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Action — and make it fast! — Northampton Community Television sponsors seven-day film competition



Thursday, December 11, 2014
The costumes consisted of hand-lettered shirts, one saying “Sport” and the other “Champ.” The props were a mixed bag: a medicine ball, a catcher’s mask, two hurleys (hurling sticks), a tennis racket and a hockey helmet, minus its chin strap.

The cinematographer, Melissa McClung, with her Canon digital camera mounted on a shoulder rig, called out “OK, let’s do this” to the six actors, motioning them over to a particular spot of a grassy field in Hadley. And director Ari Hayes, standing next to her, brought his hands together to describe what he was looking for with the scene: “Shoot it wide, then cut in close for the blood.”

It wasn’t the setting for a slasher film. The crew of young people on this Sunday were members of a team that had taken on a challenge to make a seven-minute movie — writing a script, filming the action, doing the editing — in seven days. The project, sponsored by Northampton Community Television, has inspired 13 teams from the general public, plus another 10 from Northampton High School, to take to the streets and editing rooms.

The films will be aired on Oct. 25, at the Arts Trust Building in Northampton, when NCTV holds its annual meeting, and will include an awards ceremony with categories such as Best Actor and Actress, Best Director, and the Critic’s Choice for best film, which comes with $100 in cash prizes.

Al Williams, NCTV’s director, says the idea for a short film competition has been kicking around the station for some time, inspired by projects like a 72-hour short film competition hosted by the Belmont Media Center in Belmont. In this case, though, NCTV was particularly intrigued by some timed creative efforts here in Northampton.

“ ‘The 24-Hour Theater Project’ was a big inspiration,” said Williams, who also pointed to the program hosted by Historic Northampton this spring, in which more than 100 photographers documented life in the city over a 48-hour period. “We wanted to have something that would be fun and creative and really get people to focus over a short period ... we hope this can be the start of a tradition.”

To encourage participation, NCTV made much of its equipment, from cameras to editing machines, available to budding filmmakers, and it also arranged to give participants from Easthampton and Greenfield free access to equipment from community TV stations in those towns. In addition, no entry fee was required for film teams, as is often standard in other competitions, Williams said.

“We’re a community TV station, and this is the kind of creative, community project we want to offer,” he added.

The people behind Valleywood — the team of writer/director Hayes and cinematographer McClung — loved the idea of making a seven-minute movie. Though both have experience in film, from studying it in college to working with video as counselors at Deerfield Academy Summer Arts Camp (DASAC), neither had ever made a movie under such a tight deadline.

“It’s been great so far,” said Hayes last weekend, as he checked his script at an old baseball field in Hadley, where he and McClung had gathered several friends and other extras to film most of the scenes in their movie. “I wrote the script in a day, then Melissa and I hammered out some more ideas with some friends, and now we’re getting everything on film.”

The “action” in what’s called the “7 Day Film Sprint” began on the evening of Oct. 14, when film team leaders met at the NCTV station at Northampton High School to go over the ground rules. One by one, a person from each team stepped up to pluck a film topic from a paper bag held by Alexander Russo, a former NCTV intern who’s assisting on the project.

“Historical fiction!” Emma Jimerson said as she held up her slip of paper. Augustin Ganley did a double take when he got his topic, shook his head, then looked up at the others: “Kung Fu movie!” he said with a laugh.

When it was the turn of the Valleywood crew, McClung, of Hadley, drew, and she began laughing when she saw the topic: inspirational sports movie.

“You can do this as a lampoon, or you can try to play it straight,” Russo told the 30-odd people in the room. “We’re not looking for a perfect, finished product, although feel free to shoot for that if you want to be part of that group. ... Above all, have a lot of fun with this,”

Hayes and McClung said they intended to do just that, although they also wanted their film to look good. Both are serious about movies. They were friends at Amherst Regional High School, from which they graduated in 2007, and they’ve also worked together as counselors at DASAC, making videos in three-week classes with camp attendees.

McClung, 25, studied film and education at Vassar College, then worked as a videographer at a private school outside Boston. Now she’s teaching film at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley.

Hayes, also 25, studied film at Emerson College, spent some time in Hollywood after graduation, and now is director of production and interns at Amherst Media.

“We both moved back to the Valley in the last few months, and we knew we wanted to work together again,” said McClung. “This seemed like a perfect opportunity — it was a sign.”

Their story is about a young man, played by Amherst High student Finneas Scott, who overcomes various hardships to triumph in what Hayes and McClung call an “ambiguous” sport. To tell that tale, they assembled various friends and a number of students, from both Amherst High and PVPA, to work out the scenes on the old Hadley ballfield. McClung’s parents even made a cameo as part of a “crowd” that’s watching the action.

For one sequence, five Amherst seniors — three women and two men — squared off as two opposing teams, the “Champs” and “Sports,” in the undefined competition, which involved chasing, kicking and passing a medicine ball. Two of the women held hurleys; then Nathan Baron-Silva, wielding a croquet mallet, jumped into the scrum.

“None of us really know what this is about, so just try and go with it,” called Hayes, as he held the script by his side.

McClung stopped the group a few times as she tried to get the right feel for a brief scene in which Ilan Berkman, running with the ball, was brought down by a tackle by Lily Gould. Berkman, at least half a foot taller than Gould, sprawled theatrically at her feet while she pretended to stomp viciously on his legs.

“Perfect!” McClung called after the third take.

The deadline for turning the finished film, in digital format, into NCTV was 7 p.m. on Oct. 21. Would they make it? “We’ll be there,” Hayes said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

The screening and awards ceremony for NCTV’s “7 Day Film Sprint” takes place Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. at the Community Arts Trust building, 33 Hawley St., Northampton.