Letters from Hollywood

St. Stephen – An English class at St. Stephen High School can now say it has connections with Hollywood.

Students in one of teacher Neil Grant’s English classes have received a detailed letter from Oscar winning director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”, “Ratatouille”, “The Iron Giant”) after each student wrote a formal letter to Bird.

The letters were part of a project from Grant’s class last semester, which related to Ray Bradbury’s prophetic novel “Fahrenheit 451”, which Grant says “paints a very dire look at the future.”

Enter Bird’s film “Tomorrowland”.

“I’ve always attempted to end the study of [“Fahrenheit 451”] with optimism, but with every year new events seem to make Bradbury’s words more truthful,” Grant said.

“I decided to use Brad Bird’s more recent film “Tomorrowland”, starring George Clooney, to end with a stronger sense of optimism and as a counter point to the dystopian view from the science fiction novel.”

The students wrote to Bird, asking different questions about the film and how it related to the novel they had studied.

Much to the surprise of the students, a FedEx package recently arrived at the school which included an autographed photo for each of the students, along with a letter which compiled the students’ questions into seven answers.

The 16 students were presented with the letter and the autographed photos Monday, and the general consensus from the students to Bird’s response was that it was “pretty cool.”

“It’s pretty neat that we got to talk to someone that made a movie,” Brayden Rideout mused, while others agreed they didn’t expect a response.

When asked if the students recognized any of their questions in the letter, Colin Cleghorn nods his head, uttering a soft “yes”.

“I asked what inspired him to make the movie and also what he thinks about the future,” Cleghorn said. “[His answer] is pretty much what I expected.

I thought he might have been inspired by someone else, which he was; a friend of his. They were talking about how the future looks a lot different today than what they thought it was going to be when they were kids,” Cleghorn said.

Grant and the students spoke of the detail in Bird’s answers, while Grant mentioned the Oscar winning director is perhaps a tad busy.

“There is detail in a lot of his answers. It’s not something he just passed off; there is detail and thought. … He’s preparing to release Incredibles 2, so he’s kind of busy.”

One of the questions Bird replies to reads “Do you really believe hope can change the world?

Bird’s answer begins with a simple “yes”, but delves into a more thoughtful response.

“Yes…if hope is an active thing. Hope…belief that ‘better’ is possible, is the first step in taking control of the wheel and guiding the future instead of letting the future happen to you,” Bird wrote.

“I absolutely believe that there are other, better possible futures beside the ‘negatively reinforced’ vision that we are constantly bombarded with.”

Bird goes on to write “We need to fix our gazes on a positive future and then take steps toward that,” while encouraging students to dream big and take action to “make a dream happen.”

“I think if your dream is in sight, if you can imagine the destination, you can start to journey toward it.”

Bird answered other questions, such as “do you have a positive outlook on the future like in the movie?” and “How do you see the world 100 years from now?” and closed the letter with a thank you.

“I have included a small token of my gratitude; it’s my way of saying thanks for watching the film, asking probing questions, and caring about the future! Sincerely, Brad Bird”

The letters are not the first time the school has received a response from Bird. In 2008, Grant’s Grade 9 English class wrote to Bird after the class had done some work with his film “The Iron Giant.”

Bird wrote back, and included autographed photos for the students. Grant did not write a letter when the students wrote to Bird in 2008, but included one last semester.

An excerpt from Grant’s letter thanks Bird for responding and providing the students with an autographed photo in 2008, as well as “the fun assignment of writing me a formal letter assessing my class.”

“I thank you for making that educational moment truly a memorable experience and I promise that I am writing to you now eight years later with a different motive and a hope that an eight year pause is enough to not be considered too bothersome.”
As the students of Grant’s former Grade 11 class continued to share thoughts about the letter Monday, Cleghorn said the exercise and response from Bird had taught him a positive message.

“It kind of makes you want to be a better person and make the world be a better place one day.”