Student filmmakers see bright future for their feature

What happens when your summer project is to make a movie.

By Jessen O'Brien

While most students spent their summer sitting on the couch and watching movies, a few decided to make one instead. “A Girl Named Clyde,” is a feature-length film by fourth-year Jack Mayer and third-year Justin Staple, both majoring in Cinema and Media Studies, which premiered this Tuesday at Doc.

Clyde (Sydney Slotkin) lives, sings, and loves in Atlanta, Georgia. In an attempt to get over her ex, Emile (Augie Praley), she dates a Frenchman who leaves one day for Austin, Texas. Clyde follows him, and her friends, in turn, follow her on a road trip to Austin, only to discover that she’s fine and in love once more.

“I was interested in telling an interesting story without deviating from the things that had happened to me or my friends,” said Mayer, who wrote and directed the movie.

Mayer had previously worked with both the character Clyde and Slotkin, working with different written versions of Clyde and making shorter movies with Slotkin. Mayer loves working with Slotkin because of her honesty both on and off the screen. In order to perfect the character, Mayer said he “sat down and interviewed her, for literally hours of interviews. ” Once he had the character down, he simply put her in the situation he wanted for the movie.

The difficulties of developing the story came with the challenges of the logistics necessary for filmmaking; namely, the cost. Mayer raised about $8,000 for the film, and Fire Escape Films helped produce it and provided Mayer and Staple with free equipment. However, a good chunk of the money went to cars. “We had a car break down in Atlanta,” said Mayer, “Then the replacement car broke down dramatically with half of the equipment in it.”

With the working cars, the cast and crew traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to Galveston, Texas, and then finally to Austin, Texas. “We wanted to work in Mexico,” said Staple, the film’s editor and director of photography. “We thought it would be too risky to bring 15 people to Mexico.”

All 15 members of the crew attend the U of C. Although most of the cast does as well, it also includes a criminal lawyer, a voice actor for Mazda commercials, and a self-produced Spanish soap star. For part of the shooting, many members of the cast and crew stayed in one house together. “I suddenly realized this had become a fantastic, weird commune home,” Mayer recalled. However, the home was not entirely idyllic. The purchase of Lone Star Beer and BB guns led to a house riddled with holes. Luckily, they fixed the damage by morning.

The work did not end with summer. After three and a half weeks of filming, Mayer and Staple began editing. Through this tedious process, they assembled the hours of footage into a coherent story. “We had this mold to create anything we wanted,” said Staple. Although Clyde ended up “a loveable, honest, silly girl, we could have made her very quirky, weird, quiet.”

Over 100 scenes were cut to make the two and a half hour movie, but even now the work continues. “I think now the hard work has just begun,” said Staple, who often shows random scenes of the movie to anyone who stops by his house. Mayer does the same, always trying to get another opinion.

During the ongoing process of editing, Mayer and Staple want to add more original music and animation to the film. Their goal? To have the film ready for the 2011 independent film festival season, especially the South By Southwest Festival. To do so requires a certain level of technical tweaking, such as ensuring high quality sound, as well as adding hand-drawn animation. As for other venues, “I’ve been toying with the idea of doing college tours,” said Mayer. Doc may be the first of many college film societies to air the movie.

Other more immediate plans include producing a soundtrack. “A lot of original music came from post-production,” said Staple. “So what we’re going to do is get together a soundtrack.” The music has a Southern feel to it, reminiscent of its locales.

Mayer said he wanted to “make a movie that could be compelling as a film to people who aren’t my friends,” while Staple longed to “inspire other student filmmakers, specifically at UChicago.” Although this may have been the first feature-length film they produced together, they have done shorter works before, and plan to continue working together in the future. No matter how far “A Girl Named Clyde” will go, both Mayer and Staple seem certain that there is more to be filmed in the summers to come.