Students collaborate on and offscreen in “Student Body President”

Sean Lee

Cast and crew gathered on Friday, May 13 to film “Student Body President,” a collaboration between eight different classes and several faculty members, film teacher Jordan Rathus said. 

Filmmaking 1, 2, 3, and 4 and Film History, taught by Rathus, worked with theater teacher Haila VanHentenryck’s Acting on Camera to organize and execute the film shoot. “Ms. V and I meet before the school year begins, and we go through the schedule and figure out between two and three projects we can film together,” Rathus said.

The film is about a rivalry between fraternal twin sisters from very different cliques in a race for student body president, Yasmeen Masoud (10) said. Masoud plays Fox, the popular, spoiled, and prissy twin who has everyone in the palm of her hand. Fox’s twin sister, Scarlett, is a 2000’s grunge “Avril Lavigne type” meant to be an outcast both in her school and home life, played by Celia Stafford (10), Masoud said. “Their friends actually end up playing a really big role in the end, and I’m excited for people to see how that plays out,” she said.

A week before the major shoot day, actors received scripts and discussed details with directors, playwrights, and members of the filmmaking class, Masoud said. Then, the crew, VanHentenryck, and Rathus collaborated on a film schedule that actors received a few days before the shoot day.

Filmmaking students were split into two groups: the first unit filmed the majority of large group scenes, and the second unit filmed contained scenes with fewer actors, Rathus said. “It was organized in a way that enabled us to film two things at once because it’s a very ambitious script,” she said. “We had many spreadsheets that all recorded exactly which actors we needed in which scenes in which locations, and when we were scheduling it, we found multiple scenes that could be filmed simultaneously.”

Another large part of the preparation for the filmmaking crew involved reading and understanding the script so they could get the right shots, Ethan Waggoner (12) said. As the boom mic operator, Waggoner knew which actors had mics on, which helped him know which audios to prioritize when shooting the scene, he said.

While Waggoner was supposed to be a cameraman, he stepped up and filled the role of a boom op that many others shied away from. “It often puts me in a bunch of awkward positions — if you end up watching the movie, I’m constantly under the table or hanging above the shot, which is fun,” he said. “It definitely doesn’t get noticed as much, but the movie doesn’t have audio without it.”

Assistant Director Logan Dracos (12) ensured that both crews were organized and on top of the schedule throughout the day to get the best shots and performances, he said. “It’s been a lot of organizational work,” he said. “Organizing something this big takes a lot of time and effort, which Ms. Rathus and the rest of the crew have certainly put in.”

Before actors reported to the first location on the film day, they performed a ritual warmup to get prepared, VanHentenryck said. “We all held hands and did this vocal warmup and said, ‘yes, we’re going to do this film.’ That was a special moment.”

Throughout the day, a behind-the-scenes unit went around and interviewed cast and production crew members, getting in-depth shots of what was going on and diving deeper into the details of the set, Jack Chasen (10) said. “There are so many moving parts to a big production, so it’s good to be able to get in-depth insight and a closer analysis into everything that’s happening.”

The behind-the-scenes unit needed to know where certain cast and crew members would be at a certain time for interviews, and relied on call sheets made by Rathus to find their way around the set, Chasen said.

Despite extensive preparation, the cast and crew still faced some challenges throughout the day, Waggoner said. For the first of the film crews, a messed-up first scene delayed the entire process by almost 45 minutes, he said. “We started the day in a really difficult position. But if you’re behind, you just gotta figure it out,” he said. “Ms. Rathus knows what she’s doing, so she got us in line and we adapted and shot in a different place.”

Waggoner’s favorite scene to film was an interview scene in the cramped Moose Miller Room. In the scene, one of the sisters is disciplined due to an incident involving her twin, which called for a serious atmosphere in the lighting and mood of the shot, he said.

The scene sets the tone for the rest of the film and the actors and English teacher Dr. Jonathan Kotchian’s performances were very powerful, Rathus said. “There’s really nothing like being in the room when everybody’s running around, going crazy to get ready for the shot — then suddenly, the camera and sound roll, and everybody has to be quiet and the moment just creates itself,” she said. “It’s like magic captured on film, and I feel really happy that so many kids were able to experience it.”

While the shot was a challenge to capture, the lighthearted atmosphere the crew fostered made it an enjoyable scene to shoot, Waggoner said. “It was really fun to see that a super quick interrogation scene, that in the movie is going to be a minute of quick cuts from a bunch of camera angles, took us an hour of moving and constantly shifting the camera around the room to get every angle,” he said. “I’m literally under the table pointing the boom op and leaning all the way on my chest to stretch it as far as I can because it’s a super compact room.”

Masoud appreciated the professional nature of the set and crew, she said. “The day was a sneak peek into what it’s like to be in a film and TV acting, so that was super cool to see,” she said. “It’s shown me the distinctions between film acting and live theater, and how different working with a film crew is to working with a stage crew.”

Working with actors from the acting class was a nice change of pace from the usual acting subjects, Waggoner said. In most filmmaking classes, the students themselves or their family members must act in front of the camera. “They’re always a little awkward in front of the camera, which is understandable,” he said. “But these people, even though it’s just an acting class in high school, they usually have more acting experience than anyone we’ve ever worked with.”

Actors showed high levels of professionalism when delivering lines, staying in character, and reshooting several scenes from different angles, Waggoner said. “For high school actors, they were really, really professional, and for us, it made things so much quicker and easier,” he said. “Even the people who weren’t in the acting class, like some of the teachers like Mr. Bauld, killed it.”

The professional nature of the set was exciting for VanHentenryck, she said. “To see all of the film people with their name tags of what they’re doing and being on the walkies being like, ‘we need this,’ and using professional lingo and a call sheet — it’s just really cool that students get to experience a professional film shoot.”

Collaboration between different classes has been enjoyable for Masoud, she said. “I know they’ve worked really hard to write this script and plan this project out, so I hope the other actors and I do it justice.”

After a day of shooting, Dracos found watching back the footage the most rewarding. “Seeing all of the work and coordination culminate in a really good shot is super satisfying,” he said.