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Powell River Digital Film School students bring screenplay to life

"What I’m doing here is all the preparatory work for university. Just getting in the experience of being on set has been great.” ~ Beauty cinematographer/editor Mel Yerna
ON SET: Powell River Digital Film School mentor Tony Papa, with student director Macy Bryce [centre] and cinematographer Mel Yerna, is overseeing production of the student-shot short feature called Beauty, which details emotional abuse. On this night of shooting, the production crew was working at the Town Centre Mall parking lot.

Now in production, Powell River Digital Film School’s year-end project called Beauty, dealing with the topic of emotional abuse, hopes to build on the film school’s tradition of being a standout on the film festival circuit.

Tony Papa, the film school’s mentor and a professional filmmaker who serves as executive producer for Beauty, said the film began from an exercise in script writing, which is a fairly big part of the curriculum. He brings in an award-winning writer and producer to teach the students the script format, story building and structure. The students then write scripts and one is selected for the students’ big collaborative film project.

“This one was an idea from Macy Bryce, and we decided to do it,” said Papa. “This particular script deals with domestic abuse and how a woman and her child make a decision to stay or go.

“Some of the casting had a connection to the subject matter, so it was good to have somebody who was familiar with the subject matter.”

All of the film school members are involved in the production. Papa structures the on-set responsibilities to match what would be found on a professional set.

“We’re showing them how it can be done best,” said Papa. “The films come from the process of planning and researching. We’re taking it seriously. We don’t fly things by the seat of our pants.”

Bryce, writer and director, said that after the script-writing course, where all of the class members wrote scripts, hers was chosen.

Bryce said the main topic of the story is how emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. A film on Netflix called Maid explores similar themes that served as inspiration for Beauty, she added.

Bryce said she wanted to see how a big production about such a heavy topic could be adapted into a smaller production at the school.

Four actors have been scripted into the production. It took Bryce a couple of months to write it.

“We have great actors and a great crew, and I’m really happy to be doing this with these people,” said Bryce.

Run time of the film will be about five or six minutes. Bryce said she has woven visual styling into the film to go along with the dialogue.

“I’m trying my best to show things more than say them,” said Bryce. “I think the way we are filming it will actually bring out a lot more emotion than the dialogue.”

Bryce said she has always wanted to be a director. Next year she is moving to France and will look at some film schools there.

“My goal is to be a teacher of film,” added Bryce.

Making connections

Mel Yerna, cinematographer and editor, has made a number of independent films and also worked professionally in the lighting department of the feature film Exile, which shot throughout the qathet region last year.

“I got on there by joining the Powell River Digital Film School and it gave me the right connections,” said Yerna.

She is going to Capilano University in the fall to take a bachelor of motion picture arts program.

“I picture myself becoming a director of photography in the Vancouver film industry,” said Yerna. “What I’m doing here is all the preparatory work for university. Just getting in the experience of being on set has been great.

“I try to make one film a month and I’m building up my demo reel to show to future clients to get work.”

Yerna said she has gained great knowledge through the digital film school and that the set she’s working on for Beauty is structured like a professional set on a feature film.

“Every minor thing is shown in this program and it gets you to that next level,” said Yerna.

She said with Beauty, she is encapsulating the film in the visual field. She said she is working to develop her own style in editing and colour grading and is hoping that shows in the final cut.

Papa said a good number of the school’s students are going onto professional post-secondary training in film disciplines. He has been able to place students on productions in paid positions, such as the recently filmed Exile, to give them even more real-life experience.

“I pass onto the students a professional work ethic,” added Papa. “On these productions, I take the business of executive producer, so I help them realize their vision. I try to make sure things are running as smoothly as possible on set. The students are doing the creative work.”

Gala screening

A public screening of Beauty will take place on June 22 at the Patricia Theatre; the gala screening is open to the public. Students will show the work encompassing what they have done during their school term.

Doors open at 6 pm, there will be food and drinks, then screenings at 7 pm, followed by certificate awarding and a question and answer period with the audience.

“It’s cool for the audience to see where the students started and finished,” said Papa. “It’s also cool that the students get to see their films through the eyes of the audience. When you have a theatre full of people, the students see that it is an interactive medium and it’s the icing on the cake for the students to see how an audience appreciates the work.”

Admission to the gala screening is free but donations will be accepted.

The digital film school has a legacy of winning awards for its year-end productions. This current class has already won four awards for its work this year. The big one, financially, was through WorkSafeBC, and had a $4,000 prize attached to it.

“The big, fat cheque is going to be handed over at the gala screening,” said Papa. “It’s been a very cool year already.”

As for Beauty, it will be entered into the film festival circuit, and hopefully, it will garner awards for the dedicated cadre of film students.

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