Surrounded by shelves upon shelves of DVDs, with the Great Directors section to his left and Cult Classics to his right, 17-year-old filmmaker Caden Rodems-Boyd reflected on the challenges of making a feature-length movie while just a junior in high school.
“It was really, really difficult,” he said, looking out at a small but rapt audience of fellow high school students who had gathered at Best Video on Whitney Avenue on Tuesday night.
“It was really frustrating, and really tiring, and ultimately a huge pain in the ass. But it was also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I learned so much from it, and I guarantee that any movies you guys make, even if they’re only 5 minutes long, will be worth it because of what you learn by making them.”
On the screen behind him, rough sketches and storyboards that he had drawn years before making his movie dissolved into photographs from the final shoot, documenting a proudly unique vision come to life in the form of a 1 hour and 42 minute cyborg-buddy drama called Ace.
Rodems-Boyd, a rising senior at Educational Center for the Arts, was one of five local filmmakers tapped to present at Best Video as part of a workshop called “The Nuts and Bolts of Making Movies.” The session, which was put together in anticipation of a new student film festival organized by Best Video and scheduled for this upcoming November, provided expert introductions to the fundamentals of the art form, from pre-production to continuity editing, focusing on the technical skills and aesthetic vocabulary required to making high-quality movies in the digital age.
Now that Best Video has successfully transitioned into its status as a non-profit, the Hamden-based video rental store/cafe/performance venue is looking to bolster its value as a practical and educational resource for young filmmakers in the community. The first major initiative that they’re taking to help realize that mission is through the BestFest Student Film Festival, which will offer a venue for high school students from New Haven, East Haven, West Haven, Hamden, North Haven, Woodbridge, and Orange to submit and present their work.
Tuesday night’s session, which ran from 7 to just after 9 p.m., was the first step in preparing student filmmakers for that festival, bringing together a handful of experts to share tips, best practices, and a wealth of personal and professional anecdotes.
The New Haven-based documentary filmmaker Gorman Bechard opened the session with a presentation on pre-production: all of the planning and preparation that has to happen before anyone gets near a camera or a set.
Bechard, who organized a similar panel at this year’s New Haven Documentary Film Festival, where he serves as co-founder and co-director, had plenty of advice for what not to overlook when making a movie on a small budget. At the top of that list: buy batteries and water in bulk; have everyone’s phone number easily accessible; and make sure that your cast and crew are well fed.
“Here’s a great example of what to do and what not to do,” he said, smiling as he thought back to a moment of savvy low-budget filmmaking. “I was on a shoot down in Alabama, and a really good friend of mine, who was working as a cinematographer on a big film crew at the time, posted on his Facebook page their lunch for the day: His picture was of a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise, a loaf of Wonderbread, and a package of Oscar Mayer’s sandwich meat. To which I replied with a photo of what we were eating: eggs benedict and waffles with caramelized bananas on top. You’re not going to get anyone to work when you’re feeding them crap. It’s the smallest part of your budget, but you can really use it wisely.”
Building off the notion that the size of a filmmaker’s budget is less important than how she uses it, each subsequent presenter walked the audience through a different fundamental of the filmmaking process, reminding the students in attendance that quality movies come as much from experience and understanding as they do from cash in hand.
Jay Miles, who teaches classes in digital media and video production at East Haven High School, focused on sound recording. “The audience is going to experience your movie through their ears,” he cautioned, “and they will bail on you after 30 seconds if the sound is hissy and hummy and crackly and garbage.”
Co-op High School’s Robb Blocker followed with an introduction to the way that filmmakers tell their stories visually, demonstrating different types of shots and camera angles, and momentarily transforming Best Video’s fluorescent lecture space into a dramatically lit movie set.
Quinnipiac University professor and documentary filmmaker Becky Abbott rounded out the series of expert presentations with a deep dive into Adam Davidson’s 1990 short film ““The Lunch Date,” breaking down the way that a director translates a two-dimensional, written script into a three-dimensional narrative composed of diverse sounds and moving images.
At the end of the night, Rodems-Boyd took the stage to complete the circle from pre-production to editing, from planning to filming and then moving on to the next project with the valuable memory of mistakes still fresh in mind. As a student filmmaker looking forward to making his second feature, he encouraged the students in attendance to keep challenging themselves to make their first.
“You can study and prepare and watch a million movies and none of it is going to give you the experience that actually going out and making a film will give you,” he concluded. “Making mistakes, failing, succeeding, all of it will make you a better artist. In the end, you can make the worst short film you’ve ever seen. That doesn’t matter. If you wanted to make it, and if you learned from it, then it was worth making.”
The BestFest Student Film Festival is scheduled for November 2017. To learn more about the festival and related upcoming events, go to http://www.bestvideo.com/student-film-festival/ or send an email to email@example.com.