Diploma

This year, I started a filmmaking activity for students at my school. A group of juniors signed up, already seasoned from a local film festival win the previous year and eager to get started on a new project. They decided they wanted to make a zombie film. I warned them that the downfall of most student films is trying to create something that they would see in a summer block buster without having control over locations and props and special effects that block buster budgets pay for. I encouraged them to think smaller and tell a story more dialogue-centered and character-driven. They summarily ignored me.

For which I am most grateful. When they set their minds to making a zombie movie, they started working on the story about a student who is determined to finish his diploma in spite of the zombie apocalypse. It isn’t a comedy. I told them they would have to work hard to sell me on that premise, that the only way I’d believe it is if finishing the diploma was like an anchor of routine in a world gone mad. We agreed that it would also be best on our non-budget to show the zombies as little as possible, and to get somebody figuring out how to do zombie make-up as quickly as possible. Bad zombie make-up makes a thriller into a comedy in a hurry.

The students set to work. Jun Sekiya took over the writing duties and, ten drafts later, produced a screenplay of about 20 pages. A screenplay usually translates to a page per minute on screen, so they were looking at a 20 minute film, which is a significant undertaking. With some script rewriting and ad libs along the way, the final film comes in at 42 minutes. Normally a student film that long would make me vary wary, but the truth is, these boys did a really solid job and the film is worth the effort, because in the end, it isn’t really about the zombies; like all films worth watching, it’s about the characters and how they are challenged and grow.

The filmmakers took their movie to the Kanto Plains Film Festival and won a gold medal and the Palm d’Or, the festival’s top prize. The film also won awards for Best Camera (Sunbird Tsai), and Best Editing (Jun Sekiya), shared the award for Best Actress (Hiyori Takashima) and got a nomination for Best Actor (Yuki NItta).

Sometimes it’s easy to forget to dream big when your pockets are feeling light. Our group, who call themselves the Filmeisters, have a few other projects on the go (including another zombie script), but those will have to wait for the fall. I am grateful for having the chance to work with these young filmmakers, and for being reminded of how much I love the art of filmmaking.

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