An inside look at three films premiering at the 2016 Turick Screenings

KRISTEN ORDONEZ

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Next week, the senior students of the Florham Campus’ film department will host a thesis night to display projects on which they have been working over the past year.

Their films will be shown at the event, presented by FDU and FDUFilms, and held at the East Hanover AMC Theater at 6:30 p.m. on May 3. Not every student has his or her own film, however, all students worked on films in some capacity.

Three students from the thesis class took the opportunity to talk to The Pillar and give an inside look at the class and the films each of them worked on.

Sebastian Murillo, a film and animation major at FDU with a concentration in directing, has been working on his film “Endurance,” for only a short period of time.

“This story was not something I had intended to do. I was working on another project that I was originally invested in, which was called ‘Timespace Stress,’ which was like an Amblin-Spielbergian type movie, but unfortunately things fell through. However, during the winter break, I started working out and many of themes that are in the film were [things] that I was thinking about. I just said to myself ‘would it be interesting to just make a short film being in the confined location’ [like a gym]? And things went from there.”

Murillo described “Endurance” as a short film about a man named Jamie, “a quiet, confused, and highly motivated guy who is doing one simple task: jogging one mile on the treadmill without stopping or altering the speed of the treadmill so he can work out and lose weight.” Throughout the run, he gets a call from his friend Ashley, and according to Murillo, “as the call is progressing it is soon revealed that Jamie is jogging for a different reason.”

Murillo said that pre-production took only about two or three weeks. “For the script it took one week, and eight revisions for the script to be finalized. With casting it took one week to get the actors.”

Murillo found his actors on Backstage.com and raved about working with them, saying they were both “beyond fantastic!” And as getting the cast together was easy, finding crew members was slightly more difficult at first, but Murillo turned it around in the end.

“I had the best people working on it,” Murillo said.

The whole film will be about 15-16 minutes long. Murillo was very positive about the whole experience, even if it was rocky at the start.

“Initially everyone was weirded out that I would change my thesis, after spending my last semester on another project. However once people started seeing the footage and film being compiled, it is turning out to be great. In most film shoots there are going to be problems and obstacles that you have to go through. However, I would want to make it clear that the film went really well. Every start will always be bumpy, but by the end it always ends with smiles.”

Natalie Phillips is a graduate of FDU with a BA in film production, and minors in both history and British studies. Phillips started the film thesis class in the spring of 2015 and is showing her film along with the other current seniors in the class.

Her film, “The Chicken Farmer,” is based on a short story written by a friend of hers that she read in the fall of 2013.

“My roommate, Danielle MacConnell, wrote a beautiful short story and I was so intrigued by the folklore of the actual chicken farmer rock and the fictional characters she created to carry out a new backstory to that folklore. I wanted to develop it and create a full cinematic tale about this. The characters mean a lot to me and so does the story. The script is very different from the original prose story but everything I changed I discussed with Danielle and together we’ve created a really great story that is going to be meaningful to me for forever,” said Phillips.

When describing the process to get the film up and going, Phillips emphasized how long everything took.

“I specifically hand picked every member of my crew because I knew the travel and amount of work could only be on people I really knew and trusted. Then we did our indiegogo, successfully raising about $4,700. We did a few rounds of casting and ended up with all FDU actors, which I am so thankful for because I think outside actors would have made the dynamic on set more awkward.”

Phillips also said one of the hardest parts of making the movie was having enough funds to make the audience feel like they were in a different time, specifically the 1950s and ’70s when the movie is set.

“The art direction for this film had the largest chunk of the budget because we were making a period piece,” she said.

Though the process was “long,” she said they finally finished filming this past fall after starting pre-production in January of 2015.

“The filming was long and tiring, but so well worth it. We had a great and organized dynamic on-set that allowed us to film about 20 script pages in less than a week, all the while in a different state and essentially bumming it. It was thanks to my cast and crew that everything went so incredibly well,” said Phillips.

Samantha Brandt, a senior film major with a theater arts minor, is the director and co-producer of her thesis film “Sticks and Bones.” Like other film majors, Brandt was not sure in the beginning about what project she would take on.

“At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to do a thesis,” Brandt said. “I didn’t feel like I was good enough to take on this type of project. But with the help of a few good friends, I agreed to give it a try.”

“Sticks and Bones” is a film set in a dystopian world and features four characters. The main character, Toni, “plans to kill the Colonel, the man responsible for creating such a world, with the help of her brother Argent, and his best friend, Mink Foot. When Argent and Mink Foot kidnap the Colonel’s daughter, Toni decides to take matters into her own hands.”

According to Brandt, the film had many difficulties in the beginning.

“The script, I felt, was not well received at first. As it began to develop, however, my class understood the direction we were going in, and were able to provide constructive criticism. Though [Howard] Libov was helpful throughout the production process, my classmates were the ones that really made the difference in the film’s story and execution.”

The film was shot between Jan. 5 and March 20, and though the process was riddled with complications, Brandt said she is very satisfied overall.

“Our cast did a phenomenal job! In spite of the issues, they were very supportive, wanting to make ‘Sticks and Bones’ the best it could be. Each of my actors brought something new to the table, making my work with them just a little easier. The crew was probably just as fantastic. We were fortunate enough to have had students from both FDU and Montclair State University.”

Libov is a film professor and has taught the senior level thesis class for about 10 years.

He explained that the way the class is structured is generally “to develop and place student generated work into production, where the choice of topic or script is entirely up to the students.”

“As to how the material is developed, that is where the tug of war begins. If students are to become more than technicians, they have to try their skills at being the ‘filmmaker’ first,” said Libov.

Though this method usually produces between eight and 12 films every year, Libov said that if he could change anything about the way the class progresses, he would alter the development schedule to be “slightly faster.”

“Films improve when scripts are re-written, when productions plan extensively … audiences offer a way for the filmmakers to see, and to feel, if moments are working as designed. And, with time, you can usually find ways to fix most things that need looking after,” said Libov.

When grading the films, Libov has certain criteria that he hopes the students meet, which includes gauging how he responds to the film “as a fan,” looking over the prep work and whether it has been “done well.” He also looks to see how hard the students have worked.

“This doesn’t just mean the number of hours, but also the listening skills, trying to solve dramatic problems in the script, or solving issues that arise in the rough cut, etc. … I don’t always care what solution is found, but look to see that folks are open to recognizing where issues may be, and to find a solution; that’s a big item,” he said.

Each of the students also had ideas about how they would like to change the class structure, if they could.

“I would have wished I’d spread it out over a year rather than having everything in one semester and maybe spending more time rehearsing with the actors,” said Murillo.

Brandt agreed by saying she would have liked more time for pre-production, adding that she “also would have invested in an assistant director.”

“I would change a lot of the dynamic and support system. I feel like we need to advertise more and think about the greater end of ‘thesis night’ versus the individual projects so much,” said Phillips.

These three students have big ambitions after May 3, both for themselves and for their final products. Most said they would like to enter them into film festivals and to get the original score of their films.

Murillo said after he completes his degree he’d like to focus on a career in film and work on as many film positions as he can. Phillips said her goals are “all over the place.”

“One minute I want to be a Hollywood editor, then a writer, then sometimes a director. Other times I want to work for the NFL and others I want to be in the art department with prop design and wardrobe. There are endless possibilities,” she said.

Brandt said she plans to get her union card as a lighting technician in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

“It’ll take a few years, but I’m determined to get there,” she said.

Tickets for thesis night are $5 and will be on sale this entire week. People can also order them online at http://www.myfdu.net/fdufilm.

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