Film students use crowdfunding to bring short film to life

Written By Michael Richter, Co-Sports Editor

Filmmakers use crowdfunding for a variety of reasons to help them finance their films. For senior cinema students, there is one simple reason.

“We need the money, and we don’t get any money from the school for senior-level productions,” senior cinema production major James Van said.

Van, along with fellow senior cinema production majors Benjamin Jackson and Bischer Barmada, launched a Kickstarter campaign in October for their senior thesis film “The Mackenzie Pine Chronicles,” which is a 12-minute short about a teenage girl detective. The film surpassed its $2,500 donation goal.

“Money is a big deal for us,” Barmada, the movie’s producer, said. “We’re small-time guys, and we will borrow what we can. But at the end of the day, we still need gas in our tanks and food for our guys.”

The short film, directed and co-written by Van, follows teenage detective Mackenzie Pine, played by actress Willa Jane Shaw, as she uncovers a conspiracy in her town with the help of her friend Colin Quinnis, played by actor Chris Cook, and her older sister Allison Pine, who is played by actress Lauren Albring.

“[Van and Jackson] have a very strong idea of how the film is going to look,” Barmada said. “And it’s written in a such a way that their look, their characters and their creative world all combine into this fun mystery.”

Van and Jackson, who have been working on film projects together since their freshman year at Point Park, first brought the Mackenzie Pine character to life during the spring 2016 semester in a two minute video entitled “Mackenzie Pine and the Secret of the Fourth Door.” Van described the short video as “an exercise of imitating an old Nickelodeon show.”

Over the summer, Van and Jackson decided they would expand upon the universe they built in their rudimentary video to create a 12-minute short film for their Production IV class.

While working on the script for “The Mackenzie Pine Chronicles,” Van had trouble progressing the plot, so he would send his work to Jackson for suggestions.

Jackson, who is the film’s co-writer and cinematographer, would respond with ideas to tighten up the script, so the story was free of unnecessary detail.

“I found ways to cut to the chase quicker,” Jackson said.

Van’s strength is in writing characters, and he knows the characters of “The Mackenzie Pine” universe well, but he required help with structuring the story, which is Jackson’s strong suit.

“During the writing process, I had these [characters], and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted them to do,” Van said. “And Ben was really good at coming up with stuff for them to do.”

Now, after going through a multitude of drafts for their short film, it is difficult for Van and Jackson to recall who came up with many of the ideas for the script.

Van had trouble conjuring up new ideas when they were working on the penultimate draft of the script.

“I hit a complete lull,” Van said.

Luckily, Jackson came through. He sent Van a text message containing a full outline for the new draft, which helped tie up many of the plot’s loose ends.

Ecstatic about Jackson’s breakthrough, Van wrote a full new draft following that outline.

Van and Jackson hope “The Mackenzie Pine Chronicles” pays homage to ‘90s Nickelodeon TV shows. They studied how those programs were shot and believe those shows possess a unique aesthetic that is not given a sufficient amount of praise.

“I think a lot of people look at those shows and think, ‘Oh, they’re just trashy, throwaway TV,’” Van said. “But the fact is professionals made them, and they had certain aesthetic goals. And it is a well to draw from, creatively.”

While the short film may evoke nostalgic feelings from viewers, Van and Jackson ensure they are not simply cloning a ‘90s Nickelodeon show. They want to deliver a fresh short with a familiar style.

“We are coming at it from a slightly personalized perspective,” Jackson said. “We’re not trying to copy Nickelodeon, but a lot of our film is inspired by those sorts of shows.”

In “The Mackenzie Pine Chronicles,” the titular character is faced with an arduous challenge, as she attempts to uncover more about her town’s sinister secret. Throughout her adventure, Mackenzie accomplishes amazing feats, yet she still somewhat doubts herself.

“In a way, she’s aspirational,” Van said. “She’s the super smart, super capable, super courageous teenage hero that we’ve all read about and wanted to be. But at the same time, she’s not perfect.”

Van, Jackson and Barmada are surprised by the amount of money their film has raised, and they are also grateful for it.

“It’s very scary to go into a film without a budget, but that concern is just about over,” Jackson said.

The largest donation that the short has received is $200. However, Jackson emphasized that the most shocking donation they have received was $76 from a sophomore student at Point Park.

“I didn’t expect anybody from college to give more than $5,” Jackson said. “Seeing some people really go far with it is super encouraging, because it means they believe in our project too.”

The Kickstarter campaign has also shown Van, Jackson and Barmada that there is an audience who craves their work.

“At the very least, it’s really nice to know there is a minimum of 35 people in the world who want to watch this movie,” Van said.

With production for “The Mackenzie Pine Chronicles” slated to commence next weekend, Van, Jackson and Barmada are eager to see how this project pans out.

“I’m really excited to see how this creative group of goons we put together is going to work,” Barmada said.