From one student to another: What I learned making a short film


I love to tell stories.

Growing up, my sister and I would wake up early and go to bed late so we could spend as much time as possible in the epicenter of our creativity: the basement.

We constructed houses using VHS movies, recreated the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) secret lair and built entire cities out of whatever we could find. Then we used superheroes and dolls to bring our universe to life. We crafted complex stories that were never the same as the ones before.

There were no limits in our world. The Flash, Shark Boy and Robin were all brothers who solved mysteries at their school and occasionally teamed up with TMNT.

Eventually, I outgrew my desire to play with action figures, but my love for stories lingered.

I developed a fascination with the way stories were told through film. For every Christmas, I would ask for DVDs that included behind-the-scenes features. I would watch through all of them and then watch more on YouTube.

I just had to know how movies were made. 

My first attempt at a short film was mediocre at best, but I was determined to get better. I took film classes at Wichita State University and made more videos, each one better than the last.

Recently, I finished writing and directing a short film called “Noel Live.”

“Noel Live” follows Noel, a man with a mysterious case of short-term memory, who has lost everything. As he seeks to kill the man who took everything from him, he finds himself with a choice: forgiveness or revenge. Which will he choose? The film is told using reverse chronology and inspired by Christopher Nolan’s movie “Memento.” The movie stars Wichita State alumnus James J. Crawley, senior Samuel Luttrell and senior Nora Dooley along with Alex Geurin. Cinematography is by Christopher Davis.

I’m proud of the film and eager to share it with the world. However, there are things I would have done differently, but hindsight is 20/20. Here is what I learned while making “Noel Live.”

1. Good audio makes or breaks a film.

Audio delivers information, invokes emotion, sets the mood and increases production value. Bad audio can ruin all of the above and destroy a film. We had good audio throughout, but there were lapses in how good it was. I noticed several instances when the loose extension cord would brush against the boom mic stand and make a clanky sound. It was very subtle, but it taught me that I needed to spend extra time teaching my boom operators good technique and how to detect abnormal noises in the audio.

2. Lights and more lights

Lighting in film creates a visual context and tries to convey either positive or negative emotions. “Noel Live” is a thriller, so we wanted it to feel cold and dark. I learned that it’s better to have more light while filming because you can adjust accordingly in post-production. Poor lighting while filming can complicate the camera’s ability to focus on a subject. We made adjustments that made the movie so much better.

3. You don’t need a lot of food on set.

Chris, my good friend and cinematographer, and I spent more than $100 buying snacks and meals for our cast and crew. We thought that we would work up an appetite onset, but we were wrong. When production wrapped, we had a lot of leftovers. I found that we didn’t have a lot of time to eat because we worked through most of our mealtime. When we did eat, we were so focused on our objective that we didn’t stop to think if we were hungry. This truth might change for future productions, but for now, I would recommend buying less food and not working into mealtime.

4. Don’t juggle, organize.

There are three stages to filmmaking: pre-production, production and post-production. Each phase includes massive amounts of information. Before “Noel Live,” I usually remembered the information because my production was small. “Noel Live” had a much bigger production. I wasn't able to juggle all of the information I needed to. I need to organize it. We ended up using Trello and Google Calendar to make schedules, create casting calls and organize props. I’m so glad we organized because it saved us a lot of headaches.

I could go on, but I'd prefer you to watch my short film than hear me talk about it. So, without further ado, I present to you Noel Live.

Read more stories like this