By: Morgan Young
A veritable mountain of Redbull, Twizzlers, and Pop-Tarts awaits students as they file into Princeton Film Productions’ lecture hall. Students of all backgrounds and academic interests have come together to celebrate and undertake the art of filmmaking. After a quick orientation, the assignment of teams, and the distribution of film equipment, t-shirts, and caffeinated snacks, Princeton students scatter, blood pumping with excitement and inordinate amounts of sugar. Their only mission: to create a film…in twenty-four hours.
Last Friday, Princeton Film Productions (PFP) invited Princeton students to participate in Princeton’s first 24-Hour Film Festival. Students were given everything they needed to create a short film no longer than five minutes. They could explore any genre and tackle any subject. Working in teams, students were instructed to write a script, film the footage, and edit their entire film—all from scratch—in only twenty-four hours. If a short film felt like too large a project, students could even submit a trailer for a theoretical film they envisioned as a group. To get the creative juices flowing, PFP also gave the teams a phrase they had to include in each of their final products: the flexible and stimulating, “Why does everybody keep saying that?”
Princeton Film Productions was founded last year, a student group meant to “appeal to people who…want to create something,” says co-president, Cameron Johanning ’16. With almost no opportunity for Princeton students to engage with filmmaking as an extracurricular activity, PFP wants to provide students with a new way to ex press themselves in the arts. Co-president Dalia Katan explains that the 24-Hour Film Festival was meant to “find a way to bring in the wider Princeton population and involve them in film production” so that people who had never touched a camera before could gain some experience in a new art medium. Students raved about how much they learned during their weekend dip into the film industry; PFP gave flash tutorials in screenwriting, directing, acting for film, and equipment use and remained available to answer any questions participants may have had during the full twenty-four hours.
Once the twenty-four hours were up, students submitted their final works and prepared for the Saturday night screening party. PFP arranged for a panel of Princeton University faculty to judge the films at the screening and award $600 worth of prizes to the films chosen for Best Acting, Best Script, Best Directing, and Best Production; the volunteer judges were Dean Janet Rapelye, Professor Michael Smith, Professor Michael Hecht, Shira Hecht, Jim Grassi, and Dr. Justine Levine. Audiences at the screening were called upon to choose the film that would take home the award for Crowd Favorite.
The ambition and creativity shown by the students in their final products were truly impressive. Most teams planted their films firmly in the safer world of comedy, a genre that favors short sketches, informal scriptwriting, and sometimes shaky camcorder filming. Nevertheless, participants managed to experiment with elements of many different genres including film noir, documentary, horror, stop motion, silent movie, and even the quirky genre of internet memes, a small team using their filmmaking opportunity to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some films were more successful than others, but all teams obviously put a huge amount of effort into their pieces. Once the screening was finished, the judges deliberated, tallied their scores for each film, and presented the chosen teams with their awards.
Above Two Lines by Ioana Ferariu ’15, Martina Fouquet ’16, Allen K. Williams ’15, Oliver Marsh ’15, and Hema Globin ’16 followed its own creative team’s hilariously desperate unraveling under the pressure of creating a film in just 24 hours. Many teams experimented with film festival meta, creating films about the struggle of creating films. But the Above Two Lines team’s admirable commitment to their ridiculous melodrama earned them the award for Best Acting.
The judges awarded Best Script to the sweetly simple and heartwarming Just Duet, produced by Nonny Okwelogu ’15, Michael Melesse ’18, Casey Kolb ’15, Cynthia Steinhardt ’16, Alex Geller ‘GS, and Francis Adu ’17. Starring team member, Casey Kolb, and Emily Whitaker ’15, Just Duet delicately spins the adorable tale of two pianists who romance each other with musical conversation through the wall between two practice rooms. The creative team chose to echo the silent films of the early twentieth century, communicating the piece’s few lines of dialogue with stylized intertiles. Just Duet stood as a testament to “less is more” at the 24-Hour Film Festival, proving that simplicity triumphs over crowded wordiness. Lift, which took home the award for Best Directing, is a lovely and poignant piece about an elevator conductor who celebrates his birthday by silently and patiently working the hotel lift for increasingly peculiar guests. Created by Spencer Rodriguez ’15, Don Wilson ’15, Nabeer Khan ’15, and Myles McGinley ’15, and starring a host of talented actors, Lift uses a plethora of creative filming techniques, including a dream sequence, flashbacks and voiceover narration. Lift capitalizes upon visual humor by setting up laughably contrasting shots between the many guests the operator encounters, switching from a snobby businessman, to two drunk bachelorettes, to a surprisingly amiable hit man. The guests’ stories are artfully told in parallel, and the Lift team was very careful to keep the pacing quick and smooth.
The award for Crowd Favorite came down to an impassioned cheer-off between the teams of Lift and Yik Yak. The two teams rallied their friends into screeches and songs in an effort to take home the gold. The deafening whooping, chanting, and dancing of Luis Gonzalas-Yante ’18, Fida Newaj ’18, Daniel Spruill ’18, Jeffery Saeteurn ’18, William Kelly ’18, Daniel Liu ’18, Duke Atalay ’18, and their friends won Yak Off the Crowd Favorite trophy. The short film itself was a huge success amongst audiences at the festival, leaning heavily into a niche of reference humor targeted specifically at Princeton students. The protagonist, as punishment for the heinous crime of reposting a Reddit joke on Yik Yak, is kidnapped by the trench-wearing, sunglasss-sporting social media mafia. They subject him to atrocious forms of torture, including the clanging scales of The Frist Piano Guy and the cheap, itchy texture of the campus bathrooms’ notorious one-ply toilet paper.
The award for Best Production justly went to Trolled, by Sam Chang ’16, Aaron Yin ’17, Robert Zhang ’16, and Logan Sander ’18. A brilliant amalgamation of horror and comedy, the short film follows a protagonist on his way out of Princeton who is relentlessly haunted by a miniature troll doll. Trolled’s ambitious and creative cinematography gave the short film, which ran less than five minutes, the polished feel of a professional feature film. One of the few films that used incidental music, Trolled had a sound that effortlessly built up suspense. Editing was precise and clever, a series of rapid-fire, one-word flashback cuts seamlessly spelling out the required phrase, “Why-does-every-body-keep-saying-that?”
Princeton Film Productions has proven itself a force to be reckoned with. The 24-Hour Film Festival was an exciting and rewarding commencement of a new annual tradition on Princeton’s campus. The festival is an incredible opportunity for experienced students to hone their filmmaking skills, or for novices to sail uncharted into a whole new artistic world. The film community at Princeton is sorely underrepresented and PFP’s 24-Hour Film Festival is an excellent means of gaining growing visibility and providing the community with an increasing number of artistic opportunities and experiences. As the festival becomes a time-honored tradition on campus, Princeton students will be sure to let the good times—and the film reels—roll.