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Framing the Scene: Students’ Short Film Wows Judges in Local Competition

Posted April 5, 2017 in StudentDigital Art and Design

A team of students from the Digital Media program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University recently joined West Michigan’s best up-and-coming filmmakers in the winner’s circle of Grand Rapids Film Festival (GRFF) 36-Hour Challenge.

Students Ashley Kalin, Kelsey Kamrowski, Chris Kehoe, Matthew McDaniel, and Tys Yoder won a Craft Award for Direction in the competition, which invited teams to shoot, edit, and score an original short film responding to the theme of “transformation” in just 36 hours. Leveraging a diverse collective skill set including video production, 2D animation and motion graphics, 3D animation, and sound design, the KCAD students found success in a field of 17 teams, many featuring students studying in film-focused academic programs and/or professionals already working in the film industry.

Digital Media students(left to right): Chris Kehoe, Matthew McDaniel, Tys Yoder, Ahley Kalin, and Kelsey Kamrowski

Kalin, the team’s producer and co-editor, says she and her teammates wanted to respond to the judges’ desire for topical, emotional, and hopeful subject matter, ultimately landing on the issue of gender and sexual identity as an overarching focus for their film. Their winning entry, “Color Me True,” follows a single protagonist through a series of surreal and introspective scenes in which he struggles to reconcile his internal and external identities.

“We really thought hard about the kinds of current issues that would have an impact on the judges and our larger audience. We ended up focusing on identity because it’s an issue that we all felt strongly about, especially our actor, Patrick. He was really able to bring that into his performance.”

After nailing down a concept, the team wasted little time jumping right into shooting. Given the competition’s tight timeline, core filmmaking processes such as storyboarding, location scouting, and scene staging had to be scrapped in favor of a more fluid approach.

“Shooting was really organic. We quickly settled on a few locations and then just started experimenting with different shots, seeing what we could and couldn’t get away with,” says McDaniel, the team’s director and co-editor. “Then, we’d shoot a couple variations of each shot and pick our favorites out in post-production.”

The post-production process was where the team’s diverse creative skills really shone through. The visual effects team of Kamrowski and Yoder brought the film’s more dreamlike scenes to life through focused experimentation with Adobe After Effects software.

“It was really just us messing around and see what we could get it to do,” says Yoder. “In the scene where the actor’s face is changing colors, we actually stumbled on to that effect purely by accident, and it ended up being one of the most dynamic moments in the film. The format of the competition was really cool because it forced you to embrace that.”

Once the visual effects fell into place, Kalin and McDaniel worked to ensure tight transitions between shots as well as the overall continuity of the visual narrative. Then, Kehoe sat down with the finished footage and in a matter of hours composed an original score to tie the whole film together.

“Chris did an excellent job on the music,” says Kamrowski. “For him to bust something out quickly that tied everything together was amazing. He’s very talented.”

Despite their individual talents, winning the Craft Award for Direction was truly a collaborative achievement for the students, one made all the more special given the level of competition they faced.

“There were a lot of really good films and they were made by people who are coming from a film background. We’re all coming from so many different backgrounds, and it was amazing to see all of our different strengths come together and result in a best directing award,” says Kamrowski.

“It was incredible working with this entire team of creatives,” adds McDaniel. “This award is surreal.”

Learn more about KCAD’s Digital Media program at kcad.edu/digitalmedia