Student filmmakers share their talents


John Wilhelm

A filmmaking seminar was hosted on Tuesday, Feb. 4 in the lecture room. Students interested in film attended the seminar, including seniors Michael Wilkens and Charlotte Hughes, juniors Halsey Moe and Olivia Fitch, and sophomores Maggie Vlietstra, Calla Saunders, and Maren Findlay, along Upper School English teacher and Film Club adviser Randall Findlay. Findlay describes the SPA Student Movie Award is “a way of giving extra recognition to students who took the opportunity to make movies. “

Imagine hitting it big — a film is shown in theaters, posters plastered everywhere, a commercial running in ten minute intervals on TV. Countless makeup artists, actors, and screenwriters have spent years putting together this two-hour sequence of images and at the end of it all, the reward is worldwide recognition.

While the grandeur behind an Academy Award winning film might make it seem impossible for a high school student to produce anything of comparable quality, many students at St. Paul Academy and Summit School have embraced filmmaking as both an art and a pastime.

Sophomore Calla Saunders is among those students. “It started out with a class in my old school, about filmmaking as way to tell stories,” Saunders said. “We all had to make our own movies about someone who lived in a different country. It sparked my love of filmmaking.”

Since that fifth grade class, Saunders has advanced her skills as both an editor and a director. Last year, her short film starring sophomores Maggie Vlietstra and Anna Biggs, The Doll House (2013), won SPA’s Student Movie Award, or SPASMA. “The Doll House is based on an urban legend about a doll that comes to life and tries to kill the owner,” Saunders said. “When my friends first told me ‘We should do this as a movie,’ I thought ‘No, I’m not really into horror,’ but it worked out, they convinced me to do it, and it was really fun to play with a genre that I haven’t touched before.”

Upper School Film Club advisor Randall Findlay described SPASMA as “a way of giving extra recognition to students who took the opportunity to make movies.” Since its genesis in 2008, SPASMA has received widely varying entries, from Eoin Small’s horror film The Hand (2008), to Nat Bear’s action-comedy-drama Nerf Wars (2011). The films greatly reflect the students of the time, but Findlay mentioned a notable decrease in entrees. “When we first created SPASMA, we anticipated maybe ten movies coming in annually—we usually get five to six. Last year we got two,” he said.

The second entry for last year’s SPASMA was senior Michael Wilkens and junior Olivia Fitch’s The Great Cat Spy (2013). What began as wordplay on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby eventually turned into a 6-minute avant-garde narrative, rife with humorous references to the book.

For the coming competition, Wilkens has a new film planned. “I’m making this film, Cowboy Entrepreneur. It’s going to be the movie to end all movies,” Wilkens said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on it.” When asked for a short teaser, Wilkens responded “In the world of businessmen, there is only one cowboy. Cowboy Entrepreneur.”

Saunders has a film planned for the upcoming competition as well, which will be a comedy surrounding a newly hired theater employee. “There’ll be a lot of very good competition, and I hope people submit their work,” Saunders said.

Senior Kaia Findlay’s creepy drama Clementine (2012) won SPASMA in 2012, but she didn’t manage to submit an entry in 2013. “I couldn’t think of any ideas,” Findlay said. “I ran out of time.” But despite last year’s hiccup, Findlay looks forward to putting forth a new entry for the 2014 competition. “My sister and I are working on something,” Findlay continued. “This is the only teaser: there aren’t going to be any human faces in it.”

Only two entries in last year’s competition begs the question of film’s popularity at SPA, but Findlay presented a different angle. “The disconnect is time. People commit to a lot of extracurricular projects, and they have a lot of work to do inside the classroom,” Findlay said.

“We come along in the third quarter, the hardest quarter, and tell them ‘go make a movie!’” Findlay noted that a number of students show initial interest in the competition, but don’t follow through. For those who do, the experience is rewarding. “Filmmaking is fun,” Wilkens said. “It’s something you create—it’s your vision.”

Watch some past SPASMA entries below: