Story by Trevor Green
UAT's Digital Video short film A Turkey is an Official Selection in the 2010 Phoenix Film Festival, taking place April 8-15. Created by the DVA442 HDV Production class during the spring 2009 semester, the bowling-based action/drama will screen in the "Arizona Shorts Program A" category.
A Turkey was produced and photographed by UAT students, with Professor Paul DeNigris in the director's chair. Undergrads Nicholas Wassenberg and Susanna Morgan served as producers, Zac Donner photographed the action, Joel Terry was the film's editor, Ryan Loveland was in charge of costume design and Justin Gagen headed the art department. Adjunct Instructor Steve Briscoe wrote the screenplay and acted in the film.
Wassenberg and Morgan took on new tests as producers, putting their stamp on the movie from start to finish. The pair contacted and auditioned actors, set up and scheduled shoot locations, catered, communicated between departments and ensured that everything was on set to facilitate filming. Both chose the script, drawn to the gritty story about a contract killer who has too much information for his boss to handle.
Wassenberg knew he was in for a challenge in accepting the producer role.
"It's a huge change because usually I just take what other people have done and add my own little thing to them in post-production [visual effects] , but now it was an entirely new facet of the industry that I hadn't experienced before," he said. "I'm not the most organized person in the world, and the job requires a fair share of organization, so it's not my cup of tea."
Morgan found the workload mostly enjoyable, finding a potential career focus in the process.
"There were definitely moments when I was working on this project where I wished I didn't have so much to take care of it. But most of the time, it really is a lot of fun. And, when the film is finished, you can sit back and say, 'This really is my movie. I had a part in it every step of the way. I really helped to make this thing happen.' And that's a great feeling."
Gagen utilized his handyman skills as art director to tackle set design, assemble props - which included a false bottom bowling bag and table for a decapitated head - and create makeup effects like fake blood. He found his calling with the role, taking on similar duties in subsequent movies.
"It was my first adventures into art direction, so I really fell in love with it really quick, though. I've been doing it a lot ever since," he admitted. "Everything I've learned from A Turkey has really helped me in [production] since then."
DeNigris took a mostly hands-off approach with overseeing the film, offering feedback and letting the students get their hands dirty with their roles.
"I tried to do as little as possible on it, so I was just directing and the students had to do everything else. And they all stepped up really well," he noted. "Usually, I give them enough specific direction up front and then they can just take it and run with it, and what they come up with definitely fits within my vision."
The vision is one that everyone involved enjoyed gain acceptance into the Festival - with some, like Wassenberg and Morgan, surprised to learn that the film was submitted.
"A lot of hard work did go into the making of A Turkey. To have it accepted into the Phoenix Film Festival, well, that really just shows us that all of that work paid off. That's a really wonderful feeling," Morgan declared.
"It turned out a lot better than a lot of us thought it was going to. I mean, we had high expectations because we were in a 400-level class and we wanted it to be professional-level, but I think it really exceeded all of our expectations on how well we achieved our goals," said Gagen. "We were really surprised how much we could really do with all we learned here. It really put our skills in perspective."