Prodigy Camp Experience

A month ago, I went to Seattle for a week of indie filmmaking at “Prodigy Camp“. I received a scholarship to attend Prodigy Camp back in April at NFFTY, and was incredibly excited to go!

The first few days went by, and I loved every aspect of the camp. Attending lessons, meeting new people, really everything. I played different roles while I was there: grip, sound, and acting (the acting was a new and pleasant experience).

I acted in Elijah Seneker’s film, “Facebook Friends“. It was a last minute request, but after gladly accepting and reading the script, I was more than happy that he asked me. By far the most fun I’ve had on a shoot. I wrote a brief blog post on it and included the finished film, here.

I really learned a lot from being on set, and around the DP’s (Directors of Photography). All the staff and interns were so nice, answering any questions I might have, and helping out with anything I might need. Stefanie Malone came by one night to talk about NFFTY, and we had an opportunity to chat before her presentation, which I really enjoyed.

On to my shoot…

Before coming to camp, I prepared a script entitled “Ellie”, which is about a teen boy trying to escape from his long-time captor.

A still from the "Ellie" shoot - Nathan and Kevin

A still from the “Ellie” shoot – Nathan and Kevin

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some great actors, including Nathan Gamble (which I was very excited about), and I had a great producer Adam McArthur, so I was really excited to start the shoot. However, as the shoot went on, I became more and more stressed. Feeling stressed on shoots can be normal, but I still found myself feeling uneasy. That feeling came because of a couple of reasons:

1. We had only a three-hour shoot window, and we started 20 minutes late because the shooting location needed some last-minute prep before we could start. I’ve had people suggest to me in the past to do things like 48-hour film festivals, but I’ve kindly turned them down because of the fact that it’s really difficult for me to work under such time constraints. I meticulously plan my shoots, but capturing an entire short film within a handful of hours isn’t for me.

2. That being said, although I was really proud of the screenplay I came up with (and my mentors loved the screenplay too), it was way too difficult to shoot this screenplay in three hours. Maybe if we had more rehearsal, and I had more time to communicate with the crew prior to our three-hour shoot, it might have been possible. But frankly, the screenplay I came up with was not meant to be made in that short amount of time.

3. This was my first time working with a Director of Photography (DP). Traditionally, a DP is in charge of the camera work, and a Director…directs, without handling the camera. Although I did take the camera in my own hands at some points, I still found it really difficult having to direct actors, crew, and a DP all at once. Especially when I had only just met them.

4. I also, sadly, found it difficult to connect with my DP on an emotional level, which is crucial when working on set with anyone. You need to be able to work with people that you can easily connect with and have the same vision, so the shoot can be done in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible. If you can’t connect, it makes the shoot a lot more difficult to get through. This had nothing to do with my DP’s technical or artistic abilities, but having to work with someone who you’ve never met before, only to find out that you approach things differently when you arrive on set, becomes a problem. Trying to sort this out on set, in a three-hour shoot, can be disastrous.

One of the things I walked away with however, is realizing that the point of camp is to make friends (or “connections” if we’re being professional), learn from the lessons and discussions, experience the different roles in the shoots, and just have fun while doing it all. The final product of a short film is a bonus. It’s great to have it, and I would have loved to finished “Ellie”, but the experience is as important as the outcome. What I took away, was an amazing experience, and yes it stings to not have a film as a final product, but I’m happy with what I’ve learned and taken away from it all.

And I do really want to especially thank Rick Stevenson (founder of Prodigy Camp) for his understanding and handling of a difficult scenario. For the session on the last day of camp where everyone presented their finished films, Rick suggested that I present some of my footage and talk openly about what went well, and what didn’t. Laura and Ned Hosford, who both work as staff and act at Prodigy Camp, were also really supportive and fun to work with.

I plan on going again next year for “Production Camp”, which is a three-day version of Prodigy Camp for the alumni, and would love to be an intern for Prodigy camp as well (wink-wink nudge-nudge). For my film at Production Camp, I am going to prepare a story idea and have a simple concept around it. I did a Fav Film Friday on a Prodigy Camp film “Well” that is similar to what I’m talking about.

Prodigy Camp was amazing, and I thank all the staff and fellow campers that made the experience the way it was. I can’t wait for next year.

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