Film club writes, shoots first film ‘12-31-82’


Cassettes lay strewn across the bed, old records pinned to the walls. The blinds angled downward just enough to create a soft, shadowy atmosphere. Several students were scattered throughout the cramped room, making last-minute lighting and prop adjustments so that the scene looked exactly as they had visualized it. Evan Schlusselberg (12) sat comfortably on the bed, getting pointers on his last take and waiting for his next cue.

Finally, with everything set into place and the cameras rolling, director Nathan Xia (12) called out “action,” and the scene unfolded.

Westview Filmmakers Society, otherwise known as film club, turned its vision into a reality, Feb. 10. After months of preparing, collaborating and organizing, co-presidents Kyle Petrie (12) and Blake Parker (10), alongside director Xia and a small group of cast and crew members, shot a short film called “12-31-82.” Taking place in the early 1980s, the film features a man whose life is controlled by the music that plays through his Walkman cassette player. Xia, who came up with the idea for the film, said that it satirizes our generation and the way we fall into trends and conformity.

“Our club [aims to] make movies about things we think are important,” Xia said. “We find things that we think need to be said and we tell compelling stories about them. If [the film] changes someone’s perspective on something, then you know you did the job right.”

At the beginning of the school year, the club members set out to achieve their long-term goal of transferring their production skills into an actual film. Xia said that whether it was an interest in directing, screenwriting, cinematography, acting, editing, or producing, every person working on this project contributed to a certain aspect of filmmaking and brought something unique to the crew.

“Making movies is definitely not easy,” Xia said. “It’s a very difficult task that requires a lot of passion and commitment to succeed, but we’ve been blessed with a phenomenal team. We have people working together who all care, and that empowers me to bring out a lot more potential in what we’re making.”

Xia developed his idea into reality by collaborating with Petrie, the film’s screenwriter. Applying the skills he learned from a playwriting summer course, Petrie experimented with the dialogue to align it with the essential theme of the film.

“I thought it was interesting that you could craft an entire story and reveal so much about a character simply through their words, as opposed to a backstory or description of them,” Petrie said.

With the script finished in mid-October, Xia and Parker collaborated on storyboarding the script, sketching out the camera angles for each scene and discussing what kinds of shots would influence and enhance the overall storytelling.

“I take his thoughts and turn them into something a little more comprehensible,” Parker said.

Meanwhile, other crew members began to cast auditions for actors, find locations for shooting, and dig up old props. As this was a student production, all of the equipment was supplied by the cast and crew members involved in the film. Some members had experience in a certain aspect of filmmaking, such as Parker, who specializes in cinematography and used his own professional studio lights, camera and tripod. Others, like producer Jenna Dicarlo (12), contributed by digging up old props and costumes to help set the scene as realistically as possible.

“Production is the key to telling the story, and because our story is set in the ’80s, the costumes and props and location are especially important,” Parker said.

Though the club only had five scenes to film, the five-minute film took more than nine hours collectively. Shooting a scene at one location took anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours, depending on the amount of equipment needed for that scene.

Behind a simple 10-second scene of the main character walking down a dirt path was an entire hour of blocking and reshooting different angles to elicit a certain mood.

“An actor could be like “What if I tried this?’ and we try it out, and the cinematographer says, “How about we try this?” and you get shots and aspects of the story that you wouldn’t get by just working on the script in your room,” Xia said.

As director, Xia looked for continuity and realism, as well as focusing on overall aesthetics to capture the essence of the film. While still sticking to the gist of the storyboard, Xia was also open to trying new things on set with the cast and crew.

“Magical things happen when you’re there on set and everyone’s just innovating and throwing out different ideas,” Xia said. “It’s a creative field where anything is possible.”

After a couple hours of shooting the necessary scenes at one location, the crew would pack up their equipment and move to the next location, where the process would begin all over again. Though shooting took longer than expected, Film Club persisted, determined to finish shooting all of the scenes that day.

“We’ve been working really hard to make sure [filming] does happen,” Petrie said. “This is something that I’ve personally wanted to do since the end of my sophomore year, and this is my last year to do it.”

Originally, in 2016, film club started out as a club where people could collaborate to produce student-made films. At its peak, there had been more than 50 members. In the first few weeks, they made presentations breaking down certain cinematic aspects of movies. In the following weeks, the original presidents, Xia and Petrie, chose ideas and split into four groups to create their first films.

However, things fell flat. Some members weren’t able to commit to the hours that went into making a film. Some had been given much work while others had no work at all, and as a result many casual members left the club.

“Our first year was like trial and error,” Parker said. “We learned that a lot of people fell short of their responsibility. We decided the best approach would be to collaborate on one big film as a whole.”

Soon, the club dwindled down to a group of eight-to-12 members, each of whom had a passion and a purpose for contributing to the film. Though a smaller group meant more individual responsibility, the remaining members were dedicated enough to handle and maintain the workload. This core group took Xia’s idea for “12-31-82” and built upon it for months, finalizing plans to film before winter break.

However, several scheduling issues arose and their plans were set back once again.

“The club sort of stalled for a while during break, and there were a couple of times throughout this year that I thought it wasn’t going to happen,” Petrie said. “We almost lost faith in a meeting about three weeks ago when we discussed the future of this club.”

Though they were discouraged by the continuous organization mishaps and scheduling conflicts, the exec board continued to motivate the remaining members to not lose sight of their vision.

“At times when [filming] became got put at the last of our priorities, I feel like I’ve always been there to keep trying to revamp it and get the team back on track at the end of the day, no matter what problems happen,” Parker said.

Film club came into 2018 with a new mentality—come rain or shine, the club was determined to finish shooting their film by February.

“We were so close before, and I knew I was going to regret it if the film didn’t end up happening,” Petrie said. “So we came back after winter break with a renewed willpower and focus in what we’re doing. When things went wrong in the past, we’d try to rework it to fit it into our original plan, but now if something went wrong we just scrapped it and moved on.”

Operating under this new mindset, film club worked nonstop 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. After about 10 hours of filming, they still had a couple more shots to film, so they decided to meet the following week and finish the few remaining shots. After that, the only thing left is the editing process, and soon film club will have its debut student production.

With their ambitions set high, film club doesn’t plan on stopping with “12-31-82.” Petrie said that the club was originally created with the purpose of being a creative outlet for those interested in filmmaking, but they hope to enter their films in festivals, competitions, and potentially host an end-of-the-year school screening in the theater.

“I’m proud of the headway we’re making as a club,” Petrie said. “I’m really happy that it’s worked out, and we definitely hope to make more films in the future.”