Film students take risks with action for their short film final projects

Amelia French on set, Photo by Caleb Cleland

Amelia French on set, Photo by Caleb Cleland

Choreographed fighting sequences, arson, explosions and murder are major plot points in a few of the short films that film majors are working on for their final projects of the quarter in Production III. Junior film students Dylan Hanson, Amelia French and Dillan Ferguson detailed their film-making processes to The Observer. 

As the academic year draws to a close, film students begin wrapping up their film projects, ready to show the world what they’ve made.

According to film professor Micheal Caldwell, his favorite part of watching his students work on their films is the pre-production stages, where anything is possible. 

“There haven’t been any compromises,” Caldwell said. “There haven’t been any mistakes. They’re starting out fresh and anything is possible. So the whole process is full of optimism and hope. Oh my god, we’re gonna set the world on fire with this movie.”

According to Caldwell, it’s essential for film students to produce their own films and works in order to learn the process.

“There’s something completely transformative,” Caldwell said. “It’s easy to sit back and look at the work of others and comment and criticize. We do that all the time. It’s completely different when you put yourself in the shoes of the creative.”

Dylan Hanson- Dead South

Hanson’s tentatively titled short film, “Dead South”, is an eight-minute action short about a young man who, as Hanson described it, keeps getting roped into a fight he doesn’t want to be in. Hanson said his professor Phan Tran described Hanson’s film as “muscular filmmaking.”

“I think what he [Tran] meant is in terms of pushing the boundaries and limits of what you and your crew can do,” Hanson said.

According to Hanson, this was one of the hardest films he’s shot. One of the reasons was due to the choreographed fighting sequences and few crew members he had. Hanson said, including himself, there were on average a total of four crew members working on the film. 

Hanson bought most of the props, costumes and extra items for the film from Goodwill, spending roughly $200 out of pocket for the movie. According to Hanson, the department only provided filming equipment.

Hanson cited schedule coordination and location as two major challenges he faced while preparing for the movie.

“I was trying to get some more people to help with crew,” Hanson said. “Some of their schedules just didn’t line up with ours at the time we wanted to do it.”

Hanson also cited filmmakers George Miller and Sam Raimi and horror manga artist Junji Ito as inspirations for the short.

“The short’s very graphic but it’s not super realistic,” Hanson said. “It’s not necessarily super over the top, but it’s very stylized.”

Hanson credited the rest of the crew and members of the cast for taking on multiple roles on set each day, including makeup effects, prop making and sound operating. In addition to directing and writing the short, Hanson choreographed the fight scenes and did editing and sound mixing. 

“The way I choreographed, it’s pretty simplistic beats,” Hanson said. “It’s almost like dancing where someone throws a jab, punch, you know, it’s a real scrappy fight. We hope to infuse a little bit of scrappiness into it. For this short, it’s like we’re telling a mini story inside of a bigger one. It really is like you’re being dropped in the middle of a story. And there’s a definite end to the short film.”

Amelia French-Firebug 

French’s short, “Firebug”, is a drama thriller about a young man with a dark fascination with fire, who unknowingly murders his brother and alters the lives of many in the process, as described in the logline.

“It’s a little bit dark,” French said. “But it’s very artsy.”

French said she wanted to explore arson after watching a “Criminal Minds” episode about arson and a YouTube video about firefighters discussing their experiences with different fires.  

“No one has really done a full psychiatric look into an arsonist’s mind, especially a young boy that has a somewhat normal family,” French said. “So, I just thought that was something fun that I could explore.”

In addition to writing and directing the short, this is also French’s first time producing.

“This short specifically taught me a lot about the producing side of filmmaking because I had never produced before,” French said. “So coming up with a budget, scheduling everything out, location scouting, all of the contracts. I did all of that and I’m kind of proud of myself for doing that, because it was a lot. That’s probably the most prep work was the producing side of it.”

On a budget of about $300 to $400, French bought props from Amazon and made some of the costumes, with the actors providing most of the clothes.

French said a few challenges she faced included managing time amidst a very tight filming schedule and finding production assistants. French also initially had trouble finding a barn to use for a scene in which the main character sets a barn on fire.

“So we had a couple of different actual fires for the short,” French said. “Most of those were at the house. And then for the barn scene, we just used a smoke machine and then lighting effects to try and emulate the fire look.”

French described her filmmaking style as having big production value and big visuals. French cited Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve as two filmmakers who inspire her love for big spectacle films. French shared her advice for aspiring film students.  

“I would say even if you think that you’re not going to be able to accomplish something, try anyways,” French said. “As long as you put in the effort and your heart is in the right place. All the rest is meaningless, just as long as you’re following your passion. That’s all that really matters.”

Junior film major Dillan Ferguson, who is also in Production III, did not write a short for the final project but worked on editing for two shorts including French’s.

“Editing is sort of my forte,” Ferguson said. “It’s the best skill that I can really bring to a group. So being able to edit my team members’ projects that they worked really hard on is stressful, but definitely really fun.”

Ferguson shared their advice for aspiring editors.

“I know that’s the most basic advice I could possibly give,” Ferguson said. “But I have five years of doing this now. And it started with doing weird little projects in high school. It was making trailers out of random clips I found out on YouTube, and it takes a lot of drive and a lot of technical knowledge, but anyone can do it.”

Ferguson also shared a piece of advice they took away from Tran.

“He said to be reckless, take risks and break rules,” Ferguson said. “I definitely feel like the more we’re getting comfortable with the filmmaking process, the more we are trying to break the rules and not really take no for an answer. If there’s an obstacle, we face it instead of trying to go around.”