After seeing the movie “Night at the Museum” – an action comedy about a newly recruited night security guard at the Museum of Natural History who discovers a curse that makes museum exhibits come to life – Mason Parrish gave his dad a great idea.
“He said, ‘You know, Dad, I really like this movie, but the kid should have been the hero and museums are boring. They should have set it at an amusement park,’” said Mason’s father, Chris Parrish, a Woodstock High School graduate. “I pulled the car over and said, ‘Mason, that’s a great idea for a movie.’”
In honor of his late son, Parrish, a screenwriter who has written episodes for family comedy TV series like “The King of Queens” and Disney Channel’s “American Dragon: Jake Long,” is beginning work on a feature-length independent film called “A Night at the Amusement Park.”
In 2010, the Parrish family moved from Los Angeles to Woodstock. Shortly after, Mason grew ill and was eventually diagnosed with the rare, pediatric brain cancer diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. When Mason lost his battle in the summer of 2011 at age 10, his family began searching for ways to keep his memory alive.
“After he passed, my wife and I went through his bookshelves, and he had dozens and dozens of notebooks of his stories and cartoons. He even created a name for his own production company called Cartoon Comics Inc.”
Parrish said Mason was a naturally gifted storyteller, so given Mason’s suggestions for a movie, Parrish decided to try turning his son’s idea into a reality. He started his own fundraising movie production company called Mason’s Movies, with the goal of splitting proceeds from the film to create more movies and to support three initiatives through the Mason Parrish Foundation: funding DIPG research through The Cure Starts Now Foundation; helping pay for rentals of handicap-accessible vans for people with children dealing with catastrophic illnesses; and supporting an after school program called Cartoon Comics Inc.
Parrish’s wife, Ilisa, started the Cartoon Comics Inc. program at Olson Elementary School last year, the school Mason attended. With the help of art teacher Amy Kuhn, children are taught the art and craft of cartooning and storytelling. Last year, the program gained interest from about 55 fourth- and fifth-grade students. This year, Ilisa Parrish and Kuhn are teaching second- and third-graders.
“It has been very successful,” Kuhn said. “Students absolutely love it.”
Kuhn said she shows the students the steps for creating a cartoon character and then turning it into a cartoon strip.
“Some of the fourth- and fifth-graders knew Mason. They would say, ‘Oh, I remember Mason,’ and reminisce about some of the stories that they could remember with him in it,” Kuhn said. “The second- and third-graders relate to his brother, Max, who goes to school here. They were very fascinated by what had happened, and especially that they were doing something that some other student was very, very passionate about. That enthusiasm carried through in what they were doing.”
Chris Parrish said the program has had huge success at Olson, and he hopes to raise enough funds to expand it to other schools.
With support and faith in the movie project from local philanthropist and now executive producer Vincent Foglia, founder of the Foglia Family Foundation, Parrish said the film will begin with a flashback scene shot on the Square in front of the Opera House, depicting the origins of an urban legend surrounding an amusement park.
“A Night at the Amusement Park” is a kid-centric film Parrish describes as a modern-day version of “The Goonies.” The plot centers around a group of kids who find old blueprints of an amusement park where Al Capone’s loot is rumored to be hidden. The legend is that right before Capone was sent to prison, he made a deal with a local architect in Illinois to pay for the construction of an amusement park if the architect would build a secret ride that would lead to Capone’s loot somewhere underneath the park. The kids sneak into the park after hours and go on a hunt for the buried treasure, but it also happens to be the night some very disgruntled employees plan to knock the place over.
“This is something that I really want Mason to be remembered for more than just the horrible illness that took his life,” Chris Parrish said. “Mason’s illness was only eight months of his life. He was all about storytelling and friendship and compassion. He was just one of the most loving, creative kids you would ever meet.”