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SCAD student filmmakers: Part Two
Evan Watkins - photo by SCAD

Part Two of our profile of the talented young SCAD filmmakers whose works are entered into the student competition at the 2009 Savannah Film Festival.

Duck Heart Teslacoil

Written and Directed by: Tyler J. Kupferer

Delete - Merge U Produced by: Tyler J. Kupferer, Elias Glasch and Alysha Kupferer

The film succeeds in being a wonderful viewing experience unique unto itself. Like the best Looney Tunes sketches or Pixar’s memorable short films, Duck Heart Teslacoil nails the mark for the one thing all of those cartoons have in common: They strove for nothing less than pure simplicity in style, humor and story. We watch films like these to celebrate the beauty of great filmmaking through animation, and how that is often done by stripping away all pretentious and trusting the story and characters to shine through.

What was the genesis of Duck Heart Teslacoil?

Tyler J. Kupferer: It was originally inspired by a piece of vector artwork featuring a monster and a bunny. The instant I saw the flat style, I wondered: “What would that look like animated?” Several months later, while at an ideas pitch session, I thought up the concept of DHT in about five minutes, based on the idea I thought Tesla coils were under–represented in modern cinema. After that, the idea seemed more and more plausible.

In addition to writing, directing and producing the film you also did the animation and provided one of the voices. Between all of those jobs do you have a preference?

Tyler J. Kupferer: Of all the hats I wear when producing my short films, directing is by far my favorite. I think one of the reasons I enjoy directing so much is because I take an interest in all other aspects of production, and directing challenges me to address the unique tasks of each role in a way that must lead to a single cohesive piece. The directing role is what keeps me concentrated on every aspect of storytelling and how it relates to my audience.

What’s next for you?

Tyler J. Kupferer: I’m already well into pre–production of my next animated short film, which should be done by Spring 2010. As soon as that’s done, I’ll launch into production of my MFA thesis film, which hopefully will be the crowning piece of my SCAD career. In the meantime, I post all my mini projects and experimental films to my company blog, Base14. Maybe someday I can even turn it into a business. That would be a dream come true!

The Fakers

Written and Directed by: Evan Watkins

A lot of energy and strange circumstances tear their way through 13 minutes of performances and story. A married couple, Jerry and Jill Tamlin (Phil Morales and All Mohr, both of whom are excellent) keep the romance alive by participating in (either as the victims or perpetrators) staged burglaries. They’re not crazy; in their minds everyone does something to keep the day–to–day world interesting, and this is just what they do.

Things only begin to go awry when Jerry’s mildly deranged boss (JT Chinn, in a performance that steals this whole thing) hears about the whole concept and arranges for a “show” meant to impress his very young, empty–headed wife (good work from Aurora Heimbach).

What gives The Fakers its strong footing is Watkins’ attention to comedic detail. He gets a lot of help from a cast who has no trouble understanding what he’s after. In even the most inspired moments of lunacy, everyone involved remains perfectly low–key in their reactions and motivations.

What was the first idea or image you had that eventually led to the production of The Fakers?

Evan Watkins: The initial spark of inspiration for The Fakers was an idea that came to me, like many of them, late at night when I’m trying to sleep and can’t shut my brain off. It was just a small idea for an opening scene where people are getting robbed, and it’s really intense, shot like an action movie and everything, and then we reveal the joke, which is that these thieves are friends of the victims and it was all planned out from the start. That’s pretty much the first scene of the film.

The dialogue sounds improvisational in some places. Was that the case?

Evan Watkins: I’m a big believer in improvisation. Obviously some lines are pivotal to plot and tone, but I really wanted my cast to add or change lines within the guidelines of the character. Instead of holding rehearsals based off the script, I got my actors together and had them improv scenes that would have taken place before the story begins. Comedy is a surprise, and I find that flying off the script can sometimes produce way better jokes than the ones I think of alone at a computer.

Can we look forward to similar absurd–comedy projects in the future? Or do you have something different in mind?

Evan Watkins: I wouldn’t feel honest doing a drama yet. There are people way more qualified for that job than I am. Besides, I think satire/comedy is one of the few places in the entertainment world that you can slip in a point of view or a philosophy without hitting people over the head with it. The main problem I face now, being out of college, is to write something that is marketable, something people want to see. Right now I’m working on a few television pilots and a feature screenplay. A good script is the first step to a great film. That and money, lots and lots of money. Still have yet to get that.

Farewell to the Sparrow

Directed by: Shane Ladd

Written by: Shane Ladd and Zach Cutler

In just a little under 16 minutes, Ladd uses the talents of a phenomenal cast and crew to hit every technical and storytelling mark. She takes us right into the heart of a story of a young writer named Sable (Lilly Rains), who has come back home for her mother’s funeral. Not a lot of complicated, wasteful back story is needed to tell us what her relationship with her parents was like prior to the death of her mother. Ladd, editor Rodrigo Zozoya and director of photography Joseph Harold Page show us in just a couple of scenes. There’s also a flashback sequence in which Sable and her mother (an affecting, sad performance by Dey Young) discuss family things of seemingly minor importance. It’s only later in the film do we understand what that supposedly unimportant conversation really meant.

The early moments of Farewell to the Sparrow are poignant, but there’s nothing too shocking. However, this changes around the middle when the story suddenly takes a sharp turn into a territory that can be downright unsettling. A lesser filmmaker might not know what to do after suddenly changing the tone and pacing so dramatically. Farewell to the Sparrow accomplishing this in a fraction of the time is a worthy victory — not only for Ladd and the careers of all involved, but for the idea that a short film can do anything a feature can.

What is the single most important thing a person should take away from the story in Farewell to the Sparrow?

Shane Ladd: As morbid as it sounds, there is more closure and permanence in death than the feeling of being abandoned.

Who are some of your most significant influences as a filmmaker?

Shane Ladd: My grandparents introduced me to storytelling and being practically an only child has forced me to have a very imaginative mind. I’ve also been influenced by my father’s love of movies and the history he tells me behind them. My mother’s talent and passion for acting has always made me knowledgeable of actors and they way they work. I’ve also been very inspired by many filmmakers such as Truffaut, Malle, Scorsese, Tarantino, Coppola, and of course there are movies I watch that make me realize I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but film. cs

SCAD Student Film Screenings

STUDENT FILMS BLOCK A: 11:30 a.m. Nov. 6, Lucas Theatre.

STUDENT FILMS BLOCK B: 9:30 a.m. Nov. 6, Lucas Theatre.

SCAD STUDENT SHOWCASE: At 9:30 a.m. Nov. 5, Lucas Theatre.