CASPER, Wyo. — The 21st Annual Wyoming High School Statewide Short Film Festival will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, May 24 in Natrona County High School’s John F. Welsh Auditorium.
Tickets for the festival are $10. NC’s film, television and NCTV instructor Lance Madzey said that this will be the final year of the festival.
Madzey pointed to several reasons why this will be the last festival (described below in this article), but said that several special things will be happening surrounding the festival to send it out with a bang.
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He said that in previous years, festival judges who are professionals in film and television would fly to Casper to participate, but this had to be discontinued due to funding shortages in the last couple of festivals.
But this year, Madzey said his students raised $3,300 by selling ad space in the festival programs and on-screen. They used the money to bring the judges to Casper for the last ever festival.
“I’m so excited to see these people and it’s an honor and a privilege to have them here for the last one,” Madzey said.
The judges are Lucas Lee Graham, a cinematographer who worked on “Escape From Tomorrow” and “Suburban Gothic,” Maria Olsen, who acted in “Starry Eyes” and “Paranormal Activity 3,” Dick Grunert who has written for “Adventure Time,” Michael Champion, who acted in “Total Recall,” “Toy Soldiers,” “Star Trek” and “NYPD Blue,” and World Air Guitar Champion Justin Howard.
Madzey said that in addition to selecting the winning films, the judges will also give student workshops at NCHS from 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 24.
Lucas is a cinematographer and he’s also been directing lately,” Madzey added. “One of his films that he did previously as a cinematographer, it was like a big hit in Cannes and Sundance. He’s going to go through some cinematography stuff, like, coverage and lighting.
Maria is an actress that lives and works in Hollywood, mostly in horror films, which is sick. You know, kids dig that stuff. She’s constantly booking features, there’s like seven or eight features that she has booked. She is like a master of the casting process and what it takes to get a job, your online like presence as an actor or actress, so she’s going to take the students through that.
Dick is going to talk about what makes a story good, how to get jobs in Hollywood as a writer and what it is like to be a writer in Hollywood.
Michael lives in town. We’re so lucky to have him here. I get autographs from him every time that I’ve worked with him. He’s like in ‘Total Recall’ like with Schwarzenegger and he was in ‘Star Trek’ as an alien. ‘NYPD Blue,’ all these shows that I grew up with as a kid. He’s going to bring students up on stage and actually work with them through some kind of acting workshop.
Justin, he’s the unpredictable one, he’s always been like that. He doesn’t plan for his workshops. He just goes up there, he’s kind of spur of the moment.
I’m pretty sure he’ll do like air guitar with the entire audience because I’ve seen him do that before, and that’s hilarious and it’s a blast. He’ll have students come up on stage and jam with him. It’s really cool.
And so I think he’ll talk about creating fuel for the creative fire, man, just to get people amped up about being themselves and not being afraid to let it out.
Here’s an awesome thing about Justin. When he hugs you, you feel like you’re being crushed, by love. Because it’s like a hug that hurts. He’s that kind of hugger. And so I think the kids are going to get a big hug, in a metaphorical sense.
And so now they have them here, they can be in the same space with them, see what they do in action and they know that they’ll be in the audience, man. That’s an awesome thing to know that somebody from Hollywood is in the audience watching your film. that’s a big deal.Madzey
Madzey said that on the night of the festival, there’ll be a red carpet leading up to the door.
“We also have a red carpet that we’ll roll out,” he said. “So as people come in, there will be paparazzi snapping photos of them. It’s super cheesy, but I think it will be fun.”
“And then as they come in, there will be a place that they stop. And there will be a big banner and there will be a camera on that that we’re going to cut to back and forth. That camera will be seen on the screen. So as people are sitting, they can see people coming in live and I think that will be fun.”
Madzey also pointed to two other aspects of the festival which he said will give it a “full-circle” feel.
First, he said that the festival’s Master of Ceremonies, Trevor T. Trujillo had a film that won in the first year of the festival.
“He won the very first festival,” Madzey said. “That was about a killer hamster, it’s called ‘Staws.’ But having him up there on that same stage, I mean, his film was up on that screen too. Having him as Master of Ceremonies, that’s really special man. And so I think that it’s full circle.”
Madzey added that one of the films that it is in this year’s festival also hearkens back to years past.
“Here’s another full-circle thing,” he said. “This is like a post-apocalyptic film called ‘Crooked Mile’ about survival. So Ava’s dad, Charles Conkin, directed films like this when he was in school in the late ’90s, and now she’s doing the same kind of films. And her film is in the festival this year, so that’s kind of another full-circle thing.”
“That’s kind of creepy. I’m getting old, like, ultra-old.”
There were more than 50 films submitted to this years festival, and Madzey said that 17 of those were selected (more about this year’s film selections will be explored in a second Oil City article).
Kelly Walsh film, television and Trojan TV instructor Jeff Chavez, who’s collaborated with Madzey on the last four or five festivals, said that 9 KW films will be in the festival.
“We’ve been really rocking and rolling this year,” Chavez said. “I’m proud of the students.”
Chavez said that he thinks that having a festival is great for students and said he plans to organize a new festival next year since Madzey decided this will be the last one:
I think what Madzey has started is something that’s just tremendous,” Chavez said. “The ability for students to showcase their work on a big screen. A lot of these kids just put so much time and effort into it that there needs to be some kind of outlet for them, and this film festival has always been that.”
With Madzey kind of stepping down, people have already started coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, we need something to keep this going.’ So I can almost guarantee there will be something like this in the future. It might look a little bit different, it might be named a little bit different, but it’s still going to be an outlet for kids.
I like keeping it in the spring, that way students have the entire year to work on their projects and its just a good kind of culmination of the year.Chavez
Chavez added that in order to fund a new festival, he’s considering the possibility of seeking out partners in the community to provide sponsorships and scholarships.
Both he and Madzey talked about some funding difficulties that the short film festival has had. Madzey said that this is one of the reasons he’ll stop organizing a festival.
We used to have this thing run by my buddy Kelly Estes in the district called the ‘Discovery Program’ and they funded the festival, upwards of $10,000 every year.
And then Wyoming started going through a bust cycle and so that program was unfortunately cut. Which means we didn’t have that anymore and so we didn’t really invite the judges from Hollywood out, we just had them watch on Youtube and then send their awards on their cellphones.
They recorded them that way. Which was cool, I mean the kids still got to know that their work was being judged by a professional, and that’s what they dug.
I mean, local folks, we have to raise money to get Hollywood here, and we’ve always appreciated that a ton. But I think as a school district, we’re trying to move away from that.Madzey
Madzey also pointed to declining attendance at recent festivals as a reason to discontinue it.
I think it’s had a really awesome run, although butts in the seats have been dwindling. You know, smaller and smaller crowds and I just wonder, has it been weighed out?
I’ve thought that for the past few years. And that’s really frustrating because you know, when kids, they spend all their time and they make and they hope and they think there’s going to be all these people, but then when it’s a sparsely filled theater, that’s not good.
I think it’s just being that the festival has gone on for so long. 21 years is a lot, man.Madzey
He also said he thinks that for some of his students, particularly senior students, making films for the festival simply isn’t as fun anymore.
I think that the festival has also become, for students at NC specifically, something that they have to do, it’s not something that they want to do anymore. Except for a small percentage of students who love to do this stuff.
‘Do I have to go to it?’ I’m like, ‘Well, dude, don’t you want to go and see it in front of people?’ And it’s like, ‘Well I have to work that night.’ It’s just not as big of a deal as it used to be. You know, it’s just more of a have to than a want to.
I’d say over the past five [years], maybe longer. And here’s what’s interesting. It seems that the senior students don’t want to produce them anymore, but the beginning kids, like freshman and sophomores get super pumped about it like, ‘Oh we get to make this film using these techniques.’
I’m like, ‘Well now you get to go look for a location and get permission.’
And they’re like, ‘I’ve got to talk to somebody that’s not in the school?
So I think that kind of pressure and responsibility amps them up, but I think after you’ve done that for four years, it gets kind of old.Madzey
He also said that there are now many other high school film festivals around the country for students to submit films, which he said wasn’t the case when he started the festival.
I think the positive, and this is something that I’m excited about is, now they can enter other festivals because there are so many now.
I mean, this used to be the only one that I even knew of, just because we started it so long ago. But there are tons of high school film festivals now, and some of them are, most importantly in California, in New York and in Chicago, big places where films are being made, where professional films are being made.
And there is industry talent there and the industry professionals who they can learn from and ask questions.
That will be something that we most definitely do. They’ll still make films, for sure, that’s not going to go away. It’s great practice to tell a story visually and using sound and those are techniques that students use in television.Madzey
I mean knowing how to manipulate somebody using film-making techniques, that’s why I’ve always taught film-making first. I think it’s best to figure out how to manipulate, and then figure out whether or not you should, ethically.
Both Madzey and Chavez said that they plan to do more with television studio space at Pathways Innovation Center beginning next school year. Madzey said that his students are really excited about the possibilities for NCTV in that space.
I think NCTV has been more popular and more challenging in the past few years. Maybe because we’re in a new space. They’re pumped about Pathways next year.
I mean that’s the space that I helped design. It’s not a classroom that we tried to retrofit and painted a logo up on the wall to make work. You can tell, there’s no grid here. It’s just classroom lights.
This is the second year I’ve been in here, up in this space, and it’s worked great. But it is not made for a thing like NCTV. Where NCTV, we used to have a studio and a control room.
That’s what’s over [at Pathways] and so we’re going to make that work next year. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we’ll be at Pathways, NCTV will be, and then I’ll teach my beginning students here, so I’ll be like a travelling teacher. But I think it’s going to work great.
So that’s another thing that I think we want to put our focus on and make work. The festival takes a lot of planning, it’s like months of it, of making mistakes and there’s money involved and I don’t know, personally, I don’t want that responsibility anymore.Madzey
Chavez also talked about his plans to use the space at Pathways.
The plan for next year is to grow into that space. We’re kind of calling it Kelly Walsh West, just to kind of think of it as our campus over there in the afternoons.
Right now, just for me, my plan is I’ll be taking a Film and TV 1 and Film and TV 2 class up there in the afternoons in the fall semester. I’m excited for it, I mean that space is just, it’s high-end. It kind of rivals other news stations here in town, it’s just not getting put to use. So this is going to be a good solid attempt by the schools to just get up there and start getting kids through the doors.
The program has been growing. The last two years it’s just been blowing up. Kids are starting to see that there are careers out there that you can do, jump right into, you don’t have to go to college, and I think Wyoming is a great place to start.
I like these types of projects, the movie-making process, because the students will go from an idea just in their head, to writing it down, to story-boarding it. Then they go through all those recruiting skills to try and recruit people to work in front of the camera, behind the camera.
They have to work with businesses to get into locations to work. So there’s a lot of communication skills there. A lot of collaboration that happens on all phases, try to get props, trying to get the actors, directing actors. So there’s a lot of communication skills, a lot of collaboration skills, technical skills that are just, you know, how to work the camera, types of shots, the way you want to communicate.
So there’s so many aspects to film-making that I think students can take into the real world. And also just working with other people, knowing that something is expected of you as part of a team is huge.Chavez
Madzey and Chavez talked about some of the films that are going to be in the festival this year.
“We had over 50 entries and I think there’s 17 that got in,” Madzey said. “There are a lot of films that I’m pumped for.”
The selections were announced via video on Facebook. Oil City will share Madzey, Chavez and some students thoughts about this year’s festival line-up in a separate article.
“I just really want people to get out there to enjoy this festival,” Chavez said. “I know what Kelly Walsh has produced, I’ve seen what else is out there and they’re going to get a full $10 worth, for sure, seeing these films.”
Note: Trevor T. Trujillo works for Oil City News. He did not contribute to this article.