By Peter Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor
Each year, film students at LIU Post register for a group class called Production Lab, with the goal of creating a quality short film around 10 to 15 minutes long. Peers break up into three or four groups, assigning roles such as film producer, editor, cinematographer, director, writer and production designer. The college provides a budget of $1000 to go towards costs such as equipment and casting outside of resources provided by the film department itself. The most recent class, instructed by Professor Susan Zeig, has made strides in fundraising on their own.
“The production is coming along well,” said junior Jessica Reyes, who is producing the sci-fi fantasy film “My Friend John.” “Our crowdfunding campaign with Kickstarter finished recently and it went better than any of us could have imagined. We raised a total of $2,500 and had 85 people back our project.”
The “My Friend John” group consists of writer/director junior Henry Arroyo, producers Reyes and junior Ava Gramin, production designer junior Mabel Santos Haugen, cinematographer senior Andrew Barell and editor junior Samuel Askland Gordon. With an initial goal of $2000, the group maintained an online presence by reaching out to friends and family for support. In the final two weeks of fundraising, the flow of donations was slow.
Kickstarter.com, a site that has been used to raise millions of dollars for independent art projects, requires the target goal to be reached, or else all funds are forfeit. Luckily, a rush of funds came in the last week, pushing “My Friend John” above its goal by $500.
Reyes was happily surprised by the amount of unknown funders who backed the project for $100 or more. “It was a great confidence boost,” she said. “[As a student filmmaker], it’s very easy to feel discouraged or insecure about what you’re doing. Knowing you have so many people on your side pushes you to work harder and get the best possible product you can.”
“My Friend John” is yet to set shooting dates, but is narrowing down casting for their main character, the eight-year-old Gio. The film tells the story of the boy, the abusive relationship with his father, and his imaginary friend John, an astronaut who becomes more real than he thought. “It’s hard enough getting anybody to audition for a student film,” added Reyes, “But finding a child actor who meets our character description has been tough. We are still in the process of looking, but we aren’t a group to give up so easily.”
Despite the hardship, Reyes is confident in her group. “I think our strength as a group is our passion and unwillingness to compromise with anything less than we want,” she said. “It can be difficult at times to have six passionate and opinionated people [working together], but it definitely makes us a better team–we have one goal in mind, and that’s to make a film we can be proud of.”
The group was able to secure a deal with the Cradle of Aviation in Uniondale for the use of a real astronaut suit. “I think for me that was a personal victory,” said Reyes. “It was something that seemed impossible, but now with our project funded, it’s a reality. I guess it’s one small step for us, but one giant leap for student filmmaking at this school.”
“My Friend John” was not the only production lab film to raise money. Already partially shot, using Hillwood Commons and the Kahn Building as locations, the group for the film “Love Less Naked” was able to raise $800 through IndieGoGo. The site is similar to Kickstarter, except that fundraisers are able to keep all of the money given, even if a target goal is not reached. “Love Less Naked” is a satirical romantic comedy short, focused on the awkward college-aged Bert (played by actor Darius Copland) whose idealistic view of love conflicts with his pursuit of his dream girl.
Junior Candace Rizkowsky is the producer of “Love Less Naked,” tasked with resolving logistical issues such as securing equipment rentals, location, and generally making sure the production is working within the confines of their budget. That isn’t to say everything has been smooth sailing. “We hit a major challenge on the last day of our first shooting weekend,” said Rizkowsky. “We were surprisingly double booked for a space with an orchestra.” The group was forced to move from the first to the third floor of Hillwood Commons, rewriting a portion of the script to accommodate the change.
Other challenges have included the weather and camera logistics. Recent snowstorms have altered shooting dates for several student film projects, including those shooting their thesis films, and those in production lab. Consequently, dates have been pushed back, and camera rentals at the film department equipment room had to be reevaluated. “Love Less Naked” will commence shooting from Feb. 7 to 9, in Hillwood Commons.
Rizkowsky is not daunted by the trials and tribulations of film sets and is hopeful for the future of “Love Less Naked.” “We really want to be able to send this film to local festivals,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure at first if we could make it to an accordingly high enough level [of quality] for that, but after seeing the material from our first shoot, I believe we could actually win one. I think it will turn out to be a really good film.”