Shoot the Stars® Season Four
Shoot the Stars ® season four has begun at SFUAD. Two screenplays were selected from student submissions, and are now in the process of being turned into films that will feature professional acting talent. The students have mentors who help them, but the responsibility of putting everything together ultimately sits on the shoulders of the crew. This year’s selections are Hate Me Gently, written by Creative Writing student Michaela Rempel and Karkutong, written by film student Alvie Hurt. This year’s films will be starring Travis Hammer (Manhattan) and Michael Welch (Twilight).
Typically, one comedy and one drama is selected each year from the script submissions. Karkutong is this year’s comedy. Hurt has experimented with other genres in various projects he has done, but says that comedy is where his true passion lies.
“I believe I have brought something a little different to Shoot the Stars®, which is a darker slapstick exploration of a group of losers,” Hurt said in an email interview. “Although on the surface the humor lies in clashing personalities, the true essence of the film is within the overcoming of expectations for three characters that are at the bottom of the food chain.”
Through the process of revision, Hurt has brought the script closer to a vision he could share with the director, film student Zoe Dahmen. “A lot of the story and character development you will see was heavily influenced by the director’s ideas and suggestions,” he says. “The script has taken hundreds of turns and rewrites to make it fit with Zoe’s vision, so I am excited to see how all of this process reflects onscreen.”
During the director interviews, applicants were asked to give a pitch for their take on the film they were interested in. Dahmen was automatically drawn to Karkutong because she wanted some creative freedom with the film’s visuals. Dahmen has worked on Shoot the Stars® in past years, once as a script writer for the film Dead Celebrity.
“The biggest thing I learned from that [Dead Celebrity] was what it’s like to work with a director and collaborate on a script, and it helped me this year because now I’m on the director side of that collaboration,” Dahmen said over an email interview. “Knowing what it’s like to be the writer in that position helped me navigate the re-writes and I’m really excited about how far the script has come. Working with Alvie on this script has been incredibly fun and rewarding.”
Dahmen is eager to bring a strong sense of character, story and theme. Cinematographer for Karkutong, Matt Villescas will assist in this mission. Villescas is known for his intimate style of filmmaking, allowing audiences to linger in shots with the characters onscreen. He feels that some of his style will be present in Karkutong with his employment of extended takes and “personal” shots which will follow the characters closely.”I noticed in the script there was a lot of reality to it,” Villescas says. “It’s a script that calls for itself to be very real, and I think that’s what helps the comedy. So helping everything, it would be really interesting for the camera to kind of be in these moments with the characters and follow them. So not necessarily relying on editing to kind of enhance the comedy or the story but kind of just putting the camera in the situation with these characters and following them for like 30 seconds at a time.”
Everyone on the Karkutong crew is eager to make something memorable out of this round of Shoot the Stars ®. Kim Blacknall, a producer for the film, said she hopes everyone involved in the project can feel like they have the ability to come to her with their concerns. Blacknall seeks to form “a bond” with the cast and crew, and this is a goal shared by Dahmen.
“I hope I can make everyone feel like they’re working on something fun and interesting and worthwhile,” Dahmen says. “I want everyone to feel like they’re doing this not just because it’s STS but because it’s a great project. That’s my hope.”
Hate Me Gently is this year’s drama. The story of Hate Me Gently has existed for many years and the process of bringing it to its current format has been a long journey for Rempel. She wrote the first version of the story when she was a senior in high school and was taking a creative writing course from the community college in Albuquerque. The piece was included in Rempel’s initial SFUAD application, went through many revisions, and was rejected from inclusion in Glyph during Rempel’s sophomore year. When she began taking screen-writing classes, the story took on a new format and after being turned away from Shoot the Stars® once due to its lack of a female lead, it was finally accepted this year. Rempel’s hope for the story’s new form is that it comes through properly in terms of atmosphere.
“The atmosphere is almost a character in and of itself,” Rempel says of her story. “If there is one character to get right out of a four or five character script, that’s the one. I hope they get that theme right.”
Rempel also offers advice to future writers of Shoot the Stars®, urging them to distance themselves to an extent from the film that will be adapted. She has accepted that the film version of Hate Me Gently will differ greatly from what she will see onscreen in a few months, but hopes that the core of the story will remain true to her creation.
Alejandra Castro, the director of Hate Me Gently has worked on Shoot the Stars® every year since she has been at SFUAD and is ready to bring her experience to this exciting new position. “Most of the things I’ve learned were simply through observing as well as getting insight from my friends who were key positions on Shoot the Stars® as well as talking to mentors about how Shoot the Stars® works,” Castro said over an email interview. “I think this better prepared me on what to expect and how to handle certain situations whether they be good or bad.”
Castro is honored by the opportunity to present her vision for Hate Me Gently, and the chance to represent the school as a whole. “This project has a lot of passion behind it,” she says. “Everyone on the team has worked very hard to make a great film. I’m really excited to be part of this film and working with such an amazing crew. It’s been a journey and I couldn’t have done it without any of them.”
As a part of the first class to witness Shoot the Stars® for all four years, first assistant director Riley Gardner feels that this is the first year in which everything has gone smoothly. He wants to keep the set from becoming chaotic and feels that communication is key in order for this to take place. “My goal has just been to make sure everyone is on the same page all the time, just always doing what they’re supposed to do, always helping out when they need to,” he says.
Gardner also feels that he and producer Deandre Montoya are in the same boat on this issue. “We want to keep it where it was fun, where you were learning and it wasn’t going to be chaotic and there aren’t going to be tears shed,” Gardner says.
Montoya feels that having a smaller crew this year will greatly benefit Hate Me Gently. “We’re not reaching; we don’t have to struggle to get as many people on the same page,” he says.
Montoya adds that overall, he wants to create a strong production, learning lessons from past seasons of Shoot the Stars to move forward and avoid making similar mistakes.
Terry Borst, SFUAD professor of screen writing is looking forward to what this season will bring, and feels that good things are in store for the films being created and the students themselves.
“We’re very excited about this year’s Shoot the Stars[®] films, as they explore new terrains and new character situations,” Borst said in an emailed statement. “As always, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity for our students to get a taste of how it is on a professional media production—from project conceptualization to the final post-production touches. Past Shoot the Stars directors and producers have secured very promising employment and graduate school opportunities after graduating—and we don’t think that’s an accident!”
This story has been edited to include this year’s featured stars.