David Beck has never forgotten his junior high school English teacher, Denise Walker, and the important influence she had on his life.
That influence is touchingly reflected in Beck’s new short film, “For Francis,” that will screen at The Neon in downtown Dayton on Thursday, June 26. The special preview, and a talk-back following, will honor the donors from the Miami Valley who contributed to the Kickstarter fund-raising campaign that raised $25,000 and allowed Beck to make his film. He served as co-producer, writer, and actor, and also wrote the music.
Among those who will be in attendance Thursday evening are Beck’s mother, Julie, a nurse at Miami Valley Hospital for many years; his father, Carl Gregory, a high school teacher in Belmont; and the special teacher who inspired his film. The movie’s executive producer is Tim Gunn of television’s “Project Runway.”
Beck grew up in Belmont and Kettering, attended Immaculate Conception, then St. Charles School in Kettering and graduated from Alter High School. After performing throughout the Miami Valley, he went on to study acting at Marymount Manhattan College and has since performed in films and in a variety of theaters throughout the country. Locally, he appeared in the Human Race Theatre’s production of “Rabbit Hole.”
In his current hometown of New York, Beck is a company member of Mirror Repertory, Fundamental Theater Project and Artistic Pride Productions. He’s also a professional pianist.
About “For Francis”
Beck’s first film centers around a seven-year-old boy who loves art, music, dancing — and dresses. The other central characters in the movie include a teacher who encourages the child to be himself, and a dad who can’t understand any of it and confronts the school.
Beck plays the dad; the teacher — Mrs. Walker — is based on his real-life junior high teacher.
“Growing up gay in Dayton, Ohio in the ’90s was not easy,” shared Beck in his Kickstarter solicitation. ” I didn’t have any friends, I was picked on incessantly and I thought about suicide every other day. Mrs. Walked changed my life forever.”
Beck, who says he was painfully shy as a child, said he especially recalls the day when he was called up to Mrs. Walker’s desk in the middle of English class, assuming he was in trouble. Instead, Mrs. Walker asked for his autograph, assured him he would be famous some day, and told him she believed in him.
“It was those words from that teacher that gave me the confidence and the validity to keep going with my life,” said Beck in the video clip. “If it hadn’t been for Mrs. Walker, I don’t think I would have made it to high school alive.”
Because his Mrs. Walker had lived all over the country, he says, she was able to transport him to other places.
“She helped me realize that there was a world outside the school walls and outside Kettering, Ohio,” he says. “I volunteer at the Library for the Blind in New York with a man who is one of the smartest people I know. He went to Harvard and Yale but says the teacher who really influenced him the most was his high school French teacher.”
Beck says Mrs. Walker inspired him to write a film about a boy who isn’t afraid to be who he wants to be and about a teacher who understands that and nurtures his special talents. It’s a tribute, he adds, to inspirational teachers everywhere.
“My hope is that people will leave the film with more compassion,” he says. “I think we live in a society where we automatically judge our children from the get-go, before they even know who they are. They’re just being kids and we label them too quickly. We should let them be children.”
The real Mrs. Walker
Denise Walker, who still teaches at St. Charles and was present at the May New York screening of the film, says she had no idea that David Beck held onto those words she’d expressed so many years ago. She remembers him as a “brilliant student and a very creative writer” who was on her “Power of the Pen” team and whose written pieces were always rich and insightful.
Walker says she had no idea what to expect when she arrived at the film premiere in New York.
“The film is beautifully written and the acting is very realistic,”she says.“It was so overwhelming to see all the friends and patrons David has in New York.”
After the film, to her surprise, Beck acknowledged and introduced his favorite teacher.
“I realize you never know which words students will take to heart,” Walker says now. “There is a lot more than academics that need to be addressed. I hope to be a safe haven for my students as well as an educator.”
To learn that she was the inspiration for this film, she says, affirmed her choice of career.
“Often teaching is accompanied by all the requirements and conflicts of the job,” she explains. “When I have a less-than-pleasant day, I will reread notes and letters from former students. Now, I can add a heart-tugging film and a beautiful instrumental to those messages of thanks.”
About the production
After acting for years, Beck says he began to realize that it might be easier to “put yourself out there through a film.” So he turned to a friend, Angelique Letizia, who runs a film company, Starr Films.
“She had directed me in an off-Broadway play and her fiancee is also a good friend and I’d done plays with him,” explains Beck. “Angelique started a film group where people would meet weekly and bring ideas to the table so I wrote a first draft and she loved the idea.”
Beck’s life partner, clothing designer Viktor Luna, is a Project Runway finalist who encouraged Emmy Award Winner Tim Gunn to sign on as well.
The necessary money was raised within 30 days; filming took four days in various parts of New Jersey. Now Beck and Luna are working on a new film entitled “The Exalted,” a black comedy about our celebrity-obsessed culture. A rough cut from the new film will be shown at Thursday night’s screening at The Neon.
“I love being a storyteller, art is where I get my spirituality,” says Beck. “People are reminded that they’re human by going to the theater.”
He hopes to continue in both theater and film-making.
“I really have enjoyed being in control and creating and writing,” he concludes. “If you’re able to create your own material, why not?”
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