November 25, 2015

Dreaming of celluloid success (9/17/09)

Williston resident finishes first movie

Sept. 17, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

For Williston resident John Oliver, a low-budget movie is his chance to realize a long-deferred dream.


    Photo courtesy of Rich Docherty
Producer and director John Oliver (left) discusses the script with actor Bridget Burke on the set of ‘Dumping Lisa.’


    Photo courtesy of Rich Docherty
Actors Matthew Nicklaw and Bridget Burke are shown in a scene filmed outside Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston.

“Dumping Lisa” is the first film for the Emmy Award-winning television producer. Over the past 25 years, Oliver has earned a living working for WCAX-TV, NBC, the National Basketball Association and most recently as a freelance producer. But for many years, he wanted to make a movie.

“This movie has taken two years of my life,” said Oliver, who was both producer and director. “I pretty much had to take myself out of the freelance world to get this accomplished. It was a huge risk.”

He paused to reconsider.

“Well, not a risk. It was a dream,” he said. “It was a dream, so to pursue it you had to take the risk.”

The comedy, shot on a $1.2 million budget in Williston and other locations around Chittenden County, will be shown this Thursday during a private screening for the cast and crew as well as investors and friends.

“Dumping Lisa” is about a pair of young slackers, Marty Cutter (Matthew Nicklaw) and LaDon Love (Al Thompson), who earn a living by helping “confrontation challenged” men dump their girlfriends. But when their new client Jerry Skinner (Logan Lipton) tries to get rid of Lisa Klinger (Bridget Burke), he fails again and again.

Marty decides to do the job himself. He succeeds in breaking up the couple, but finds himself stuck with Lisa. Now he needs Jerry’s help.

“Dumping Lisa” mines the same vein of edgy, gross-out humor used in “Superbad,” “Knocked Up” and other films by Judd Apatow, another former television producer.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to emulate that style,” said screenwriter Rich Docherty.

But he added that “Dumping Lisa” is a little sweeter and a little less risqué than Apatow’s films.

Still, Oliver said, “F-bombs are dropped all the time,” likely earning the movie an “R” rating.

Oliver, 49, talked about his life and the movie during a lengthy interview. Dressed in a grey sweatshirt and sporting a shaved head, he spoke in staccato bursts.

He was born in upstate New York. His father was an airline pilot, so his family moved frequently before settling in Colorado.

At age 15, he moved back east by himself to attend high school at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, a boarding school that combines academics with ski training. He made it to the developmental level of the U.S. Ski Team.

Oliver later earned a degree in meteorology from the University of Colorado. His first job out of college was working as a production assistant and a part-time weatherman at WCAX.

He soon learned he was best suited for work behind the camera, admitting, “I did weekend weather and I was just terrible at it.”

Oliver stayed at the station for five years before moving on to the NBA’s fledgling entertainment division. He profiled stars and produced promotional pieces for the basketball league, which aired on NBC.

That gave Oliver an in with the network, and he was hired to produce pieces for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He traveled around the world to profile athletes. During his two years at NBC, he won a pair of Emmys.

Since leaving the network, Oliver has been a freelance producer who has worked on projects for ESPN and the Speed Channel. He moved to Williston in 1998, where he lives with his wife, Kara, a school nurse in South Burlington, and two preschool-age children.

Local production easier

The movie, a collaboration between Oliver and Docherty, was a long time in the making.

The men first met at NBC. Docherty, who now lives in Burlington, had bounced around the country working in various television jobs before landing at the network.

Docherty has been writing screenplays since the 1980s but none of them had resulted in a movie. He and Oliver collaborated on an earlier script in the late 1990s, but realized the idea was outdated and impractical for an independent film.

“We wanted to try to do something that would generate cash,” Oliver said. “That’s not to say we sold out, but we wanted to be realistic.”

The movie was shot over 22 days in June of last year. Numerous area locations were employed, including Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, the Williston Fire Station and U.S. 2 through Williston Village.

The impact on the town was minimal compared to the big-budget movie “Me, Myself & Irene” starring Jim Carrey, which was also shot partly in Williston.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said municipal operations were disrupted for several days during the shoot in 1999. He said the production company reimbursed the town several thousand dollars.

Oliver cast “Dumping Lisa” in New York and Los Angeles. But filming locally meant less expense and bureaucracy.

Not that there weren’t headaches. That scene on U.S. 2 involved 16 takes. At one location in Burlington, the owner of a building complained about a scene that included an actress playing a prostitute.

“He was concerned that the building was going to be portrayed as a place where hookers hang out,” Oliver said.

Lipton, in a telephone interview from New York City, complimented Oliver for staying cool when confronted with obstacles and for allowing actors to improvise, which he called a “gutsy” move that helped produce funny scenes.

Big chance for stardom

Oliver said “Dumping Lisa,” unlike his television production gigs, is more in keeping with his personality. The Olympic profiles he worked on, for example, called for “tears and drama.” The irreverent movie’s main aim is to make people laugh.

“This is more me,” he said. Though television production is his craft, “it’s truly not my love.”

For Lipton, who has appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning play “Wicked,” the movie gives him a chance for movie stardom — or at least hone his chops as a comedic actor.

“If it blows up, great,” he said. “But if not it could be a kind of calling card: This is exactly what I can do.”

Docherty also won an Emmy while at NBC. But at age 59, he would welcome another taste of success.

“In a perfect world we would get into Sundance,” he said. “Then we could strike a distribution deal and be seen in theaters across the country.”

“Dumping Lisa” has been entered into both the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals. Word on whether the movie will be selected from among the thousands of entries to the festivals is expected in December.

Oliver acknowledged that the movie is a long-shot gamble. If it doesn’t succeed, he said he can’t afford to spend years making another. But no matter what happens, he’s glad he tried.

“The great thing now is that I won’t look back and say, ‘What if?’” Oliver said. “If you really believe in something, you should take that risk if you can.”


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CVU football team seeks second win at Rice

    Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
Champlain Valley Union High quarterback Konnor Fleming drops back to pass during the Redhawks’ 39-20 win over Burr and Burton on Friday night. See story in Sports section.

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Triumphant CVU harriers look to Essex Invitational (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

The action Saturday will be at the Catamount Family Center in Williston, where Essex High will host the annual Essex Invitational for cross country teams. Start time is 9:30 a.m.

Champlain Valley Union High’s boys and girls teams will have an optimistic frame of mind going in, each team winning Tuesday in five-team competitions at Burlington High.

CVU’s Summer Spillane captured first place among the girls with a time of 20 minutes, 56.19 seconds. Crowing up front with Spillane were teammates Adrienne Devita (3rd) and Laura Jackson (4th). Annie Jackson took ninth.

Team scores had the CVU girls with 27 points over Essex with 45 and Burlington’s 85. South Burlington High (93) and Spaulding High finished the field.

Runner-up Zack Pete paced the CVU boys. Pete was 53 seconds behind winner Ben Lusgarten of Burlington, who had a winning time of 17:05.88.

The Redhawks’ Brice Guerriere came in seventh and John Brooks eighth as they won with 45 points to South Burlington’s 57 and Burlington’s 65. Essex was fourth with 75.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Busy week ahead for 1-0 CVU girls soccer team (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

The Champlain Valley Union High girls soccer team took to its home field Wednesday for the first of four games in eight days. The packed lineup began with a visit from 1-0 Rice Memorial High in the 2009 home opener.

The game was set to be played after press deadline.

On Friday, coach Brad Parker and his Redhawks will hit the road for Rutland. On Tuesday, they will be back home to entertain Burr and Burton of Manchester. Two days later, they bus to Colchester High.

The season opener last Saturday morning at Division 2 Milton High went well, especially in the second half, when the Redhawks exploded for three scores to snap a scoreless halftime deadlock.

Haleigh Smith, Emily Leffler and Nicole Utter got the goals for CVU, while net minder Emily Sackett knocked out seven Milton shots to earn the shutout. The Redhawks unloaded 17 shots at Milton’s Hillary Turner, who had 14 saves.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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CVU boys soccer team opens with victory (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

It is a quiet week for the 1-0 Champlain Valley Union High boys soccer team, which is off until Wednesday when the athletes greet Harwood Union High for a 4:30 p.m. home opener.

The Redhawks hope to keep the sizzle they exhibited Tuesday when they cruised to Mount Abraham Union in Bristol and then past the Eagles 6-0 in a match of Route 116 neighbors.

“I am really happy with this team,” said CVU coach T.J. Mead after the victory. “We have a great mix of young players and veterans.”

One of those younger players — well, sort of — is junior Mike Clayton, who returned to the lineup after missing last season with a leg fracture. Clayton celebrated by scoring three goals and adding an assist.

Overall, the Redhawks’ offense dominated the Eagles, out shooting them 23-4. Mount Abe goalies made 17 stops, some of them incredible.

Kyle Logan, Jonathan Slimovitch and Nick Spencer also scored for CVU, which bolted to a 4-0 lead by halftime.

Senior defender and field leader Chris Beaton just missed a pair of goals by inches. In the first half, his header off a corner kick sailed just over the cross bar. Moments later, he deked and faked his way in front of the net, got the ball back from a give and go and just missed an open corner of the cage.

Nick Hart, Zach Blanchard, Chris Sulva and Clayton also went high or wide by inches on solid scoring opportunities.

Mount Abraham’s only serious scoring threat came in the second half, when senior goalie Jeffrey Wettstein caught a direct kick in the left corner. Wettstein had a total of two saves in the second half while John Milbank had a pair in the first half.

Beaton, Elias Wiszereck, Luke Dorfman and Ryan Boland were among standouts in a swarming CVU defense that totally disrupted the Eagles’ offensive tries.


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Field hockey team moves to 2-0 record (9/10/09)

Redhawks to play home opener Saturday

Sept. 10, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

After nearly a week off from competition, the 2-0 Champlain Valley Union High field Hockey team returns to action Thursday with a trip to Colchester High. Game time is 4 p.m.

The defending Division 1 champions will then get in front of the home folks for the first time this season at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with Mount Mansfield Union High providing the opposition.

Before the start of the campaign, CVU coach Kate McDonald predicted the Redhawks, as defending titleholders, would be wearing a target on their backs as foes would bring their number one game to the fields.

Last Friday, Essex High, which had lost its season opener 3-1 to South Burlington while the Redhawks were bouncing Burlington 5-0 in their kickoff, gave CVU a mighty tussle before bowing 2-1 in overtime.

“They (Essex) were ready for us,” a relieved McDonald said after the contest. “They came to play.”

In a game that saw most of the activity stay at midfield, CVU trailed 1-0 with time running down before Emmaleigh Loyer scored on a setup pass from Kathryn Powell with just 3:29 left in regulation.

It was Loyer’s fourth score in two games.

In the 10-minute, seven-on-seven extra period, Powell knocked the ball in front of the Essex cage and KK Logan got credit for getting it into the net past Essex goalie Anne Levy. Just under three minutes had gone past in the extra period.

Logan, who was cited for the winning goal by the officials, was not sure she was the scorer. Loyer was also in the crowd in front of the cage.

“It was a team effort,” summed up veteran midfielder Kelsey Jensen, whose long blasts kept the Hornets out of CVU’s end of the field for much of the game.

Essex’s lone tally had come with 18:33 remaining in regulation, when senior Abbey Johnson, out of a crowd, knocked the ball past a fallen CVU goalie Elizabeth Goddette. The goalie had just made three quick stops in the lone Essex offensive flurry of the day.

Goddette had one other save, that in the first half. Levy had three rejections.

Maggie Ryan, at midfield, was an effective force for the Redhawks, personally turning several Essex offensive attempts into CVU possessions.

Deep defender Aubrey Deavitt had some important plays, including during Essex’s one deep move on the CVU goal in overtime when, alone in front of Goddette, she stopped and then cleared the ball from the stick of a speedy, onrushing Hornet.

For CVU, it was a different type of contest than in the win at Burlington, in which it peppered the BHS net with 23 shots.

“They did not give us much,” Logan said of the Essex defense.

But the Redhawks took just enough for the victory.


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CVU football team seeks second win at Rice (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Last Friday, the Champlain Valley Union High football team won its first game of the season by night. This Saturday, the Redhawks will test their abilities in the daylight with a visit to longtime Division 2 power Rice Memorial High in South Burlington.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Nighttime in Manchester last week proved to be a good time for head coach Jim Provost and his Redhawks, as they took apart home standing Burr and Burton, 39-20. The outcome was of some surprise to Provost and the CVU coaching staff.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Provost said over the weekend, referring to the Hawks’ initial outing in Division 2. “It was a good night for our team and the program. It was a big step forward.”

Rice won its season opener at home on Saturday, coming from behind late in the game to bump off Lyndon Institute, 18-14.

CVU’s victory was led by junior quarterback Konnor Fleming, who ran for four touchdowns and threw for a pair of scores to end Ian Solomon and halfback Collin Teator.

Fleming’s hookup with Teator went for 94 yards, the longest in the four-plus season history of CVU varsity football, and put the Redhawks up 20-0 at halftime.

Provost said Fleming’s touchdown runs came from inside the 10-yard-line, except one from the 12.

The coach was also very happy with the fact that the Redhawks’ offense did not turn the ball over.

Additionally pleasing to Provost was the play in the trenches of defensive foursome Matt Long, Cameron Fitzgerald, Mike Bean and Dale Conger.

Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound junior, was credited with seven sacks, a solid night’s work in any league. He was named the Moe’s Southwest Grill Player of the Game.

J.P. Benoit had a pass interception out of his defensive back position.

In looking ahead to Saturday, Provost said, “We have to increase our level of play. Rice is a team that pulled out a win in a game it could have lost.”

He cited Rice quarterback Chris McCormick and halfback Andy Bulger (two touchdowns) among the Green Knights’ weapons.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Provost, who coached the Knights in the 1990s and led them to a state title.


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Education Briefs (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

Spelling Bee test on Tuesday

Students in the upper houses of Williston Central School can try out for two Spelling Bee teams on Sept. 15.

The tests will take place in the school auditorium, and begin at 1:15 p.m. for fifth and sixth graders and 2 p.m. to seventh and eighth graders.

Each test consists of 30 words, 25 of which come from the Vermont Principals’ Association let. The lists are available in the school’s enrichment room, and online at

Each team will have six members. Last year’s seventh and eighth grade team captured the state championship.

For more information, contact Enrichment teacher Richard Allen at

Math League registration

Williston students who wish to register for the Continental Math League must do so by Sept. 25.

The league is administered by the Enrichment Program for students in grades two through eight, and provides students with math challenges beyond the classroom.

For students in grades four through eight, the league works in a competitive format. Five tests are given during the school year, from November through March. The meets last 30 minutes, during which time students work as individuals — without calculators — on six problems. Students with the two highest cumulative scores receive medals.

Students in second and third grade work in non-competitive practice groups.

The league is also seeking parent volunteers to work with small groups of students, preferably during school hours, on a weekly basis. The groups can begin in October for grades four through eight, and later for the younger grades. The school district’s Enrichment Program will provide materials and training.

Students can register for the league online at

Sample problems are available online at

For more information, contact Richard Allen at Williston Central School at or Betty Poirot at Allen Brook School at


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New elevator operational at Williston Central School (9/10/09)

Gallons of hydraulic fluid missing from previous elevator

Sept. 10, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston Central School is now compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, due to the installation of a new elevator.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
The new elevator at Williston Central School, pictured above, makes the school compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Starting in June and working through the summer, construction crews built the elevator onto the northeast portion of the school.

In the process of dismantling the old elevator, crews discovered that 37 gallons of hydraulic fluid had disappeared.

“They couldn’t find it,” District Principal Walter Nardelli told the School Board at its Sept. 2 meeting. “It’s simply gone.”

Middlebury-based Bread Loaf Construction built the new elevator and dismantled the old one, located near the cafeteria and old gym. Nardelli told the board that Bread Loaf has a few final “touch ups” to do to the interior of the elevator and should be finished with the project this month.

But for now, the new elevator is operational and can be accessed by students with disabilities and the school’s facilities department for moving heavy equipment. Teachers and staff were given keys to access the elevator’s controls so students can’t operate it on their own. The interior is covered with a blue, padded lining to protect the walls from damage when large items are transported.

Last March, voters agreed to use $200,000 in the district’s construction fund to build the elevator. It was decided to place it on the exterior of the building — the entrance is inside the school — instead of at the old elevator’s site due to cost. Nardelli said earlier this year that rebuilding the old elevator would have cost more than four times the number that voters approved. He told the board he would have the final costs of the project tallied up by the time it met again next month.

As for the missing 37 gallons of hydraulic fluid, Nardelli surmised the old elevator leaked for the entire 40 years it existed in the school. Facility crews refilled the fluid several times throughout its history, with the last refill occurring eight years ago, he said. The administration did not know of the missing hydraulic fluid until this summer, Nardelli said.

Nardelli told the board the fluid likely seeped into the ground underneath the school. It’s not feasible to investigate the exact location of the spill, he said.

“We’d have to tear the building down to get to it,” he said.

The School Board agreed to draft a letter for public record to be included with the state’s Land Records Department. If, sometime in the future, a new building were to be constructed on the site of Williston Central School, builders would be aware of the missing fluid and would need to investigate.

“It doesn’t mean (the site) is contaminated, it simply means (the hydraulic fluid) is missing,” Nardelli said.


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Cafeterias transformed into Wildcat Cafe (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston School District’s food service program has undergone significant changes in the past year, including a new food service director, cafeteria layout and menu. Logo for school cafeterias.

Add to that a new name.

Starting this school year, the cafeterias at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools are now called the Wildcat Café, named after the district’s mascot. Students are even greeted by a new, professionally designed logo featuring an animated image of a regally posed mountain lion perched next to a hot lunch tray.

Food Service Director Scott Wagner said it’s his goal to continue increasing student interest in the cafeteria, and creating an identifiable logo is another step in that direction.

“For us, it’s more of a marketing thing,” Wagner said.

Student reaction has been positive, Wagner said.

“They haven’t really seen it until recently when they came back,” he said.

Wagner said the logo was created by Rival Art, a company that specializes in designing logos and mascots for schools across the United States. He hopes the new café logo can be translated into something the whole school can rally behind.

In fact, District Principal Walter Nardelli told the School Board it’s possible the logo could be licensed out to sports teams and other activity groups within the schools. Wagner said it would be easy to replace the word café with any team sport and switch the cafeteria tray with a basketball or baseball.

There’s been talk of creating Williston school T-shirts and hats with the logo to sell to the community, Nardelli said. Any profits from sales would go directly back into the food service program, he added.

“This really opens us up for ideas,” Nardelli said at the board’s Sept. 2 meeting.

Wagner said licensing of the logo is in the early planning stages and it all depends on what direction the administration wants to take.

“If we can make a profit on it, that would be great,” Wagner said.

Wagner became Williston’s food service director last year after the program received a major overhaul. Former Food Service Director Lydia King resigned her position in February 2008 amidst declining student participation and significant losses in revenue. Champlain Valley Union High School Food Service Director Leo LaForce took over the position for the remainder of the school year.

LaForce changed the district’s menu offerings, focusing on healthier options and local products. Wagner continued that trend last year, as well as updating equipment in both schools’ cafeterias, which he said was out-of-date and inefficient.

Since last fall, student participation in the hot lunch program has increased from 34 percent to 45 percent, Wagner said. By his estimation, the food service program has served 26,000 more lunches than in 2008.

Financial woes

With all the changes made in the cafeterias last year, the food service program still ran a large deficit. Bob Mason, chief operations officer for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said the program lost $118,893 last year. The number is less than the 2008-2009 school year deficit, which ran more than $120,000. The school’s general fund covers the lost revenue.

The increased participation rates were not able to curtail the sharp increase in food costs, Mason said. Also, there was significant investment in the program’s equipment, which also added to the deficit. Mason said it’s too early to speculate what this year’s food service deficit will be, although he expects it will continue to shrink with Wagner in charge.

For this school year, Wagner said he will continue building upon what was successful last year. Offering varied choices has driven more students to buy lunches, he said. He’s also encouraging more feedback from students and staff. And he hopes the new Wildcat Café logo will remind students to visit the hot lunch lines more often.

“Basically, we’re going to keep going in the direction we went last year,” Wagner said.


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