November 30, 2021

Filmmaking on the fly: Students compete to make films in 24 hours

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

South Seneca High School sophomore Quinton Mundell, right, gets help Sunday from Tompkins Cortland Community College digital cinema student Jordan Slater making a movie in a 24-hour period over the weekend.

DRYDEN — Most kids don’t want to be in school for an hour, but a group of high school students spent 24 hours at Tompkins Cortland Community College over the weekend.
And they enjoyed it.

For the second year, TC3 hosted the Sleepless at Tompkins Cortland, a 24-hour film competition.

Fifty students from eight schools worked in groups to create a three-minute film within 24 hours. They were given a script, filming equipment, free range of the campus and volunteer actors each team must share. The groups create story boards, select filming locations, organize times to use the actors, film the scenes and edit them into a short film.

“The whole experience is fun, and tiring,” said Jordan Slater of Endicott, a cinematography major, who took part in the event last year and acted as a mentor this year.

Going into the event, he said, he didn’t know what to expect, but the whole experience was satisfying.

Quinton Mundell, a 10th-grader at South Seneca High School, was the only student from his school to participate and decided to work alone, but was excited. He said his passion is wrestling, but he enjoys filmmaking and wanted to see what he could accomplish.

The idea stemmed from Chris Xaver, a TC3 professor of communication and media arts. She said the idea first came from a former colleague who tried to do it, but it didn’t work out. So last year, Xaver decided to throw the idea out to schools and her cinema club.

Twenty-nine students took part last year, with no prize.

“They all came together for the love of film,” Xaver said.

This year, the winning group won the chance to take a one-credit TC3 class for free — the classes include motion graphics, film essentials and basic editing.

The winner was chosen by a panel of judges, which included Kevin Hicks, a filmmaking commercial producer; Vicky Hicks, a former Hollywood screenwriter; John Johnson, a sports broadcaster for Time Warner Cable News, among others.

No matter what point in the process the students were at, at 3 p.m. Sunday the competition was over. They went home, refreshed and then came back at 5 p.m. to view the finished project with the panel.

This year, Mundell, on his own, won the competition with his film “Who wants to be a Sugar Daddy?”

“I was in tears, and he was almost in tears,” Xaver said.

The judges were blown away by what he made, particularly the level of professionalism he displayed and his coherence, Xaver said. At 4 a.m. Sunday, Mundell was not happy with some of his scenes, Xaver said, so he gathered the actors back together and reshot until he got them right.

One of the two teams from Dryden High School took home the audience choice award with their film “West Side Carrot.” The included Marc DiGiacomo, Bobby Lundy and Cooper Arsenault.

“I’m blown away by what the students created and what they turned around,” Xaver said.

Each team was given the same script: the story of superheroes Carrot-Man and Kiwi Kid, who must face the villain Sugar Daddy. It was meant to match the tone of the 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West. The students were not allowed to change the script, unless approved by the executive producer — Xaver.

“It is a very different experience than what they (students) do in high school,” Xaver said, because students normally don’t get a chance experience experience the entire filmmaking process in high school. “I hear them say, ‘I didn’t know how hard it was.’”

Kayla Eaton of Dryden, a TC3 liberal studies major who competed last year and worked as a mentor this year, said the experience taught her about using cameras and the pressure that goes along with making movies.

“It is exhausting,” said Logan Patrick Endicott, a TC3 television production major, who also competed last year and mentored this year. “But it is exciting.”

The experience made him decide he wanted to go to college at TC3, and prepared him for late nights.

Xaver said she never realized high school students have never pulled an all-nighter before, and that it is a big deal for them.

“It is a huge accomplishment for them,” she said.

Another thing Xaver learned from the first year of the event is how much food high school students eat. She got more this year — $400 worth.

Sleep was rare. Patrick said team members switched tasks to take a break, but everyone got about an hour of sleep. At 2 a.m., some groups began editing, while some needed to re-shoot. It was a time Xaver said students began to pull their hair out. But by 3 p.m. the films were done.