A farm in Healdsburg will be the setting for a group of students’ next short film.
The students are primarily from Design Tech High School in Redwood City, with other schools in the Bay Area, and will be shooting the second in a series titled “Mary-Anne.”
The students found the farm in Healdsburg after student filmmaker Hannah Levin ran into local Gail Jonas at Yosemite National Forest. There, the two discussed the film project and Jonas suggested the location.
The series follows two women, Mary and Anne, who, according to Levin, are two sisters in the 1930s who have recently gone from rich to bankrupt.
“They have a very different approach to life,” Levin said of the protagonists of the comedy series.
The series came out of a student club called Era Club, fellow student filmmaker Okalani Luna said. Over the summer, they were trying to make the club more appealing to students and came up with the idea of recording skits using the help of other kids. The script eventually morphed from what was to be a five-minute sketch show to 15 minutes following the two women.
It took about a year for the students to create the first episode. Juggling a school workload and the film around multiple students can be challenging, Levin said. Plus other extra-curricular activities. Levin, for example is a competitive ballroom dancer. Of all the many aspects of filming, this is the most difficult, the students said.
“It’s not just when are you available to go in for rehearsals but when are you free to go out and film,” Levin said. “We’re in different school districts and they have different calendars for when the breaks are.”
As a result, Labor Day weekend will be a necessary time to get shooting done.
“This is our only chance,” Levin said.
The students use their own camera, primarily that of student filmmaker Gialina “Kate” Messiana. Some audio work is done with the assistance of one of the school parents who does audio for a living. He brings a boom mic, but the students said they have had to get clever when it wasn’t around, hiding recording phones between cushions near the actors.
Since the film is in black and white, Levin said that there are a few continuity issues that can be addressed easily, such as some students who have dyed their hair since the last shot.
“We always take a picture in black and white to see if it affects the shot and it ended up not making a difference,” Levin said.
Post production is used with the aid of free software, which works well, Luna said, as they are intentionally degrading the footage quality to make it look closer to the early days of film.
The students are looking into what short-term rentals will be available to stay at while shooting and look through thrift shops to find period-appropriate clothing. Equipment is the largest expense, they said.
“We only have $100 in club funding. We raised that through a bake sale,” Levin said.
The students do have one large scene planned for the farm: a barn dance. The dance will require the students to find 30 extras, with ideally a few being able to bring a few moves to the floor.
One particularly talented extra will get to have a good line, Luna said.
The students said they hope to have the film completed by November. They want to get at least one more short done, possibly two, to complete the series.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any definite ending,” Luna said. “We’re definitely thinking of stopping it soon since we’re graduating soon.”
“I really want to end with our grandparents acting in our positions. So in the ’70s, since this takes place in the 1930s,” Levin said.
The three young ladies said they have learned a lot while making the film.
Messiana said that the best part of working on the project is finding others interested in film as well as getting the costumes to look good. Luna said the novel experience of acting has been a good experience. For Levin, the rehearsals were the best, especially the laughing.
Screening the film has been rewarding, too, they said.
“It’s really great to see everyone laughing, especially from young people,” Luna said.
Time management has been the hardest part, they said.
“You know when you see those big movies and you see how many people it takes to do all this — and that’s a huge movie compared to what we’re doing. But just our 15-minute episode takes a whole year to create, I didn’t realize that,” Levin said.
Dawn of an Era
The Era Club has been trying to get the word out about what it does as well. During the Design Tech multi-cultural show, the club’s students held a mock melee in medieval style to promote themselves, facing off against the teachers.
In the future, the students would like to try and screen the films at small theaters or community centers.
“One of our goals is to introduce this old Hollywood comedy style,” Levin said.
The first installment of “Mary-Anne” is available on YouTube, titled “Mary Anne Episide 1: Living the Low Life.” The film is appropriate for any age, Levin said.
There is also a website for the club project, hannahlevin1.wixsite.com/mary-anne.