by Laura Fehl
(Venice Gondolier, Our Town, Wednesday Feb. 9, 2000)
Jared Whitham has persevered despite constant challenges.
Labeled from an early age as "learning disabled," Whitham inspires triumph in the face of adversity.
The Venice resident's body of work includes more than 100 oil paintings, the feature fuilm "Project Omicron" and a variety of kinetic sculptures and performance pieces. At 21, he's an artist, filmmaker, performer and registered preschool teacher.
Whitham has his plate full this week with a gallery show opening and "Project Omicron" making its local debut. Next month he travels to New York to perform at the 2000 Internet Music Expo.
Whitham's social and academic setbacks started in kindergarten.
In second grade his class was split into three groups, based on achievement levels. "I was in the 'economy package of kids," Whitham said.
That year he wrote his first book, "Monkeys and Bears in Outer Space."
"It's interesting," he said, "I failed the grade, miserably, horribly and that same year I won the young authors contest - this kid who was supposedly developmentally delayed."
Whitham's mother Deborah decided to try home schooling.
"Jared in the school system was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole," Deborahe said. "He was a gifted child with learning disabilities. The focus was always on what he couldn't do. Jared thought of himself as dumb, but he had an IQ of 127 in the second grade.
Whitham despite the struggle, with his mother's help learned to read. The first book he ever read was "Hop on Pop," by Dr. Seuss. "I'm still reading that book," he said.
His family moved from Port Charlotte to Venice in 1987.
His interest in film began as a freshman at Venice High School. Along with fellow student Nick Costa, Whitham made a seven-minute clay animated film, consisting of 1,443 frames, called the "Billy and Bruno Show."
"I really got passionate about it, and it got me out of a rebellious stage. When I finished I was like, "Wow I can make things," he said. "It gave me incredible confidence."
While at VH, Whitham first conceptualized "Project Omicron." Pooling together his visual talents with the writing skills of friend and classmate, Chris Higgins, the first glimpses of the film were seen.
Sliding along with a grade point average of only 1.7 Whitham transferred to Booker High School in 1995.
"When he entered the fine arts program at Booker his junior year, it was like coming home," Deborah said. "It was a place that nurtured his creativity and respected his talent. Then he began to shine academically also."
Whitham took Advanced Placement Portfolio Drawing and Painting, passing both with the highest score possible. By his senior year, his GPA was 3.0. He graduated in 1997 and went on to attend Ringling School of Art and Design for a year.
The first draft of "Project Omicron," written by high school students, was three pages long. Two-thirds of the filming took place in a vacant building in Venice, with a used security camera. The actors were the writers' friends. Financing cam e from a teen-age bus boy's wages.
Against all pdds, "Project Omicron" has come to exist. It will make its debut locally Wednesday, Feb 16, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ligh tpainter Gallery, 242 Central Ave., Sarasota.
The paradoxical story begins as a young Will Walker and his father witness a UFO landing. Walker grows up to become a military pilot, eventually piloting a captured alien spacecraft. The story folds back on itself when Walker, alone in space, loses contact with mission control and mutates into an alien. A time warp occurs and the alien returns to Earth to confront his father and childhood self. For his son's protection against difference, the father kills the alien.
William Maier III ("Goiterboy," "Texas") stars as Will Walker. Local actor Charles Finley played General Mills, Walker's commanding officer.
According to Craig Conley, reviewew for Kettle Black Magazine, the film is a metaph or for being a gifted child. "Alot of people see things in the movie I've never seen," Whitham said. "People have different perspectives. I'm not going to stop someone and say 'no, that's not what it 's about,' My mom sees it as autobiographical, representing the relationship between me and my father. And, in a lot of ways it is."
Whitham says it was made "on a complete and total showstring." He built sets using old dinner theater flats and material salvaged from dumpsters. He sound-proofed the studio using folded cardboard and foam.
"The sets were awesome," co-writer Chris Higgins said. "Jared built them all himself. I would go in there every few weeks and suddenly there would be a whole alien space-craft, or a new laboratory scene. It was incredible."
During post production Whitham manually went through the 27 hours of VHS tape to create a paper edit. He then transferred it to professional quality Beta tape for editing.
The final final edit took two weeks as Whitham worked side by side with professional editor Michael Bradley.
Whitham went to his grandparents for the $2,500 needed for editing. "I could have worked another few months to save the money, but I had been working on the project for four years, and I wanted ... I needed to finish it," Whitham said. The total cost for the film was more than $10,000.
Once editing was complete, Whitham worked for another six months desiging and painting the video tape box cover and saving the money for duplicate tapes.
Local musician Sir Millard Mulch recorded the soundtrack.
"When we first started work on the movie everybody said Jared was crazy. He has so many setbacks it seemed impossible the film would ever get made," Higgins said. "I was really suprised when it finally came out. Seeing a boxed copy brought completion to a project Jared had been working on for five years. It was a really positive experience for everyone involved."
Hot Dog Show
The Jared Whitham, World Famous Artist Hot Dog Show Will Open Friday, Feb. 11, with a reception from 6:30-9 P.M. at the Lightpainter Gallery in Sarasota. The exhibit will run through Feb. 19.
Whitham says his painting style could be called contemporary impressionistic.
His preferred medium is oil painitng, but his artwork is not confined to the painter's canvas.
Among Whitham's most unique pieces is the 'Self Portrait in Toast,"
His professional influences include David Lynch, Robert Rauschenberg, Dr. Seuss and Jim Henson.
But in recent years, Whitham has drawn much of hi s inspiration from his job teaching alongside mother Deborah, who has opwned and operated Shamrock Preschool in South Venice for the past decade.
"I have a real passion for children's art," Whitham said. "I love watching the transitions. There is truth and wild creatuivty in the way children think. I absorb their creative energies."
We have been blessed to have Jared at the preschool," Deboara h said. "He brings tremendous joy and creativity to his job, giving 100 percent. He makes every moment fun and the children adore him.
"when studying birds, his class painted huge, beautiful wings that they wore to be birds instead of just talking about them or looking at pictures.
He dressed in a yellow outfit and carried a stuff monkey to act out "Curious George." He does things like this everyday."
Garage sales, New York and beyond
Whitham's most recent venture is "Garage Sale," a documentary of garage sales in Venice. He hopes to top the Guiness Book of World Records' "Longest Movie Ever Made" category. His goal is 100 hours of footage - he now has 45.
In March, Whitham will travel to New York to participate in the 2000 Internet Music Expo. He plans to spend some time there "getting his foot in the door." He's hoping to find others to share his ideas with.
He says he probaly won't be fone long: "I've already tapped into the pipeline of getting my inspiration from this town. So much of my artwork and movie ideas are inspired by my experiences here. And, I've never met more artists in my entire life than at the preschool, because every child is an artist."
Whitham said he's going away with stars in his eyes, but if money wasn't an issue, his ideal lifestyle wouldn't be far away.
He'd simply like to "live out of a warehouse in Venice or Sarasota and just keep making stuff."