Filmmaker focuses on his dream

Friends School senior with dyslexia is 1 of 2 awarded scholarship

April 15, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Learning differently hasn't stopped Jason Berman from pursuing his dream of becoming a filmmaker nor has it eroded his confidence.

A senior at Friends School in Baltimore, Berman said he learned at an early age that he had to persevere because he has dyslexia.

He is a bright, ambitious and focused teen-ager who knows what he wants and figures out how to get it - such as the $30,000 scholarship he won recently from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Berman, 19, of Pikesville and a student from Tennessee were the only recipients in the country, selected from among 600 candidates after a rigorous, four-month application process.

The winners must use the scholarship for film or communications schools. Berman, who has a 3.9 grade point average at Friends, plans to use his at the University of Southern California where he has been accepted for fall admission. Now he has to persuade USC to let him enroll in its School of Cinema-Television.

Don't bet against him.

His mother, Susan Imber, says her son "knows what he wants and has been persistent about getting it. He has always had a creative side."

Berman is a graduate of the Jemicy School in Owings Mills, one of the first schools in the nation to teach children with dyslexia, a neurological condition that impairs the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.

"I have to work harder and do a lot of repetition," Berman said. "That's why I never give up."

His persistence has paid off - look at his five-page resume.

He started a video program at Jemicy when he was in the eighth grade and asked for - and received - a discount from Sony Corp. for video equipment for the school. When he went to Friends, he started a video program and helped teach video editing in the upper school. He also directed The Friends Eye, a school newscast that is produced four times a year.

He has worked as the video program director at the Young People's Summer Stock Theater Camp at Oldfields School in Glencoe and has taught at the Friends School Video Camp in the summer.

He spent last summer in California completing two internships: one at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles and the other at Autonomy Inc., a television production company in Hollywood. He has produced scores of videos, including one for an auction at Jemicy for the school's 25th anniversary.

The auction video, which he submitted to the academy as one of his video projects, included a closing aerial view of the school with students on the field forming the number 2000, the year of the school's 25th anniversary. The aerial shot was captured when Berman persuaded the owner of the helicopter to fly him over the school to shoot the video out the door of the chopper.

Berman also created a memorial documentary, based on the life of Jemicy science teacher Joe Chidester, who died in November 2000.

"He affected so many lives," Berman said of Chidester. "It was worth writing a story about him"

So Berman did. He co-wrote a script with Lea Jones, a Jemicy history teacher, called The Last Flight of the Wizard. He's hoping to turn it into a full-length film or made-for-TV movie.

Berman was featured as the outstanding high school student in the 2001 International Dyslexia Association's calendar and spoke at the group's annual conference last year.

Berman, who said part of becoming a filmmaker is talking to people and making connections, has made contacts in the film and television industry. For the past three years, he has attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas after getting his family to take him to Nevada. That's where he met executives of Avid Technology Inc., which manufactures the video equipment that now graces Friends School.

He persuaded the Avid executives to donate $200,000 worth of state-of-the-art video editing equipment to Friends for its new audiovisual production class. Friends is the only school in the area with the sophisticated equipment and software.

"Jason has never deviated from his dream," his mother said. "He can't wait to get going in college."

In an essay submitted to the academy, Berman wrote: "Dyslexia forces me to look at everything from another angle, and because written language is difficult for me, my visual and auditory senses are further heightened. Because of my dyslexia, I have a unique and distinctive view of the world."

David Heath, director of media education at Friends, said Berman has done amazing things with the video program and described him as "incredibly driven and passionate. He knows how to work people and get them to do what they really want to do anyway.

"He's ready to fly," Heath said.

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