NEW RIDEGEMONT HIGH

SCENE I

A documentary written and directed by Mitch Bennett.

Produced by John Hughes.

Copyright © 2022, The X Foundation.

Dedicated to William Friedman

Opening Shot:  Mitch Bennett’s control room. Mitch Bennett is sitting amidst a tangle of video equipment, and behind him are several screens, on which the NEW RIDGEMONT HIGH logo is displayed.

Mitch Bennett:  The film you are about to see was compiled from a year’s worth of broadcast and cable news footage, home video, and material that I shot during my time as a  student at New Ridgemont High. It was the best year of my life, and after countless conversations with other students, I know that this is a feeling widely shared among NRH alums.  

It’s important for me to say this, because as everyone knows, New Ridgemont High was shut down after just that one year. Not because it had failed … no, it had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and was considered a triumph of social scientific intervention. In fact, New Ridgemont High was such a success that the State of California was preparing to replicate the experiment – plans had been drawn up to create three more schools, on the NRH model. Indeed, the eyes of the entire nation were on us: from Chicago to Boston to New York, they were all making their own plans, based on what we were doing out here in the Valley. It would have been the most sweeping social change since the 1960’s, but it was all destroyed on one terrible day, by the very people for whom it had been created to save. Destroyed, because we couldn’t free ourselves from the demons that had brought us to this desperate point in the first place.

The purpose of this documentary is to set the record straight; to tell the true story of New Ridgemont High and of William Friedman, whose vision, tireless effort, and love of young people made it a reality. Dr. Friedman embodied the very spirit of our school, and he, more than anyone, has suffered from its fall. This film is dedicated to him.

But before we get started, I want you to meet two friends of mine who were there when it all began – when Dr. Friedman first started thinking about creating an experimental school – and they’ve stuck with him, with New Ridgemont High, and with all of us kids, to the very end. Without them, this documentary wouldn’t have been possible. John Hughes and Bret Easton Ellis.

Cut to John Hughes and Bret Easton Ellis entering the control room. They take turns embracing Mitch Bennett, after which they settle into two chairs flanking him. Ellis is holding a cocktail.

John Hughes: This is a great day, Mitch. You’ve really accomplished something here.

Bret Easton Ellis: I’ve just seen the final cut. It tells the truth. Unflinchingly.

Mitch Bennett: I couldn’t have done it without you guys; without your advice and support.

Bret Easton Ellis: You deserve it, man.  

John Hughes: As did Will. You did right by him, Mitch.

Bret Easton Ellis [raising his glass]. To Will.

All: To Will.

Mitch Bennett: I was hoping that you’d be able to fill in the audience on the business-side of the film. There are some interesting things there that people might not know about.

Bret Easton Ellis: You handled a lot of that, John.

John Hughes: Yeah, I can speak a little bit on that end of things. As you know, Mitch, we didn’t go the conventional studio route on this one. With all the controversy surrounding the school’s closing and given the risk-averse mentality in Hollywood today, it wouldn’t have flown. 

Bret Easton Ellis: The decision also had to do with larger issues. We wanted to keep pushing, to continue Will’s work.

John Hughes: That’s right. Bret and I, as well as a good number of the original backers of New Ridgemont High, still believe in Will and in the urgency of his project.

Bret Easton Ellis: I’d say that what happened to the school and to Will pretty much proves that we were right about that; the urgency, I mean.

John Hughes: After the school closed, we knew we wanted to advance Will’s ideas in whatever ways we could, so we created the X-Foundation, a 501 C not-for-profit organization. In addition to producing, marketing, and distributing the film, the Foundation has created a new online presence, “X,” which will focus its reporting and editorial attention on the current youth situation. We also have a political arm, a lobbying group, that pushes Friedman-inspired policies in Congress and the White House.

Bret Easton Ellis: This point can’t be made often enough: NRH students and their parents overwhelmingly supported the school and Will. This was an outside job.

John Hughes: Don’t front load things, Bret. Let the audience see it as it happened.

Bret Easton Ellis: Right. I’ll zip it.

Mitch Bennett: Well, then, why don’t we get started?  Like we agreed?

Bennett, Hughes, and Ellis move together into a huddle, with their arms around each other’s shoulders.

All: For all of the young people across America, we are very proud to welcome you to NEW RIDGEMONT HIGH.

 

August 1, 2020, 6:20pm PST.

Special segment on New Ridgemont High, The Evening News, KABC, Los Angeles. John Stacy Reporting, 

Stacy, from the studio.

John Stacy: “New Ridgemont High is the most daring experiment in public education to be performed in more than a generation.” So says William Friedman, the intellectual, creative, and active force behind the project, and a man whose persona, style, and energy give the impression of a guru, as much as of an award-winning sociologist at USC. But given the scale of the task Dr. Friedman has before him, it is fair to wonder whether only someone like him – a true believer, in every sense of the word – could hope to pull it off.

The idea is to replicate a typical San Fernando Valley high school of the mid 1980’s, in every detail, from the physical structure and layout of the campus to the curriculum, to the administrative structure and school policies. But the program goes much further than that: the very clothes that students will wear, the equipment and technology they will use, and the rules under which they will operate, will all be circa the1980’s. 

The reason? The deteriorating condition of American youth across the country, whether with respect to mental health, educational achievement, or trouble with the law. Young people in America are no longer just lagging behind their counterparts in other countries, they now suffer rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and incarceration that have reached crisis levels. The independent journalist and documentary filmmaker, Priss Pruitt, whose recent documentary The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, has called it a “teen apocalypse,” one that “demands attention, for the sake of the very future of our country,” and New Ridgemont High is the first serious attempt to find a solution.  

It’s all part of what Dr. Friedman calls “Social Immersion Theory in action,” referring to the sociological model he developed while still a graduate student, at the New School for Social Research, in New York. The basic idea is to effect social change, through the extensive manipulation of social, cultural, economic, civic, and legal institutions and practices.

Cut to location. Stacy, standing inside Tony’s pizzeria, with the owner, Antonio Bruno. 

John Stacy: I’m inside Tony’s Pizzeria, located less than a quarter mile from the New Ridgemont High campus.  In his quest for what he calls “total immersion,” Dr. Friedman has arranged for local businesses and television and radio stations to provide 80’s products, services, and programming, all at 80’s prices and in 80’s formats. Those who participate will receive significant subsidies to make up for any financial losses, funded by a combination of private donations and government grants. The response has been overwhelming: from local restaurants and retailers to athletics organizations and nightclubs, it seems like everyone in the city of Ridgemont has gotten into the game. And in a recent development, local law enforcement has offered to lend a hand, agreeing to implement 80’s policing policies, with respect to the local juvenile population, an unprecedented collaboration between the police, civil authorities, and the social science community.

Standing with me, here, to talk for a few moments about his own participation in the New Ridgemont High experiment, is Antonio Bruno, owner and manager of Tony’s Pizza, which undoubtedly will become a popular lunch spot with New Ridgemont High students, who will enjoy an open campus, under the school’s 80’s-inspired policies. Mr. Bruno, are you looking forward to seeing students from New Ridgemont High in your pizzeria, during the lunch hour?

Antonio Bruno: Very much, John. It’ll be wonderful having the kids around. They’re good customers and  bring a lot of energy and excitement with them wherever they go. Our sleepy lunch shifts are going to get turned upside down, and that’s just fine with me.

John Stacy: And you’ll be offering an authentic 80’s experience? Even with respect to prices?

Antonio Bruno: Yes. We’ll be receiving a private grant to help make up for the loss in revenue. I have to say, it was a lot of fun doing the research. How much was a slice in a typical pizzeria in 1985? How were food and drinks served? What was the décor? What kind of music was playing? What arcade games did you have? I found a few things on the internet, but fortunately, my family has been in pizza for three generations, and I was able to get a lot of information from my father, his brother, and a few older cousins.

John Stacy: What made you decide to participate in the New Ridgemont High experiment?  Even with the subsidies, it must be a real disruption for your business.

Antonio Bruno: I’m worried, John. My daughter, Vanessa, is that age and will be starting at New Ridgemont High this Fall. I don’t like what I’m seeing, what’s happening with kids today, both in school and out.  

John Stacy: Yes, but why this particular project?  Why Friedman?

Antonio Bruno: He’s the only one not blaming the kids for what’s going on. I mean, the idea’s great, but it was Friedman’s attitude that really sold me. He cares about the kids, and that’s more than I can say about anyone else I’ve heard talking about this issue.

John Stacy: Thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Bruno,  and best of luck to you in the coming months. I hope we’ll be able to visit with you again, once the school year is underway.

Antonio Bruno: I look forward to it.

Cut to a press conference, at Apple Headquarters, where Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs is offering remarks.

John Stacy [voiceover]: From the smallest family-owned businesses to the country’s largest corporations, Dr. Friedman has tapped into virtually every sector of Californian society to create the most comprehensive and immersive 1980’s high school environment possible.  Yesterday, Apple Founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, announced that Apple would be donating several hundred Apple II’s and Apple 2’s, as well as 1980s era mainframes, printers, modems, and software, for use in New Ridgemont High. Jobs spoke with reporters about the decision earlier today.

Steve Jobs: Apple has taken this step, in support of Will Friedman and his project. New Ridgemont High is one of the most innovative and inspired civic projects I’ve ever seen, and it deserves all of our backing. 

Reporter 1: You said in an earlier release that you’ve been invited to serve on Friedman’s board of directors.

Steve Jobs: That’s right, and I’ve accepted. I’ve also made a substantial donation to the New Ridgemont High Foundation.

Reporter 1: Will Apple do the installation and provide ongoing tech support?

Steve Jobs: No. That will be done in-school, by computer lab teachers and student techs. It’s essential to Will’s project that the school run as it would have in the 1980’s and that includes the computer facilities and classes. They’re going to learn how to do this stuff themselves and that will only intensify the immersive effect. They’ll also learn a hell of a lot about computer hardware and programming.

Reporter 2: What do you say to critics who have argued that Friedman’s “Social Immersion Theory” is nothing more than thinly veiled social engineering?

Steve Jobs: It’s a foolish argument. Mortgage deductions are social engineering. Okay, folks, that’s  it.  Thanks. [Waves to the reporters and crowd.]

John Stacy: You can see the interview that our own Heidi Bell did with William Friedman this Saturday, on Focus America, 6pm Pacific Time. New Ridgemont High is set to open, with the rest of L.A.’s public schools, on August 23rd. We’ll have live coverage of the opening ceremonies, as well as the first day of school, so be sure to stay tuned to KABC for ongoing coverage. And now, back to Studio One, and Scott Wilson, who has the local five-day weather forecast.

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