Cinema arts hosts smallest class of capstones to date


This semester has been the smallest cinema arts capstone to date. From left: Brenton Griffith, Victoria Wolk, Valentin Merlet and Professor Peter Carlos. Not pictured: Lexy Kadey.
Photo taken by Kayla Drake


Cinema Arts is hosting its smallest class of capstones yet, at just four seniors.

The capstones are semester-long short-film projects that students complete as a final demonstration of the skills they collected as filmmakers.

The seniors of this semester, Lexy Kadey, Valentin Merlet and Victoria Wolk, all experimented with different genres with their short films.

Professor of the cinema arts capstone class Peter Carlos has been teaching the class for eight years and said he considers himself a career coach for students.

“I’m really a cheerleader in that class,” he said. “I’m not teaching them things, because they come into the class with those skills.”

Each cinema arts student must direct a capstone film. Carlos said he tries to push his students to try new things with their films.

“I would rather students fail brilliantly than to just do something middle of the road,” he said.

Crowning Change: An Erin O’Flaherty Story by Lexy Kadey

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As a former Miss Missouri contestant, Kadey connected with Erin O’Flaherty, the first openly gay Miss America contestant in the pageant’s 100-year history, and produced a documentary about the pageant queen’s story.

Kadey said she originally planned to just use O’Flaherty for a class project.

“Once we talked and I knew what [Erin] was doing with the LGBT community, I knew her story needed to be shared on a bigger platform,” she said.

O’Flaherty won Miss Missouri 2016 and was featured on The Today Show, Riverfront Times, People and the New York Times.

“Crowning Change” runs at just under 18 minutes and features prominent LGBTQ advocates such as Jazz Jennings and Sarah McBride.

Carlos said he thinks Kadey is taking a chance with her first short film.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”My biggest takeaway is to go for it and not hold back” – Lexy Kadey[/perfectpullquote]

“It’s not run of the mill,” he said. “I thought she picked a great subject that makes her stand out.”

Kadey said the film is still relevant because she wants to show how people still send O’Flaherty hate and death threats because of whom she loves.

“We are coming up on 2018, and we feel like we have come so far with equality, and we haven’t,” she said.

Kadey raised almost $9,000 through a Kickstarter for production costs, which was $1,000 over her initial goal. Carlos said the fundraising sets her apart because it is the most a student in the program has ever raised. On the last day of the Kickstarter, she raised the last $3,000.

“It was so scary because if you don’t raise all the money, you don’t get all of it,” Kadey said.

The money went toward travel, production and staff fees for the film. Kadey filmed her entire capstone during the summer of 2017 following O’Flaherty’s career.

So far “Crowning Change” has found some success in the festival circuit. It won a Los Angeles Film Award for Inspiring Woman in A Film, was in the semifinals for the Student Film Awards for Best Documentary and was admitted into the Canada Independent Film Fest in January 2018 in Montreal.

Kadey said she learned a lot in the production process and expects 2018 to be a great year for her documentary.

“My biggest takeaway is to go for it and not hold back,” she said.

A movie trailer of “Crowning Change”  by Lexy Kadey

99.5 by Valentin Merlet

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Merlet decided to create a dramatic film about relationships because filmmaking is a better way to communicate his feelings.

“I love [filmmaking] because making things is a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings, maybe better than speaking or anything else,” he said.

The 15-minute film is between two teenagers, Emma and Thomas. The friends get stuck in a WWII-era bunker and the entire time they work together to find a way out. As the film progresses, the audience watches their relationship grow. The title is the key to the way to get out of the bunker.  

Merlet said he is most proud of the build-up he accomplished in the film, but also he took advantage of the small space to manipulate the settings.

“We played with the light, we played with the character, we played with the build-up of a short film,” he said. “The whole conception is really interesting from the script to the lighting to the camera movement.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I love [filmmaking] because making things is a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings” – Valentin Merlet[/perfectpullquote]

The biggest challenge of production was filming in the bunker because it was such a tight space, and for continuity, the props had to stay in the same place, Merlet said.

“Every time we were moving the camera, we had to move all the stuff and then put everything back,” he said.

Senior Spencer Elmore wrote the film’s script for Merlet, who is originally from France. Merlet said he collaborated a lot with Elmore during the writing and drew inspiration from his claustrophobia, instead of imagining a made-up situation.

“I found out that writing a script from my fears was actually easier than writing a script from everything I lacked,” Merlet said.

He said the biggest advice he can give to someone is to write their script early because “it is a lot more deep than we think, and one semester is really quick.”

For the past two and a half years, Merlet has been volunteering on other capstones. He said it was easy to pick his crew, namely Elmore and his Director of Photography Julius Damenz.

“99.5” is the second short film Merlet has made. His first short film, “Renounce,” won the Judges Award at the Bison Bison Film Festival in 2016 in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Merlet plans to add more sound effects and update the soundtrack before submitting “99.5″ to festivals.

Behind 99.5 from Spencer James Elmore on Vimeo.

Badlaws by Victoria Wolk

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Wolk decided to script out a western comedy for her first short film after channeling inspiration from her childhood.

“I’ve always loved Westerns,” Wolk said. “I grew up with that stuff, watching ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza.’ I guess you could say a part of my childhood is hidden in there.”

The five-minute short film is about outlaws who are bad at being bad guys. After a bank robbery gone wrong, the bandits do not have enough money to escape to Kentucky.

At first, Wolk, who said she prefers simple concepts, wrote the script as only two men in a room. But after she pitched her Western to Carlos, he said: “This is not a Western unless you have a horse.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I just like to prove girls can do the same thing guys can do” – Victoria Wolk[/perfectpullquote]

Wolk agreed, but after the production process she said she did not like working with animals because they did not cooperate fully. “Badlaws” is the only capstone to use live animals in this year’s class.

Wolk said she could see the entire script in her head, but putting it on paper was challenging. Also, during the production, Wolk said it was hard to give control to her crew and not try to help everyone.

“I’m one of those people that is very hands-on, but as a director, which is what I would like to go on to do, your job is to sit back and take it all in,” she said.

Besides gaining cinema arts skills, Wolk said her capstone also taught her how to handle stress and to go sleep-deprived.

The production of “Badlaws” also challenged Wolk because days before her scheduled shoot, a lot of her crew canceled, which led to her abandoning both her Plan A and B.

“People will give up on you, and they will back out on you,” Wolk said. “As long as you have that backbone, for me that’s my family … then you can do it.”

Wolk said she is drawn to areas that are male-dominated as she picked up weightlifting, archery and eventually her major in film.

“I just like to prove girls can do the same thing guys can do,” she said.

After this semester, Wolk plans on lengthening “Badlaws” and eventually writing her own TV series.

All of the short films will be showcased at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, in the LARC theater. The showing is free and open to all students and community members.