By Pete Barell
Each year, senior film majors embark on their final thesis project. It could be a screenplay, a series of work as an editor, cinematographer or other role, but more often a short film. Despite their length, usually no more than twenty minutes, these shorts can require thousands of dollars to produce. The money is needed for casting, set design, sound mixing, scoring, catering, location fees, festival submissions and any other costs not mitigated by school equipment room aid. Many students, such as Errol Nicholson, who completed principal photography on his short “Amelia” in March, turn to crowd sourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to raise the much needed cash for completion.
“Amelia” is about the tough decisions and emotional trauma a pregnant couple face when they learn of complications that would mean either the mother or baby can survive birth. Nicholson forged the main characters, Jess and Greg, from romantic comedy tropes, making them relatable while also flipping that dynamic on its head.
“It’s about that cliche romantic comedy couple that you see in the movies,” explained Nicholson. “I just wanted to give that couple you see in those types of films a real-life situation. You always see romantic comedies where they never really face a realistic problem, it’s either a fashion montage or running to an airport to stop a loved one from getting on a fight. I wanted to see what it would be like to put them into a different situation.”
Nicholson described the experience of shooting the film, which was an enthusiastic endeavor for the cast and crew. “Everyone was so passionate about the project. You don’t always go on shoots where everyone seems to genuinely care about the story, so it was inspiring.” Much of the investment was spurred by a key part of Nicholson’s directing, when he asked Sara Raimandi, who plays Jess, to write a heartfelt letter to her fictional husband. He did not tell her what to write, instead allowing her to organically do it herself.
“I had [Raimondi] write it and I totally forgot that she had written it when we were about to shoot,” Nicholson said. “The morning of the shoot I called her up and asked if she could bring the note to set. She said sure, no problem. I went to her house and picked it up and she told me how she felt so sad writing it and that she started crying. She put it in a sealed envelope. I wanted to open it, I really did. But I figured it would be better if we had [the character’s husband] open it on camera so his reaction was genuine. We had him come in, he did the scene, opened the letter and he nailed it. All one take.”
Nicholson felt that posing a question to the audience, making them think deep upon seeing the film, would make it a compelling story to tell. “I want to have the audience leave asking themselves what they would do in these types of situations,” he explained. “How would they react? You watch a movie, like a James Bond film and the scenario is to save the girl or stop a nuclear missile. You’ll never experience that ever. So, with “Amelia” we shot for something that could happen, could be relatable. To have the audience question their own morals.”
Later, Nicholson recorded Raimondi reading the letter, another factor which has since inspired him to expand the story into a feature film, which she will be writing with him. Nicholson’s thesis advisor is Professor John Koshel. “We helped a lot with the writing process, and gave me ideas for little details in the script that made it better,” Nicholson said. The director attests to the collaborative and fluid process of shooting the film with his director of photography, Justin Espinal. “I would just have to look at him and he’d know what I was thinking,” Nicholson said.
The film has been almost fully shot, with a few pickup shots left. However, there is still much to be done in regards to post production, which is where the lion-share of funds raised will be allocated. “We’re going to submit it to festivals and [eventually] turn it into a feature. That is something to look forward to as well. If you like romantic comedies, you should donate. If you hate romantic comedies, you should donate.”
As for the director himself, ambitious plans are in store for the future after graduating in May. “The original plan was to start as an editor and work my way up to being a director,” Nicholson concluded. “But the way this short is going, the amount of feedback and excitement I’ve been getting, even people do not go to our school. We went to the city with [Raimondi], to a rehearsal for a play she was in. The other actors were asking about it. So I thought I should just go for directing. So thats the plan after college. I know it’s risky but I figured I’d go for it.”
The target is to raise $5000 dollars for “Amelia” in the next two weeks before the Kickstarter campaign expires. $2500 has already been raised as of this writing. For more information and to view the trailer visit ameliashortflm.com or facebook.som.ameliashortfilm.