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Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Gabriella De Rugeriis

Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Gabriella De Rugeriis, an 18-year-old senior at Middletown High School South. Gabriella is active with BSA (Girls in the Boy Scouts), bowling, soccer, color guard and Advanced Placement Art, but it is her love of filmmaking that has really helped her express herself. Though she has battled through some dark days, she has already made eight films, one which is screening in this month’s Garden State Film Festival. Filmmaking taught her that there is power in working with like-minded people on something you love. Here is Gabriella’s story.

When I was 6 years old, my father showed me some movies that may have been a little much for a child, but those films became the flashpoint for my passion. I began to make silly claymations, and I took my school project videos very seriously. Eventually, I moved onto high school. 

Junior year was tough, just like it was for many of my peers. It started off by getting dumped by my boyfriend which left me with overwhelming self-loathing. I already struggled badly with both ADHD and depression, plus a lack of coping skills. I also loathed French. Vocabulary and conjugations confused and frustrated me to a point where I finally decided that French definitely was not in my foreseeable future. So being left with a disappointed guidance counselor and a hole in my schedule, I remembered my old fascination with movies and decided to try it again. This scholarly decision’s butterfly effect began directing my tortured artist self toward finding a voice in my school’s TV/Film Production class. I’ve always adored creating something out of just an idea. I was already taking several art classes including AP Art, but filmmaking so much different than painting alone in my bedroom.

I devoted all my energy to art and film, hoping it would distract me from any intrusive thoughts. I admit I did create some questionable and disturbing paintings that ultimately led me to the guidance counselor’s door for a check-in. I also was working on filmmaking. I created a comedy about a killer banana chasing a girl around the school for littering. Surprisingly, that film got me a lot of positive feedback. It was positive for me too. For the first time ever, I was holding a real camera and working off a real idea I had created, and it was something people actually enjoyed. I felt like something in me had changed.

From there, I worked harder to try new styles and techniques; each left me spiraling in self-doubt about my capabilities, but I pushed on. I strived for perfection even through my failures, letting them teach me to do better the next time. Anytime something hard going was on in my life, I found myself back in the production room working on a film to take my mind off things.

I draw a lot of inspiration from my artistic family members. My grandmother, Virginia De Rugeriis, was the main reason I got into art. She was a local artist who often used me as a model when I was a toddler. My uncle, Joseph De Rugeriis, was an opera conductor and administrator who was also musically talented. My father, James De Rugeriis, worked Off Broadway in lighting design and set design. My talented family’s lineage pushes me to achieve my own dreams.

By my senior year, I was prepared to work even harder than before. I’m taking Independent Study and Film I, which meant I created twice as many films in the same amount of time. It also has given me a rewarding opportunity to help teach my peers. My wonderful film teacher, Mr. Corey, motivated and constantly pushed me to improve skills. On top of the film classes, I decided to take AP Art and Play Production, which ignited the same passion my father has for set design and theater. Senior year also brought a new wave of depressive and manic episodes that left me with no motivation to do any school work, except for creating short films. When I was behind the camera, I could express all the emotions that were constantly holding me back. I couldn’t do that with a paintbrush or pen.

Film has also taught how to work with others in a professional setting. I developed leadership skills I couldn’t find elsewhere. It has also given me an appreciation for the work of others. Now when I watch a movie, I focus more on the craft than the story, which further inspires me. 

It was not until I was fully immersed in filmmaking that discovered the shift I made in my life. For me, drawing and painting as a solitary artist with some occasional brief help of a mentor gave me self-accomplishment, but when I was struggling at something in art, I did it alone. I couldn’t employ someone to pick up that paintbrush and paint for me. But filmmaking takes a village. I am surrounded by people just like me, all working toward a common goal solely because we love this craft. When I encounter a struggle in film, I have a flock of people with countless solutions. When I fall short on a skill, someone offers their expertise, and together we improve the project. In film, I always feel like I have someone in my corner, whether it’s the students who are exceptionally talented at Adobe Premiere Pro, Mr. Corey or my family of skilled artists.

I know some people prefer solitary studies. Those folks are perfectly fine developing their skills without distraction or the opinions and help of others. But there are just as many of us who are enriched by collaborating with a team, whether that’s filmmaking, sports, band or working with a nonprofit or other organization. The important thing is to find the place you feel the most empowered and surround yourself with encouraging mentors who can teach you how to be your best and be happy doing it.   

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