How to Make Student Films During a Pandemic

Since its inception, film and the process of creating movies has always been a team effort. You need a crew full of dedicated members, all passionate about their specific role on set, to churn out the best product you can.

So naturally, when COVID, an infectious disease in which the CDC guidelines prohibit the gathering of groups, all filmmaking productions came to a grounding halt. However, at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) the senior film department was still tasked with creating short horror comedy films.

Only this time, the pandemic gave us one large obstacle: produce a film, with no crew, each student on their own.

Ix’Chel Angeles, 17 and Isabella Saban, 17 are two of the senior film majors who were tasked with creating the short films. Along with the challenge of having to shoot, edit, direct and record sound solo, the filmmakers only had two weeks to make the films the way they could to be shown at FSSA’s annual Halloween show.

The two filmmakers seemed to have had parallel experiences.

“I believe that being forced to do a film on my own helped me gain new leadership skills, it helped me take action. My leadership skills were strengthened because I had to learn how to lead myself, ” Isabella stated. 

When asked about some of the challenges of filming in this new age of the pandemic, Isabella said that at first she was extremely nerve-wracked.

“I was on the bus alone, just sitting in the corner, feeling anxious to start. It was intimidating, I had barely made any short films in general and now I had to make one all by myself,” she said.

Isabella got home and set up for her shoot. One actor. One crew member. Four hours to shoot. Proper precautions had to be taken to decrease the possible risk of her actor transmitting COVID-19 to her family members.

Her family made sure to stay in separate rooms, far from the shooting location and any time they needed to pass by or ask her something they came with masks. The actor also had to wear a mask, whenever they weren’t filming. Along with this, Isabella made sure to check the actor’s temperature when they arrived.

Now, with all this precautionary stuff out of the way, she got right into shooting. She said when she did her fears disintegrated and the thoughts she had on the bus were now a faded memory. 

“I kinda got into a groove once we started and I gotta say I kinda impressed myself,” she said.

On the other hand, Ix’Chel Angeles had quite the opposing experience, when compared to Isabella.

“I didn’t know where to start, really. I also kind’ve wished that I had a crew, for organizational purposes,” Ix’Chel said.

She made it clear that pre-production (writing, making costumes, make-up) has always been the most important part of the filmmaking process. However, this time around pre-production felt rushed and almost like it was too much to handle for Ix’Chel.

“When we are making films normally we have a whole crew of people to help out during pre-production. The sound guy is preparing for recording audio on set, the camera operator is making shots, everyone has their individual work to do and the director sits and watches over everyone, directing. I wish that could’ve been the process, but it wasn’t,” she said.

Yet despite her challenges Ix’Chel finished the process, single handedly and moved on to shooting the film.

She said that shooting felt sort of off and misguided. Like it was missing something. Her actor had a strict time constraint, she could only be on set for four hours. Meanwhile her cat, Maggie, the co-star of the short was having a difficult time cooperating. At the same time, she played a sheeted ghost and her sheet wasn’t working out too well.

Ix’Chel says that they finished every scene that needed to be done with her actor on that day. Whilst she couldn’t get much with her cat she opted to do that on her own.

Ix’Chel turned out with a mock trailer for a film that parallels the likes of Night of the Living Dead. The Cat From Next Door is about a teen who encounters a creepy, ghost-cat that seems to be hunting her. 

Isabella’s short horror film is about a granddaughter who is extremely distant towards her grandpa. However, over the pandemic they plan to do a zoom yoga meet. Things start to get odd whilst she stays trapped in the call. The film is titled after the popular yoga pose Shavasana

Both films were screened at The 2020 Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Halloween Show.

– by Alex Coyoc