The scene is set, actors are in their places, and Jimmy, the star of the production, is ready for his close up. It’s a good thing the film crew brought their zoom lens.
Jimmy, a giraffe, is among the many animals who live at Plumpton Park Zoo in Cecil County, and who star in a new student-filmed documentary about the zoo, which will debut next month.
Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun is a small, but locally popular menagerie that suffered a turbulent year – closing in July after a state inspection revealed glaring issues, but then reopening only a few months later when an out-of-state couple swooped in with grand plans to renovate and revive the place.
The story of the zoo’s rebirth and the work of the new owners, staff, and volunteers to keep the place running, is the subject of a short film produced, directed, and filmed by a group of Harford Community College students this spring.
Tommy Lawrence, a student in the Mass Communications department at HCC, never knew there was a zoo in Cecil County until January, when he stumbled upon the story of its closure and subsequent reopening.
Two months later, he was petting a tiger, receiving licks from a giraffe, and directing the filming of a documentary on the zoo and the work it took to reopen it to the public.
“After a bit of research and finding out that they had closed back in July and are slowly coming back, I knew that I had a great story that needed to be told on my hands. I got in contact with Cheryl Lacovara, one of the current owners, about doing a possible video for them to promote the zoo. She replied that that would be awesome and asked if I would be able to get college credit. So I said I could ask my college professor. I then found out once the semester started that later in the semester we were to pitch film ideas to the class and then the class would decide on two. So I waited and pitched it. The class loved the idea and 5 others joined in to help me with this idea. The zoo has an awesome story that is full of emotions and that was just waiting to be told,” Lawrence explained.
“The film is called ‘Getting There: The Plumpton Park Zoo Documentary’ and that is the message of this film, to show that the zoo fell down but is now getting back up on its feet and they have huge plans that are very exciting to hear about,” he added.
Lawrence and his five video production and editing classmates at HCC kept in contact with the zoo while planning and met with the zoo manager Adam Wysocki, who gave them the rules about what they would be able to film and what was off limits – the crew could mingle freely with Jimmy the giraffe and Zoe the zebra, but had to give Sis the Siberian tiger an understandably wider berth.
Filming took place during the students’ spring break, during which they went to the zoo every day for a week and filmed everything from the zookeepers’ daily feeding runs in the morning to some training exercises. Lawrence and his crew also had to put up with occasionally uncooperative actors, who had to get used to having the students and their equipment around their enclosures.
“The staff is extremely friendly and let us follow them around behind the scenes of the zoo. One morning during the carnivore feed run Sis the tiger was laying against her cage while Adam was clipping off clumped fur and he asked if we wanted to pet her, so of course we did,” Lawrence said.
After a week filming the animals of the zoo, the students focused on interviews with the staff, volunteers, and new owners. Lawrence said they were even granted an interview with original owner Ed Plumstead, his first time since the park closed.
“Overall the documentary is to raise awareness that the zoo is open again and to show the story of the people that are making the zoo a better place for the animals and for people to come to as well,” Lawrence said.
The finished documentary, which took about two months to complete, runs about 20 minutes. It will be presented at the Screech Awards on May 13 at the Chesapeake Center at HCC, during which other film and audio projects from school’s Mass Communications department will be screened. Awards will be presented to the best audio documentaries, audio commercials, and for various categories of films.
“Getting There: The Plumpton Park Zoo Documentary” will also be screened at Plumpton Park Zoo on June 5 as part of the summer grand re-opening weekend.
In advance of the screening, the crews of students released a minute-long trailer for the documentary, which can be seen below:
Tommy Lawrence – Director
Michael Johnson – Camera
Alex Paul – Sound
Nathan Rhodes – Soundtrack
Ashleigh Leonard – Asst. Director
Patrick DeRemigis – Graphic Design
Since discovering, filming, and spending so much time at the zoo, Lawrence has become one of its biggest fans.
“If you haven’t been to the Plumpton Park Zoo recently, you should definitely go and check it out. It is constantly changing with new exhibits going in almost every day. Recently they just got a new hawk and alligator. Sometime this summer Zoe the zebra’s sister will be joining her from the Lacovara’s farm. Also, they are always looking for volunteers to come and help build new exhibits and maintain the old exhibits. Or they will gladly accept donations, as it is a privately owned non-profit. Or you can get a membership to the zoo as well,” Lawrence explained.
As for Lawrence and the rest of his HCC crew, they are working on getting the rest of their footage to the zoo. In all, they shot about 10 hours of footage, which had to be condensed into the 15-minute film. Lawrence said he is excited at the prospect of editing down the remaining film into some short videos the zoo may be able to use on its website. They have even been in talks with zoo management about creating a weekly video log for the zoo, which would help keep the public up to date about what is new and going on at Plumpton Park.