September 4, 2018
Though the new school year has just begun, Production 3 students have been working all summer on short films that will screen in a red carpet event this December in the GRW Theater.
The class has one less film than usual this semester, but directors of the five shorts due to show are across the board in themes.
Kelly Tran, a junior cinema production major, is directing “American Love,” an eight minute film about an undocumented immigrant, Maria, who was once protected by the administered program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“It’s really a human story letting the audience understand a new perspective they may not have had of immigrants who live this kind of lifestyle,” Tran said. “For example, at a diner she gets accused of stealing tips. Although this would just make the average person uncomfortable, for Maria, being undocumented, if the police get involved it could be life threatening for her.”
Tran doesn’t intentionally put a political focus in her films, but says it comes naturally when you’re looking at human issues.
“I just focus on human stories, conflicts and issues,” Tran said. “If you care about those things, that often leads to politics. For me, that’s caring for human life and making it better for everyone.”
As a director, Tran does recognize short-form storytelling to be difficult, but feels comfortable about it for this project. This is her tenth film, and is slated to be the longest so far.
“I’m in love with the art of short storytelling,” she said. “It shapes and shreds down to the necessities – the moments you really need.”
Greg Vogt, senior cinema production major and director of “Orgasma,” another Production 3 film, agrees that short films can be a challenge.
“I like to shoot slow burners,” Vogt said. “But with something like this we have to trim off the fat and make sure we get the point across.”
“Orgasma” is an eight-and-a-half minute film with another hispanic female lead, Nina. She’s struggling to deal with sexual issues and the modern societal pressures that accompany them.
“It’s a psychological battle of her trying to break through as a character,” Vogt said. It pushes the boundary on taboo subjects – where it’s not just a drama or a comedy, it’s real life situations that people deal with.”
Vogt chose the script because he wanted to try something new after accumulating a substantial reel in the horror genre. With such a sensitive topic, Vogt made sure he and his crew were on the same page.
“The most difficult part is dealing with a difficult subject matter in a way that people don’t get upset about it and just making sure the crew and actors are comfortable with the topic,” he said. “It has a unique taste that can stand out from the crowd. If we do it right, we can show what great filmmakers we are coming from Pittsburgh.”
Another psychologically-focused film entering the showcase is “Luna,” under the direction of Olivia Busby, junior cinema production major.
The script features Carter, a boy who suffers from amnesia and becomes obsessed with a mysterious, ethereal woman named Luna. The original script was written by Tyler Morris and adapted by Anthony Yoder.
“His obsession takes over every aspect of his life,” Busby said. “It has a real surreal, David Lynch-inspired vibe to it that we were really into. It’s a glimpse into his mind that shows he is really unstable.”
The cast is nearly set, and Busby remembered the moment of the first reading to be a turning point.
“I spent my whole summer with these characters,” Busby said. “Getting these incredible actors into a room, that are almost exactly how I pictured, was one of the most incredible feelings.”
Filmmaking with this crew in particular has taught Busby lessons in collaboration and the potential films have for society.
“I think what I love about filmmaking is that it is such an immersive artform that combined other artforms into one,” she said. “You can’t do it alone. When you find people that are on the same page as you, it’s a beautiful, collaborative thing.”
Ethan Green, junior cinema production major and director of “Almost Dead,” was also drawn to filmmaking for the human connection aspect.
“As a kid, I was always trying to entertain people,” Green said. “My start in filming was making stupid little videos with my friends and they were all based around having fun and being goofy. It’s a lot of testing, trial and error and reading the audience.”
“Almost Dead” is a comedy about two sisters trying to bring their punk band back into the limelight. The twist? They’re both in their sixties.
Green created a “lookbook” over the summer to help his cast and crew better envision the look he was aiming for in this film. Decorative pages filled with costume designs and cast ideas took hours for Green to complete, with help from a cousin.
“This was fun to put together,” Green said. “It was the first time I did a lookbook and it’s definitely something I’m hoping to implement. Art was always something I loved so it didn’t feel like work for me.”
Green’s brother, Anton, is also helping out with the project.
“Music is definitely going to be a huge part of this,” Green said. “For all of my films in school I’ve worked with my younger brother, who produces music for me. He’s producing the theme song for this movie.”
Familial collaboration was also a part of “The Magic Words,” under the direction of Domenic Porcari, junior cinema production major. The film focuses on a young, downtrodden J.K. Rowling and how she was inspired to write the “Harry Potter” series.
“At the time, I hadn’t actually read Harry Potter – blasphemous, I know,” Porcari said. “My 13-year-old sister had and she loves them all. I was kind of struggling because she hit that age where she definitely wasn’t a little girl anymore. I’ve been praying for a way to reconnect with Sophia.”
When the script came up, Porcari jumped at the opportunity to direct the ambitious project. Sophia has become an integral part of the crew, reading scripts and offering feedback.
Though the crew is ahead of schedule, the idea almost didn’t have a chance to happen in the first place.
“It’s the most ambitious project anyone at Point Park has ever undertaken,” Porcari said. “There were a lot of production concerns – taking place on a train, the magical effects – things that don’t seem quite practical to film.”
The university nearly stopped the project before it started.
“As a massive Harry Potter fan, our producer and original screenwriter, Matt Marucci, basically said that if he couldn’t produce the script, he was going to drop out of the program.”
With Porcari’s previous intention of pursuing engineering, he has a technical skill-set that assisted in bringing the magic to life.
The hardest part is convincing people we are prepared to do this,” Porcari said. “I think it’s doable and we are well on our way.”
All five directors are confident in their cast and crew bringing to life scripts that really mean something to their audience – a common thread between five different themes.
“It’s like stepping into another world, cathartic and magical,” Busby said. “Seeing people react to it- particularly when it’s something personal to you- is a wonderful form of human connection that I feel grateful I’m able to do.”
The Production 3 class, taught by professor Hanjin Park, will hold its annual showcase Dec. 14 at the GRW Theater.