Lights Camera Action!

Film festival features eight local filmmakers

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A group of students shuffle around a room, directing each other, all offering valuable insights. Though young, each of these talented artists brings something to the table — or rather, the set. These are University of North Alabama film students, and in several months time, their hard work will pay off in the form of a degree.

Better still, their work was featured in the annual George Lindsey Film Festival March 1-3.

Every year, people from around the world submit their work into the festival, which features a variety of screenings and panels.

This year, eight alumni will have their work screened — Amandalyn Dorner, Paige McCay, Colton McCormick, Javarice Moody, Bri Palmer, Austin Parsons, Daichi Shigematsu and Shaq Shoulders.

UNA film students work together on set.

UNA film students work together on set.

As seniors, film students are required to work on a thesis project. This film, also called a practicum, demonstrates their skills and provides them with examples to add to their portfolio, which can launch them into a fast-moving industry.

Throughout college, each film student had to work together on sets as a team. This allowed each of them to grow in their particular roles and grow together as a “film fam.” Everyone learned to find which role on set they were best at, and from there they grew and learned together.

Javarice Moody, who wrote and directed “Kima’s Cafe,” said there were many heroes on his set who helped create the end product. Everyone took on a specific role, which is important as students identify what aspect of film they are most passionate about.

“I got started with (filming) with just a phone call,” Moody said. “Someone asked me to be on a set and while there I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I’ve pursued it ever since, though now I realize how challenging it is.”

There are several different roles students may take on. The amount of people on a set can range from seven individuals up to 25. The director and the cinematographer, or director of photography, begin the process of constructing the film.

The cinematographer needs to be able to translate feelings into what the audience can see and feel, said Bri Palmer, who wrote and was the cinematographer for both “Far West” and “Sorry Charlies.”

Shaq Shoulders considers his next move for his project.

Shaq Shoulders considers his next move for his project.

Paige McCay and Colton McCormick review notes on set.

Paige McCay and Colton McCormick review notes on set.

“The cinematographer is the director of the lighting and camera department on a film set,” she said. “They work with the director to design and execute the visual style of the film.”

Often, students will tackle more than one role to create the perfect film.

Daichi Shigematsu worked as a writer, director and colorist for his senior thesis, “Reverie with April and Diane.” However, his favorite position on set is assistant camera, a position where he helps the cinematographer.

“It is the most active position,” he said. “This was my position on Java’s film, ‘Kima’s Café.’”

Shigematsu has always felt a creative pull, and working in film quickly became his calling.

“I feel that the best way that I can express my gratitude toward this important form of art is to be involved in the actual production,”

he said. “My first actual foray into filmmaking was through UNA’s Filmmaker’s Club. There are so many people in the organization with a passion for filmmaking that I immediately fell in love with set work.”

And set work looks good on him. Shigematsu worked on every thesis his senior colleagues had. That’s participation in a diversity of ideas, creating more opportunities to perfect various concepts, which is often a challenge for creatives.

This collaborative outpouring is one of Amandalyn Dorner’s favorite parts of the filmmaking process, and one she feels is reflected in her “33 Cloudless Blue.”

“I love seeing so many different individual personalities and talents come together to form one beautiful piece of art,” she said. “I think that is what makes film so unique as an art form.”

Java Moody and Austin Parsons wait for crew before filming their next scene.

Java Moody and Austin Parsons wait for crew before filming their next scene.

Austin Parsons and Bri Palmer take notes on "The Trial of the Rockstar."

Austin Parsons and Bri Palmer take notes on “The Trial of the Rockstar.”

Unique though it may be, the large number of people required for a set reflects how complex the process can be.

“Filmmaking is a challenge for me because you are taking the story, finding all the important details and shoving into a small frame,” said Austin Parsons, who wrote and directed “The Trial of the Rockstar.”

“I crave any opportunity to tell stories,” Parsons said. “Whether I’m in front of a camera, on a stage, writing the script or directing what you see, I truly desire being a part of the audience’s journey with the story.”

Like Parsons, Palmer also enjoys being part of the audience’s journey; however, she prefers guiding it.

“Writing scripts is what I enjoy most,” Palmer said. “Colton McCormick and I worked together on ‘Far West.’ We got lucky working together on this film.”

McCormick’s colleagues say he likes to edit, so he was an editor on some sets that he helped out with but he also is a good writer and director.

“I love how movies can allow people to see through other people’s eyes, how they can be used as a brief escape from our own problems, and how they can make us reflect on our own lives and values,” he said.

Sometimes film can harness reality. But sometimes how the story is shared is, in and of itself, the story. Such is the case in Shaq Shoulders’ meta “Behind the Scenes of a Thesis.” The film brings to light the process of film design as well as the challenges and risk of making a thesis.

“My film goes through pre-production, production, and post-production,” Shoulders said. “I am trying to give light to a program that is typically kept away from the spotlight.”And Shoulders is well-versed in what’s in the spotlight. On his peers’ sets, he often acted as a gaffer, who focuses on lighting. But his passion lies in sound design, which he is currently pursuing in graduate school.

McCormick believes every aspect of the filming process, from writing to lighting, is critical to creating the perfect work of art.

“I love the process of making films, from the writer’s table to the cutting room floor,” he said.

And learning this process is no easy task. While all of the filmmakers have identified their passions, they rely on their professors to guide them.

“I have wanted to make movies from a young age,” McCormick said. “And once I decided to pursue it in college, I learned the entire production process from the current, fantastic film professors at UNA, Jason Pangilinan and Mike Johnson. Instead of just knowing how to properly use a camera, they taught us about how larger scale productions should function and the duties of key positions on a set.”

These professors aren’t simply doing their jobs, they’re fostering relationships with their students, pushing them to better themselves and delve deeper into their passions.

“I was taught by Jason Lee Pangilinan on how each position on set is different,” Shoulders said. “He is the one that pushed me to do sound in film. He saw more potential and talent in me and pushed me to become a better sound designer, filmmaker, and person. He also pushed me to go to grad school.”

Shaq is currently in the sound design graduate program at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

Bri Palmer works as cinematographer on “Far West,” a film she co-wrote with Colton McCormick.

Bri Palmer works as cinematographer on “Far West,” a film she co-wrote with Colton McCormick.

He is working on some student public service announcement films and a sitcom called “Nailed it,” where he is co-chair of sound and sound floor director.

What’s next for the rest of these talented filmmakers? Cliche though it may be, the world is their oyster and they’re headed in a number of different directions.

Moody currently works at Ebed Pictures and 321Film and has future plans to direct many films with them in the future.

“My career goal is to create a creative studio where people can come together in every aspect of the arts to work on projects while making a living,” he said.

His next big project is to be announced, but he’s keeping his options open.

“It could be producing or directing a feature. It could be another short or web-series. It all depends where the company (I work for) stands in the near future, we have our hands in several baskets.”

Shigematsu is currently always up at UNA helping other film students and writing a short film.

“If I can get all the vital components assembled in time (i.e., cast, crew, location, etc.), I plan on filming it within the year,” he said. “I want to keep the specifics of the story a secret, but it’s a film that will depict a day in a character’s life.”

Parsons co-hosted the awards show at the George Lindsey Film Festival with George Lindsey Jr., and is focusing on collaborating with Palmer.

Amandalyn Dorner and Daichi Shigematsu prep the camera for the next shot.

Amandalyn Dorner and Daichi Shigematsu prep the camera for the next shot.

“We are co-writing a feature film that I plan on directing,” he said. “I started collaborating with her a few months ago, and we will be revealing some information on a film we are working on at the festival.” And aside from collaborating with Parsons, Palmer is currently doing freelance cinematography. She and her fiancé, Josh Boeing (who is also in the industry), are making plans to move to New York to focus on film.

Dorner currently works at WHNT News 19 as a creative producer where she writes, shoots and edits content for television. Her next big project is a feature film with Ansbach Productions.

All of the films screened at the festival the first weekend of March, but most of the creators feature their work on their websites. But honestly, if you missed their work, it’s no sweat.

The way these creators are headed, you’re likely to see them on the bigger screens very soon.