The long-awaited opening of the film, Kids For Cash, which uncovers what happened behind the headlines of the notorious judicial scandal that rocked Luzerne County, opened in theatres in early February.
The film is an absorbing account of the events leading up to the scandal, as well as a detailed chronicle of the revelations unearthed by the criminal investigation and extensive media coverage. The documentary includes in-depth stories of several of the children involved and unprecedented interviews with disgraced judges Ciavarella and Conahan, among many others.
Robert May of SenArt Films, producer of several acclaimed and honored films, including “The Station Agent” and the Oscar-winning “The Fog of War,” who happens to live in northeastern Pennsylvania, read about the scandal in the local and national papers and decided to pursue it as his next film project.
“I was stunned to learn that these judges were accused of such heinous crimes involving children, especially since I likely voted for both of them,” May said. “The story began to spread beyond Luzerne County, national and international media started to cover it as well, with some outlets calling it the ‘most egregious’ judicial scandal in history.”
“What became clear was that this was no typical small-town scandal, and what made it different from other judicial scandals is that this one involved children,” May added.
When May decided to move forward with the film, he realized it was necessary to set up research and production offices locally where the scandal occurred. His affiliation with Wilkes University’s Creative Writing Program provided an opportunity to set up production offices right on the campus of Wilkes and to work with both graduate and undergraduate interns and assistants.
“It was also a great opportunity for us to take advantage of other resources at Wilkes, including the utilization of production elements, such as interiors of the historic and architecturally significant buildings on campus which could be used as location sets,” May said.
Over the course of the four-year production, May and his team brought in editors and production teams from both New York and Los Angeles, but also utilized a number of local professionals and resources.
In order to take audiences back in time, the production crew created a methodology to represent lost childhood, which included the creation of a village seemingly built by a child within a small attic. Because of the limitations of shooting in a small confined attic space, May needed to find a local facility where a replica could be built. He contacted David Koral, who not only provided an 11,000-square-foot loft, but also provided a carpentry staff to help build the set.
“It was a pleasure to be able to help with this film,” Koral said. “I know Robert is highly professional and that he was going to cover this subject matter in the right way.”
In addition to establishing the world of lost childhood, the story is also told within the juvenile files of the children followed in the film. “In an effort to take the audience deep inside the stories, we needed to literally go ‘into’ the various folders and documents through a unique, extreme, high-resolution scanning process,” May said.
Koral introduced May to Bob Lizza, whose art image-scanning studio, Lizza Studios, was located within the Koral complex. “Bob is world-renowned and his clients have included the famed graphic designer Milton Glaser and the Vatican,” May said.
An artist who provides very high-resolution large-format reproductions and scanning, Lizza worked closely with May to achieve his vision. Lizza invested in cutting-edge technology and is much sought after for the detailed work he provides. In 2003, he purchased the first Cruise fine arts scanner in the United States, which brought in clients from as far as Australia and China.
“I wanted to achieve Robert’s vision of really delving deep inside those files, of being able to see those paper fibers and more,” Lizza said. “What Robert needed and the technology I provided was the perfect fit. He has a real vision for what he is doing.”
Other locals who provided services for production, included cameraman Walter Lansberry, filmmaker Ricky Rose, scene painter Doug Moore, photographer Tom Musto, Mozip Graphics, Marquis Art & Frame and Canteen 900 among others.
“While this project, though the darkness of the scandal, initially challenged my belief in the area, the vast number of local people and talent that came together in working with our production teams was beyond impressive,” May said. “That plus the efforts currently underway to improve the lives of kids and families in the wake of the scandal, make me proud again to be part of the community.”