Ikenberry: Q&A with the students behind “Rush”

Kathryn Ikenberry

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Even after months of shooting, hours of editing and several consecutive all-nighters, Radio, Television and Film majors Alec Ziff, Sarah Jane Inwards and Jesse Swedlund are all smiles about their upcoming movie, Rush. Premiering 8 p.m. this Friday, the 90-minute feature film is a project directors Ziff and Inwards and Director of Photography Swedlund have been slaving over since autumn.

On the couch in John J. Louis Hall-which Ziff claims to have slept on the past four nights-the three seem neither tired nor stressed from laboring on the film’s final touches. The three agreed to sit down with The Edge and spill their enthusiasm for the movie, the charity it will support and the friends they have made along the way.

The Edge: How did you three meet? How did you decide to make Rush together?

SJI: Alec and I met at our first film set at Northwestern last year. We were out in the cold for a long time, and I guess that’s what bonded us together.

JS: I think you guys are forgetting our first film set together in the basement of Bobb. We had a friend who decided to make a horror film so I was holding the camera and Sarah Jane came in and got locked in the basement of Bobb. Alec was also working on the film as the murderer. We all worked on that avant-garde horror film.

SJI: The best part about it was we all were in the basement of Bobb screaming and banging on the door because our characters were trying to get out, but at one point into it a girl came down and asked us if we were okay.

The Edge: How did you decide to make Rush together?

SJI: I had started a group called Applause for a Cause in my high school and I wanted to bring it to Northwestern. I just asked a bunch of people if they wanted to join, they said yes, and they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

JS: Alec and I had worked together before so he asked me if I wanted to do it. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to, but I ended up signing on.

The Edge: What inspired you to make this film?

AZ: We knew we were going to make a feature length film and we don’t have cars. So we decided to set it in college because we’re on a college campus. All the people on the writing team happened to be in fraternities and sororities. We didn’t want to make just a movie where you see a bunch of people getting drunk. We wanted to ground it in the characters’ relationships and have it in the context of rushing.

SJI: We tried to look at questions that come up when you’re freshman in college like homesickness, long-distance relationships carried over from high school, making new friends, finding your way.

JS: It’s definitely a film made by college students for college students. I think parents will appreciate it but it may have some cringe-worthy moments.

The Edge: Can you tell us a little bit about what the film is about?

AZ: It’s a comedy called Rush, and it’s about six college freshmen who rush fraternities and sororities and have their relationships change and develop throughout the process. We follow these six friends through their relationships, friendships, love triangles.

SJI: It’s essentially the idea of making a whole new set of friends in college and how your first couple months of school really shape how your friendships will work for the rest of your college years.

Jesse: It’s also really funny.

SJI: The rush events provide a lot of comedy in it, and the rest of the film has a lot of funny parts as well as some sentimental scenes too.

JS: Also, all three of us are “Greek” so it’s kind of like a tongue and cheek look at the absurdity of it all type of thing.

AZ: It’s not outright satirical, but at moments it can be. It can be ironic.

SJI: We basically go with some stereotypes and do hyperboles of them to draw out the funny in them.

AZ: In my experience, Greek life hasn’t been that crazy, but in order to make it really interesting and funny we draw up on that.

SJI: On the girls’ side of Rush, we play up the stereotypes of what houses are looking for and how to act all proper. There’s a lot of juxtaposition with girls acting in a proper way while guys are acting crazy and partying.

AZ: I think we’ve done an amazing job this far because this came from nothing. We talked about how we wanted to make a movie that people would want to go see because a lot of time student films tend to be very avant-garde. We wanted to make a film that would connect with people.

SJI: There isn’t a lot of opportunity for people to go see RTVF student films so we wanted to make something for people to see what RTVF students do all the time.

The Edge: When did you first get the idea for the film and how long have you been working on it?

AZ: The process started with Sarah Jane last year. She asked me if I wanted to be co-director with her on this club she did in high school she wanted start this year. When fall came around she asked me again, I said yes, and basically that was the germ of this gigantic oak tree that would grow. It started out with a team of eight writers and we had weekly meetings fall quarter. We started out way behind with everyone doubting us, including myself. Sarah Jane was the only one who was able to stay positive. In reality it wasn’t realistic to think that we’d do it.

SJI: But somehow we’ve done it!

AZ: One aspect about the film that’s really important is the charity aspect of it. All the members of the club decided in the fall what charity we want to give the proceeds of our movie to. We decided on the Ronald McDonald House near Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

SJI: They supply housing for families with children who have serious and terminal illnesses. They also have other programs and support systems. Our money could go towards anywhere from sponsoring a family a couple nights, food, etc. We’re not taking any profit from the premiere.

The Edge: How was working with the cast and crew? Did you choose mostly theater majors, friends or a variety of students? Were people excited and willing to work with you on this project?

SJI: We started casting in the winter. We scouted out a lot of people on line, but we did some auditions.

AZ: Our first shoot was January 21 and our last shoot was May 2.

JS: There were only two weekends in there where we weren’t shooting.

AZ: We did very few shoots on Friday or Saturday nights.

SJI: All the lead actors are very talented so also in very high demand. One is a football player so he had early morning practices. Everyone had shows, A cappella pratices and performances, you name it. We worked around their schedules to get everyone together and people were good about coming.

AZ: Our actors were awesome. We love our actors.

SJI: All the directors also have a good dynamic and work well together. Alec and I are perfectionists but Jesse brought a very mellow vibe that calmed us down.

The Edge: What was the process like making the film?

AZ: Eventually we needed people to actually sit down and write it. Sarah Jane and I spent hours and wrote the entire thing. Before winter break we had about 40 pages written which is about 40 minutes of film. But the exciting thing about the club is that we, as college students, get to write a feature length
film, so we needed about 50 more pages. Sarah Jane and I wrote about 50 pages in a week and a half, meeting every day from eight to twelve hours a day.

SJI: This process has just been the biggest learning process of my life.

JS: I’ve learned more about being on set and how a film is made than in classes. The classes were the foundation but as far as getting the experience of what it’s really like, this has been immensely valuable.

SJI: We’re finally seeing all our efforts come together. It’s been an encouraging experience.

AZ: The entire process has been really hard to do. This project would not be possible without all 70 people who worked on the movie. Even when people weren’t believing in us, Sarah Jane and I believed in ourselves.

SJI: I always believed in Applause for a Cause and ourselves. Our parents did too.

AZ: Not even our parents.

SJI: Well, my mom was nice about it.

The Edge: The whole process sound very time consuming!

JS: I dropped a class Winter quarter and this quarter. I couldn’t deal with the workload along with shooting this film. Shooting this film is basically more than a whole other workload for another class. It’s the entire weekend, meeting to shot list, rewrite, story board, it’s every single week. Sometimes I’d meet with Alec at 7 pm for a two hour meeting and we wouldn’t finish until 2 am. And then I’d start my homework. So homework just went to the wayside.

SJI: I dropped all my classes this quarter because of an emergency surgery and a medical leave. I’m free right now which is great because we’ve been working non-stop the last week.

AZ: Winter quarter I managed to not drop anything, but I dropped a class this quarter because I couldn’t do it all. Then Sarah Jane left and it was really hard because Sarah Jane and I are a team and we do everything together. We split up all the responsibilities and from the very first writing of the script, it’s been the definition of a team project. Jesse basically became Sarah Jane when she left. Jesse was unbelievable in stepping up and helping me out.

JS: I just decided if this film was going to be made, Alec was going to need some help.

AZ: This past quarter has been an insane amount of shooting.

JS: One time I worked 12 hours on this set and five hours on another set. It was crazy.

SJI: We’ve had several 14-hour shoots.

AZ: I haven’t slept in my bed in four or five days

SJI: Same, I’ve been sleeping on this couch. We’ve been pulling a lot of all-nighters. Last night, Alec was a complete zombie.

The Edge: What sort of resources did you have? How and when did you do most of your filming?

JS: We had to build this thing from the ground up because we weren’t recognized by ASG or the RTVF department as a legitimate club. So we weren’t able to rent equipment from “The Cage”-which supplies anyone who wants to make a film here. We had to buy and make our own lighting.

SJI: NU Channel One rented out a wonderful camera and their sound equipment to us. Without them, this wouldn’t have happened at all. They saved us.

The Edge: Was writing the script easy? Did the movie turn out as you had originally hoped or did it change along the way?

SJI: We had a completely different ending from the ending we have now. I think we improved a lot along the way with critiques from other writers.

AZ: The script got better as we filmed. Our first shoots compared to our last shoots are very improved.

SJI: I think it shows us how much we have improved as writers, directors, cinematographers, etc.

JS: The script always improved when we worked together. We all work better when we are together. We gel together.

AZ: We’re the perfect combination of parts.

The Edge: What were some high and low points of filming?

SJI: High point right now is seeing scenes come together, making the vision that we wanted. Low point was having to leave on medical leave. Another low point was when Alec wasn’t picking up his phone and in my craziness I thought he was dead.

AZ: Low point for everyone is when Sarah Jane left. It was as low as they come. High point was the last main day of shooting, May 1. It was really difficult and Sarah Jane was still gone. We had to get extras, we had one hour to do it, we were fifteen minutes behind and it was a one-minute scene that had to be shot perfectly. Any mishaps and we would have to start over.

JS: Seeing that really difficult shot play out shows me how much I’ve grown as a cinematographer from the beginning to the end.

SJI: Another low point was trying to find out where we were going to get the equipment. There were people that said they didn’t support our idea. It was disappointing to hear from faculty members and educators.

AZ: It’s upsetting because we’re at one of the best schools in the world, but I can’t look back in 10 years and say, “Without that professor, Rush would never had been made.” But I guess now I can say “Without Sarah Jane, Jesse, etc.”

JS: It’s a nice lesson though of what happens in the real world. Not everyone is going to love your ideas. People may just send you away and you’re going to have to keep looking around until you find people who will support your ideas.

SJI: But in the end, NU students did pull through. Everything in this movie is 100 percent student run.

The Edge: Are you excited for Northwestern to view the premiere this Friday? Nervous?

JS: I’m really excited for it. My entire family is coming in and some friends from Chicago as well. It will be really cool seeing all of hard work up on the big screen.

AZ: And laughing.

SJI: Hopefully laughing with it, not at it. But I’m hoping people will like it. But the fact that we finished is a triumph for me. We did this, we made a movie.

AZ: We’ve been through a lot. Anything you can imagine, we’ve gone through.

JS: Anything she can imagine? Yeah, we went through a volcano.

AZ: Well we went through a lot of tough times.

SJI: And we’re still friends on top of it!

AZ: The relationships made during this process are ones I will continue for the rest of my life. And I say that with the same passion and intensity that I have for this movie.

The Edge: If Rush is received well, what is the next step?

AZ: Our big grandiose idea, which is really plausible, would be to have Rush premiere at colleges across the country and all the profits go to Ronald McDonald House. One important thing about the movie is that it’s not Northwestern and we made up our own fraternities and sororities. You could show this film on any college campus with Greek life and they would be able to relate.

JS: We dove into this without ever really having the experience of this amount of responsibility on our shoulders. After going through it, we know what worked and what didn’t. If we were to do it again, it would be much more smoothly operated because we understand what slowed us down. The trail has been paved and we can travel it again.

SJI: We’ve learned a lot and we could definitely implement everything we learned into another film. But I’m not really thinking about that right n
ow because we have to get this one done first.

Kathryn Ikenberry is a Medill freshman and DAILY blogger. She can be reached at kathrynikenberry2014@u.northwestern.edu.

Watch the Rush trailer below: