Film students create $40,000 live-action short movie

Christina Salter

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Given 10 minutes and $40,000 in funding, Northwestern film students managed to pack in 111 visual effects shots, a giant computer-generated robot and Laguna Beach star Talan Torriero.

The result is “Hangar No. 5,” a student-written, directed and produced live-action short funded by NU student-run production company Studio 22, the School of Communication Dean’s Advisory Council, University President Henry Bienen and several outside investors. The 10-minute film will be released June 7 at the Studio 22 Premiere; its producers said they have high expectations for its success.

“We’d like to have one person see it and give us $100,000 to make the next version,” producer Malcolm Gray said with a smile.

Gray, a Communication senior, produced “Hangar No. 5” with fellow Communication senior Jon Greenberg and Brock Wilbur, Communication ’07. The film was directed by McCormick senior Nathan Matsuda. Wilbur also wrote the screenplay.

Matsuda said he got the idea for the film during his junior year of high school while sketching a “robot-tank thing.” He had originally wanted to create a feature-length film, but decided two years ago to try and compress the idea into a 10-minute short.

After Matsuda brought Gray on board, he asked Greenberg to join. Greenberg said he had last collaborated with Gray during freshman year, but the pair had always wanted to work together again.

“We wanted to do something together, but we wanted to do something big,” Greenberg said.

When Greenberg heard about the project, he said he enthusiastically joined in. After the group further developed the story and script, they pitched their idea to Studio 22 in Spring 2007 to get funding. In addition to the funding from the School of Communication, they secured help from several outside investors and Bienen.

“He is very willing to support the arts here, provided that it’s something the people are really passionate about,” Gray said.

The film’s total budget was about $40,000, said Jackie Laine, a Studio 22 co-chairwoman for the past two years. “Hangar No. 5” was “a really ambitious project on a lot of fronts,” the Communication senior said.

The story is set in an abandoned military base, where two teens searching for gold become trapped and must battle a mobile weapons system. The film includes special effects and computer-generated visual effects.

Matsuda spent last summer designing the film’s giant robot based on Cold War-era weaponry, he said. He also designed the majority of the film’s special effects on his own.

“I didn’t actually keep track of the hours, but it was in the thousands,” he said.

Greenberg said they were able to secure the most funding for a student film while he has been at NU. Hangar No. 5 secured two to three times the normal amount for a student film.

“This is the kind of film that Hollywood spends a million dollars a minute on,” Gray said.

The project’s unusual amount of funding and Wilbur’s connections through an internship at Insomnia Media allowed the group to recruit minor celebrities Talan Torriero of Laguna Beach and Charity Shea of the movie Alpha Dog as the film’s two cast members.

With funding and the stars secured, filming took place Oct. 25-27 at a former aircraft hangar at Glenview Naval Air Station, McCarthy Self Storage and the sub-basement of the Technological Institute. About 100 NU students worked on the film crew.

While filming, pressure was high for the director and producers to use the actors’ time efficiently and to keep the hundreds of professional-level special effects running smoothly. Problems like a blown elevator fuse and smoke alarms raised the tension levels on set, but were overcome.

Communication sophomore Molly Lafferty worked as a production associate on set. The film contained “really awesome things that you usually don’t see done at the student film level,” she said.

“(Greenberg and Gray) are two of the more experienced producers in the film community,” Lafferty said. “I can’t even imagine everything they were handling.”

With work on the film currently wrapping up, the student producers and director are looking forward to the premiere. They plan to enter the film in festivals, get some attention and then remain “cautiously optimistic,” Greenberg said.

“We really want to make sure it keeps going places,” Gray said.