Western Students Take Top Honors in Project
Students in programs within Western Carolina University's department of stage and screen excelled in the Asheville leg of an international competition that gives participants two days to make a short film.
The 48 Hour Film Project recently announced winners from the Asheville competition, held in mid-June. Five teams had members who were current WCU students or recent graduates, including the two teams whose films took top honors.
"Chelsea Raynal and the Secret of the Poison Crop Caper," a science-fiction/spy film, won runner-up honors. Half of the 12-member creative team, led by senior Aaron Putnam and called We Make Pictures Move, have WCU ties. Kaley McCormack, a senior theater major, won best actress for the title role of a buttoned-up, strong-willed clerk who, irked with a chauvinistic colleague, takes a case into her own hands.
A WCU theater major had a part in the competition's overall winner, a black comedy called "Serial Love." Kai Elijah Hamilton, a senior, played a character who delivers a giant Valentine's Day card to a home, only to be murdered by the lady of the house.
Seth Lewis of Pinehurst, a junior majoring in motion picture and television production, served as editor and gaffer in the film "Divided Highway," a road movie about violent drug dealers, that won the competition's award for best editing.
"I'm very proud that the students were able to pull a film together under a tight deadline," said Arledge Armenaki, associate professor of cinematography in the department of stage and screen. "It says that they've had good training and know how to get a quality product completed in a short amount of time."
Of the 37 teams who entered this year's competition, 27 were on time turning in their completed films, said Denise Kiernan, Asheville producer for the 48 Hour Film Project. That the WCU-affiliated teams "finished on time shows their ability to quickly organize and effect a production," Kiernan said.
The 48 Hour Film Project began in 2001 and has grown to more than 100 competitions in cities around the world, including Asheville. Winners from each city are eligible for additional competitions and are screened at the annual Filmapalooza film festival.
Rules specify that films are between four and seven minutes, and that team members are volunteers and complete all script writing, rehearsals, costuming, set design, shooting and editing in a specified 48-hour period. (Prior to the competition, teams are allowed to organize their cast and crews and secure equipment and shooting locations.)
The competition begins with each team assigned a film genre, and a common character, prop and line of dialogue they must all incorporate. In Asheville, these required elements were a character named Chuck or Chelsea Raynal who worked as a printer, an ashtray and the line "Is that all you've got to say?"
This was Putnam's fourth 48 Hour Film Project. In 2007, his film won Asheville's first-place prize. Like most of the WCU students who competed, Putnam is majoring in motion picture and television production. Others are theater students in the department of stage and screen, which falls within Western's College of Fine and Performing Arts, formed in 2007.
The training he received through Western helped him become an efficient and organized filmmaker key to doing well in the competition, Putnam said.
"You have to make yourself a schedule. Otherwise, you will fall behind," said Putnam, who wrote his screenplay in five hours. In past years, he's done it in as few as three.
The WCU students' success reflects the collaborative efforts between stage and screen programs, said Claire Eye, a theater instructor. Theater students, for instance, gain experience in theater, musicals and film.
"We really are looking to put it all together," Eye said. "I'm so proud that the kids are getting out there on their own initiative."
Western's motion picture and television production program prepares students to succeed because the instructors are professionals who have worked many years in the film industry, said Jack Sholder, director of the motion picture and television production program. "We've been paid to do exactly what the students have been asked to do in this competition."
The 48 Hour Film Project gives students the real-world experience of deadline pressure, the validation and exposure of their films increases their confidence, and their resumes benefit from awards. Most important, the films demonstrate the students' ability to tell an engaging story, the heart of the motion picture and television production program.
"Story, story, story -- that's what our program is all about," Sholder said.
More like this story