When Jennifer Hersey registered for Intermediate Film Production, she never imagined she would be making a science-fiction movie, where her group would use the MIT Haystack Observatory as a set.
More commonly known as Film II, Intermediate Film Production is a course where students work with all aspects of movies, including pre-production tasks, shooting, and editing the entire project.
“Students are expected to work in crews, usually of four, where responsibilities are shared,” said Jared Gordon, who has taught 10 semesters of Film II. “These are exhaustive efforts, and I expect that they will rely on each other. Everyone has an opportunity to put their own creative stamp on the project.”
The Film: Particles, a science-fiction story that combines a particle accelerator, time travel, and love.
The Challenge: Produced in spring 2014, the crew filmed for six days, usually leaving Emerson in the early morning and returning well after midnight. As filming took place in the middle of March, outdoor scenes brought the challenges of the cold.
“We shot for two weekends instead of one, and barely slept. It was definitely a learning experience, but a lot of fun,” said Hersey, a visual and media arts major and Particles producer. “Also, I think our film showed that more money doesn’t make anything easier.”
The budget for Particles was unusual for an average student project, Hersey said. Hersey said the group spent a total of $12,000, which came out of the four group members’ own pockets. They went without fundraising, Hersey said, which is the usual route students take. This money went to film processing costs, additional camera equipment, and general expenses.
The Film: Cheeto Fingers, a short film about a messy situation.
The Challenges: This film deals with the question of what to do when Cheeto dust is left on your fingers: Do you wipe your hands on your pants or lick your fingers?
The group just finished filming in mid-March. This crew also struggled with the cold temperatures, as filming outside was a key part of the shoot. Annie Martens, the director of photography, said they also shot in a convenience store, where it was cramped and hard to block out the loud noises from machines inside. Possibly the biggest problem on set though was faulty equipment. Martens said their tripod from the Equipment Distribution Center, one of the most important pieces in making a film, was broken.
“[Film II] is a great opportunity for those that have an idea for a movie,” she said. “People also need to know that it is extremely difficult and things don’t always go as planned.”
The Film: Second Star to the Right is the story of Emma, an eight-year-old girl, who turns to her “protector,” Jackie, to help solve the problems of her difficult home life.
The Challenges: The largest challenge that this crew faced was a complete casting change, on the day of shooting.
“One of our lead actors just started bleeding from his eyes the day of shooting,” said sophomore María Lasalle, editor for Second Star to the Right. “He ended up having conjunctivitis.”
One of the production assistants on set happened to have acting experience. She filled in, turning the character Jack into Jackie.
Another new experience for this group was working with a child actor, according to Lasalle, a visual and media arts major. She said the shooting days were long, and they worked hard to keep her entertained. While most film sets provide food for their actors, they had coloring books and crayons on hand for their nine-year-old actor.
“The child actor was great,” said sophomore Kaycee Hendricks, sound and assistant editor. “She had a big personality and sometimes it took a little bit to focus her, but I think overall we were prepared for the worst. We were pleasantly surprised.”
The Film: A Little Wild, a film about a boy named Travis who seeks love advice from a zoo parking lot attendant that shows a journey to trust your inner instincts, just as animals do.
The Challenges: The team behind A Little Wild was inspired to make this film based on a true story of a parking attendant at the Bristol Zoo in the United Kingdom, according to Stephanie Battista, visual and media arts major and the film’s director. A simple outdoor shoot on Boston Common would not do for this group, so they decided to film at the Franklin Park Zoo, tying in the animalistic theme of its script.
“It was relatively easy to get permission to film at the zoo,” said Battista. “We had a zoo attendant with us at all times, and the only place we couldn’t film was in staff-only areas.”
This group was another to work with a child actor, as one of their main characters is a little boy.
“We also worked with kids, which was exciting and challenging,” said Battista. “They were great though, and we were lucky to have them.”
The crew faced the routine filming challenges, even though they were surrounded by animals. Working around windy and rainy conditions was one of the biggest challenges, especially using expensive camera equipment. A Little Wild premieres at the end of the semester.