EVERYONE SEATED around the long wooden conference table is focused on the screen positioned at one end, watching with intense scrutiny the images projected.
“Stop,” a voice says, and an image of a young man looking almost directly into the camera freezes. “I don’t think their eyelines are quite right.”
The scene begins to play out in reverse at a comically fast speed before starting again from the beginning. In it, a young college student with a bass guitar hung around her neck leans against the wall in a hallway lined with other students holding musical instruments of their own—trombones, a saxophone, an electric guitar. She lets out a sigh and slides down the wall, taking a seat on the floor. She looks dejected. In her hand is a scrap of paper with the number 14 written on it. She stares down at it, as if it will suddenly change or take on a new meaning.
A young man seated at a table at the end of the hall watches her, looking as if he wants to comfort her, when someone just out of view snaps their fingers in his face. Both the young man and the young woman look up in the direction of the sound.
“Do we have another shot of him we can use?” one of the filmmakers seated at the conference table asks as the clip plays yet another time.
“Well, the script says he’s supposed to give her a ‘knowing glance,’” says another, “but I’m not sure we have that shot.”
There’s a brief moment of anxiety as the editor scrolls though the clips, searching for that elusive expression. Then, on screen, the young man looks toward the camera, and the slightest of smiles crosses his face.
The filmmakers nearly jump out of their high-backed leather conference chairs as excited shouts of “There it is!” and “That’s the look we needed!” fill the room.
Now, you’d be forgiven for assuming this editing session took place in Los Angeles or that the group of filmmakers is made up of seasoned professionals. Clearly, they revel in the minutiae of filmmaking—filming the same scene over and over again, watching it play out from every conceivable angle, running clip after clip for the right inflection in a line of dialogue or a knowing glance on a performer’s face. It’s not a chore or a bore for them. It’s an opportunity to lift up their voices and share their stories.
But these young women are not professional filmmakers—yet. In actuality, the four girls seated at the conference table are ages 16 to 18, and they’re in the process of editing a film that—from conception to scriptwriting to shooting—is a product of their own making. Not only that, but it’s the first film any of them has ever produced. And if the Arkansas Cinema Society’s executive director, Kathryn Tucker, has anything to say it about it, it won’t be their last.
“It’s my hope that these girls will continue to make films together,” Kathryn says. It’s the reason why she organized this Filmmaking Lab for Teen Girls in the first place—as an opportunity to provide these teenagers with the resources and mentorship to bring their stories to life.
The two short films produced during the film lab—Ensemble and Justitia—will premiere at the Arkansas Cinema Society’s Filmland event Aug. 22-25.
Here, we present a look behind the scenes.
The young filmmakers all pitched story ideas and then voted to decide which two stories they would produce. The only guidelines the girls had to follow were that the films be reasonable to shoot, about 3-5 minutes in length, with a thematic focus on female empowerment. “Justitia,” named for Lady Justice, tells the story of a woman whose male colleague takes credit for her breakthrough in medical science. “Ensemble” centers on a college musician who clashes with a sexist band director when she auditions for the university’s highest ensemble.
The girls split into two groups for the screenwriting process, but they all held multiple production positions and worked on both films. Trinity Lisk served as producer/assistant director on “Ensemble” and 2nd assistant director and co-screenwriter on “Justitia.”
The girls’ films were shot and edited using equipment from JM Associates, a video production company in Little Rock where the filmmaking lab was held. Here, “Justitia” director Sophie Mammarelli (center) watches the camera monitor while shooting a scene in a conference room.
The girls had the opportunity to work with mentors from the industry like “True Detective” Season 3 writer-producer Graham Gordy and Josh Miller, writer-producer-director of “All the Birds Have Flown South”—as well as Kathryn Tucker, among others. Here, cinematographer Gabe Mayhan (“Antiquities”) assists “Justitia” cinematographer Meeghan Snyder in setting up the camera for a shot.
While editing mentors Mike McKinnis and Les Galusha ran the editing software and provided guidance, the girls were the ones calling all the shots.
Editing mentor Les Galusha searching for the missing ‘knowing look’ needed for a scene in “Ensemble.”
Want to walk the red carpet at the girls’ big premiere? Both shorts will debut at Filmland, which runs Aug. 22-25. Visit arkansascinemasociety.org for tickets.