your movie?” Sydney asked, reaching for a DVD on Isabella’s desk.

“No, that’s my trailer. I just finished it. Have you done yours yet?” Isabella asked as she grabbed the DVD from Sydney, putting it in her top desk drawer with ‘The Starfish Story.’

Allison came back into the room and plopped down on her bed, grabbing her iPod. “What are you gals talking about?” she inquired to both of them.

“We were just talking about our films,” Sydney responded.

“Well, I’ve got a date, so I’m outta here,” Isabella said, leaving the room.

“A date? With whom?” Allison said, sounding intrigued.

“I don’t think you know him. His name is Nathan Slater.”

“Hmm…No, I don’t know him. Well, have fun!” Allison shouted as Isabella walked out the door.

“Bye, Isabella. Thanks for the inspiration!” Sydney hollered.

“Isabella, it’s your turn,” Professor Williams said, motioning for her to come up. The day for everyone to show their movie trailers in class had finally arrived.

I can’t wait for everyone to see it! she thought as she walked up to the front of the room with butterflies in her stomach. She handed her DVD to the technician to play, and then walked over to the podium.

“What is the name of your film and production company, Isabella?” Professor Williams asked.

“My film is called ‘BE A STAR.’ Each one of the letters in the word star stands for something, but you won’t find out what it is until you see the film. The name of my production company is ‘Michael’s Magic Box.’ I named it that in honor of my grandma. When I was 7 years old, she gave me a special box that plays messages from Michael Jackson, kinda like a music box, but better.”

“Interesting,” Professor Williams remarked, raising one eye brow with curiosity. “Okay, let’s see your trailer.”

The class erupted in applause when it was over. Professor Williams asked for comments from the other students.

“Intriguing,” one student answered.

“Yeah, I can’t wait to see the film, Isabella,” another chimed in.

“Thank you, Isabella. You may take your seat,” Professor Williams said. “Sydney, you’re next.”

As Sydney’s trailer began to play, Isabella couldn’t believe her eyes. The entire class gasped when the title of her film was revealed. It was the same as Isabella’s. “BE A STAR.”

What is going on? Isabella thought, looking around at the class. The professor hadn’t asked Sydney the name of her film before they played it, so everyone was surprised. Isabella’s heart sank.

A quiet murmur began to penetrate the entire class.

“Comments?” Professor Williams asked the class. Not one person said anything; the awkwardness in the room was evident.

“Thank you, Sydney. You may take your seat,” Professor Williams motioned. “I’ll be sending your trailers over to the local film festival later this evening,” he said, looking out into the class.

Could that just be a coincidence? Isabella questioned to herself as she walked out of the room feeling confused. She shrugged it off and went about the rest of her day.

“Could I speak with you for a moment, Isabella?” Professor Williams asked as she got up to leave class a few days later.

“Sure, Professor Williams.”

“Isabella, I don’t really know how to say this to you,” he said with a heavy sigh while rubbing his forehead. After a slight pause, he continued, “I can’t allow your film to be shown at the festival.”

“Why?” Isabella questioned, feeling her heart sink into her stomach.

“Sydney spoke to me after class the other day. She has accused you of stealing her title.”

“WHAT?!” Isabella said loudly.

“She said she told you the title of her movie the other day and you stole it from her.”

Stunned, Isabella replied, “She never, ever told me the title of her movie, nor did I tell her the title of mine! The only thing we talked about was my trailer. I gave her encouragement because she was having trouble with the assignment. That’s the only conversation we had. You can ask my roommate. She was in the room with us.”

“We did Isabella. We talked to Allison. She said she came in at the tail end of the conversation so she couldn’t really say what was discussed during that time,” the professor said sympathetically.

Isabella broke down in tears. “She’s lying, Professor!”

“Can you prove it though, Isabella?

Hanging her head in sorrow, she said “No. Allison is right. She wasn’t in the room with us during that time. It was just the two of us, so I guess it’s my word against hers.”

“Unless you can prove it, unfortunately, I can’t allow your film or hers to be shown. It’s the only fair thing to do.”

Isabella could not believe what she was hearing. With tears running down her face she argued, “This isn’t fair, Professor. I’ve worked so hard on this. I didn’t do what she’s accusing me of.”

“I’m sorry Isabella. It’s out of my hands. I’ll still grade you on the film, but it won’t be seen at the festival.”

Isabella left the room feeling angry, betrayed and heartbroken. How could she do this to me? she cried inside. I was nice to her! I helped her out! What kind of person does this?

The pain of betrayal ran deep. She was absolutely devastated. Feeling weak in the knees, she sat down on the bench in front of the school and sobbed.

“Isabella?”

Looking up through her tears, she saw Nathan, the guy she went on the date with.

“Oh wow, what’s wrong?” He asked sitting down next to her, gently putting his arm around her.

Isabella buried her head into his arms, letting the tears flow while he comforted her.

Allison walked into the dorm room at 11:45 pm. Isabella had been waiting for her to come back all evening. Their schedules were so different that sometimes they didn’t talk to each other for days, but she vowed to stay up as late as necessary so she could speak with her.

“Hi, Isabella,” Allison said softly.

“Hi. I’ve been waiting up for you.”

“Why?” Allison asked, already knowing the answer.

“How could she do this to me, Allison? She’s lying. She never told me the name of her film,” Isabella cried.

“I want to believe you, Isabella. I really do, but I wasn’t in the room.”

“She must have taken the DVD out of my drawer and played it. Otherwise, how would she know what my film was called? Did you see her do that after I left?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Did you leave her alone in the room?”

“Yes, but only for a few moments. I can’t prove she did anything wrong though, Isabella, or I would stand up for you.”

“Professor Williams won’t show either of our films at the festival now. I am devastated.”

“I’m so sorry, Isabella,” Allison said apologetically.

The next day when she walked into class she could feel the eyes of judgment upon her as the other students looked at her. Talk about feeling unloved, she thought. In that moment, she became keenly aware of exactly what Sydney had done to her. In mere seconds she sullied her reputation, causing others to question her character. Now each student had to make a judgment call; did she or didn’t she?

How could she be so heartless? Isabella wondered. She felt like she was walking in slow motion as she moved toward her seat, looking at each person to gauge their reaction. Some people gave her dirty looks. Others smiled at her uncomfortably. Some people couldn’t even bring themselves to look directly at her. Then Sydney walked in. Isabella stared her down, watching her every move, waiting for her to look over, but Sydney wouldn’t acknowledge her. That fueled her fire even more.

“The film festival begins at 6 pm sharp Tuesday evening,” Professor Williams told the class. “Invite family and friends to watch; you will appreciate having people there to support you. Then, Wednesday morning we will discuss your experience of making the film.”

Those words stung. Isabella had never felt more alone in her entire life.

Lying in bed, eyes wide open, she couldn’t get her mind off the film festival. Unless she could prove that Sydney stole her title, her film wouldn’t be shown. “I’m so heartbroken. How can I go to the festival when my own film isn’t being shown?” she said to herself. Just then Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer.

Lift up your head and show the world you got pride. Go for what you want, don’t let ’em get in your way. You can be a winner but you’ve got to keep the faith. I know that keeping the faith, means never giving up on love. But the power that love has makes it right, makes it, makes it right. So keep the faith, don’t let nobody turn you ’round.

He’s right! Isabella thought. I can’t let this get the best of me. Even if my film won’t be shown, I’ll go to the festival Tuesday night, standing tall, knowing the truth, but I have to keep the faith that everything will work out, which means never giving up on love, as Michael said.

A message from Michael kept playing over and over in her mind: In our darkest hour, in my deepest despair. Will you still care? Will you be there? Even though she was hurt by the deceit, she knew it was Sydney who was experiencing her deepest despair, because you can’t treat another person badly without feeling bad about yourself. She may not be feeling it now, Isabella thought, but eventually it will surface.

“I know what to do,” she said out loud.

Once again, she felt blessed to have been given the gift of Michael’s Magic Box, because she had learned more about love in her 22 years than most people will learn their entire life.

The night of the festival, Isabella walked up to Sydney, handed her a note without saying a word and found an empty seat in the back of the room. She watched as Sydney read the note, hanging her head down after reading it. The note read, “I forgive you.”

Sitting there watching all of the other students’ films, seeing the reaction from the audience, knowing hers would not be shown, was one of the hardest things Isabella ever had to do.

“Isabella, please come up to the front and show the class your film,” Professor Williams requested.

Even though the class thought she stole Sydney’s title, she was still excited for them to see her film.

“My film is called ‘BE A STAR,’ as you all know,” Isabella said, trying to lighten up the mood.

“And what positive change are you promoting through your film?” Professor Williams asked.

"The purpose of my film is to inspire the world to love,” Isabella said, looking over at Sydney.

“Very well,” Professor Williams responded. “Before we see the film, tell us about your experience in making it. Particularly, what did you learn?”

“I learned that human beings are connected through the heart. When your heart is open to another person, you feel an exchange of energy between you, a heart-to-heart connection. That feeling causes you to care about them, to treat them kindly, to be compassionate toward them. But when your heart closes, everything changes.”

“In what way?” Professor Williams asked.

“I can answer that.”

Isabella looked up to see who was speaking. It was Sydney, walking up from the back of the room. “Everything changes when you close your heart off to others, because it causes you to treat people in an unloving manner—and feel justified in doing so.”

Isabella didn’t quite know what to think about this. She simply listened as Sydney continued to talk.

“I have something to confess,” Sydney said, looking over at Professor Williams. “I made up the story about Isabella stealing my film title.”

A murmur ensued across the classroom once again.

Looking over at Isabella, she said, “What you don’t know is that we set you up. After you left, I took the DVD out of your drawer and played it real quick so I could get the name of your film. Allison wasn’t in the room so she knew nothing about it. Then I lied and said you stole it from me.”

“Wait a minute. ‘We’?” Isabella asked, clearly surprised.

“Yes, we,” Sydney said, looking out into the classroom. “Me and Brandon.”

“Brandon? The person whose film I helped with as a crew member?” Isabella questioned.

Looking out into the classroom, she saw Brandon slither down into his seat.

“While you were working with him on his film, he caught glimpses of what you were doing on yours, and he got jealous. He knew it was good. He knew you were going to win and he wasn’t going to let that happen. So he asked me to find out the name of your film and then accuse you of stealing it from me. I used Allison to help me get to you.”

“Wow,” Isabella said softly, not really knowing how else to respond to that. “Why would you go along with such a thing?”

“I know it sounds like I’m a horrible person, but I’m really not. I’m just someone who lost her way because she closed her heart off to the world, which resulted in disastrous consequences, for both me and you.”

Isabella just stood there giving her undivided attention to Sydney.

“When you gave me the note at the film festival that said you forgive me, I was actually a little mad, because I was doing everything in my power not to soften toward you and you were making it impossible. I didn’t want to open my heart even a little bit to you, because I knew it would bring with it a flood of emotions that I was trying so hard not to feel.”

Brandon got up and walked out of the class in the midst of loud boos. Sydney just kept talking.

“I didn’t think about how my actions would affect you. I just got caught up in the moment. I wanted to come clean about what I did the day after I accused you, but I was afraid of how people would react. Would everyone hate me? Would everyone judge me? I couldn’t take that chance.”

“So instead, you let them judge me?” Isabella asked matter-of-factly.

Speaking directly to the students Sydney said, “I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Self-loathing is a powerful emotion. It will eat you alive. You can’t tell a lie without feeling the shame of lying. I tried to stuff the shame down, but the pain of holding on to the lie became much worse than the fear of what I might experience by telling the truth.”

“Thank you for coming clean, Sydney.” Ushering them both out of the way, Professor Williams said, “Isabella let’s see your film now.”

The classroom erupted in applause and whistles when it was finished. Sydney was clearly moved by the film. She looked at Isabella and said, “I know I denied you the opportunity to make a difference in thousands of people’s lives with your film, but,” she smiled, pointed to herself, and said, “you made a difference for this one.”

Things don’t always turn out the way you plan, Isabella thought walking back to her seat, but it really is true: the power that love has, always makes it right.

All you have to do is BE A STAR.

This is Isabella’s first film.

Linda Higgins

Director of Community Development

Linda@michaeljacksontributeportrait.com

© 2012, Linda Higgins, All Rights Reserved, No reproduction without written consent from the author

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