The Three-Day Film Challenge
The digital film program at Packer has taken off since the arrival of Michael Miller, esteemed digital video (DV), teacher, nearly 20 years ago. Nowhere is his influence more evident than Packer’s recent involvement with the NYC three-day film challenge, in which students plan a movie and have to only three days to film their movie at various locations in the city.
Spearheading this year’s efforts are Olivia Weseley (‘19) and Adam Kaplan (‘19), although they have been joined by eight dedicated students from all Upper School grades and with varying levels of experience and ability. Olivia has already established her reputation at Packer as a passionate filmmaker, having created her own film festival, in addition to those in which she participates. Adam, while relatively new to the Packer film scene, shares Olivia’s love of film. They worked together on last year’s entry, Twonk Boy.
Last year, each movie was inspired by the phrase “The Last…,” and the prompt for this year’s competition is, “The Art of…”
“[For the past few weeks] we’ve been having meetings every day after school,” said Olivia. “We’re really on a crunch to start finishing the script so we can start doing the other stuff, like planning out shots.” All this prep work will serve to make the transition into filming smoother.
While missing three days of school to shoot their movie may risk putting the participants at an academic disadvantage, especially so early in the year, Olivia emphasized that the production process provides students with a valuable experience.
“You spend those three days making a movie,” she said, “which is super cool because, in normal film class, which we’re really lucky to have at Packer, you work on movies one period at a time, which isn’t really how professional movies are made.”
Adam agreed. “I was drawn to this because I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice film in a much more stressed environment,” he said, “which is what you would see a lot more on a higher quality production set.”
The filming process will doubtlessly be rewarding, but also highly stressful. Adam recalled last year when filming Twonk Boy. “We were up at seven in the morning and working till midnight,” he said.
Everyone working on the movie is eager to start filming, but some of the returning students are increasingly conscious of how the judges choose winners, particularly considering some of last year’s finalists.
The panel’s sorting “makes it easy to dismiss [a submission’s] crazy, hilarious, fun ideas just because the movie’s not technically proficient,” said Olivia. “I don’t think it’s good that anyone would ever feel discouraged about following some crazy idea just because it might be a little harder to make, because personally I think the unique, fun idea is the most important thing, and then the technical stuff should fall into place as you grow into skill level.”
Even though they knew the competition was going to be highly competitive, Olivia and Adam were still disappointed that Twonk Boy failed to make last year’s Top Ten.
“We all were pretty invested in our movie last year because we had been working on it for so long, so I think we were all really surprised when it wasn’t even a finalist. But then, after thinking about it, I was really happy with our movie, because I thought the one that won was really cookie cutter,” said Olivia.
When asked about their goals for this year’s film Adam said, “We do still want to maintain a humorous edge. We’re calling [this year’s submission] a ‘dramedy,’ so there will definitely be a lot more drama and serious tones in it, but we still want to have a lot of visual jokes and humor.”
“[Our film] is about an artist and a child,” said newcomer Luke Van Horn (‘19), “and they have a nice relationship and he becomes a father figure. It’s based in New York City, so other high schools are coming from around the country but we can stay right here. We can think of the idea beforehand and write the whole script, but then we have to film it and edit it in those three days.”
Anyone who’s ever attempted to shoot a film understands the challenges of getting it right. To do so in three days, however, among a crew of people of talent and vision, regardless of whether Packer’s submission wins an award or not, is an award unto itself.