Haldane McFall’s dream of becoming a filmmaker became reality when he won the David R. Ames Film Award and $10,000 to turn his script into a film.
The Ames Award is an annual competition created to support young Ithaca College filmmakers. Recognizing the struggles college students often face with funding their films, the award seeks to encourage creative, high-quality student films by providing students up to $10,000 to produce the winning script.
Cast and crew filming New Susquehanna. Photos courtesy of Haldane McFall '09
David Ames ’72 is manager of Ames Enterprises LLC, and president and CEO of Xethanol Corporation. As an undergraduate, Ames was a staff manager for WICB and was head of the station’s film and graphic department.
He established the David R. Ames Film Fund in the Park School of Communications as a way to give back to the school, which eventually evolved into the award competition.
McFall with cast and crew on location.
From the more than 30 scripts submitted to the selection committee of Park faculty, four finalists were chosen. Each finalist had to present a production notebook and pitch their film to the committee.
Julie Blumberg, assistant professor of cinema, photography, and media arts, and committee chair, says the finalists far exceeded the selection committee’s expectations, presenting them with examples of full makeup, production stills, and lighting.
“We were really blown away by the work of all the finalists. Some of it was at the professional level,” says Blumberg. “Even for the finalists who didn’t win, the assignment was worthwhile.”
Blumberg says the most important criterion the finalists were judged on was feasibility of production.
The production notebooks, which included the budget, visual effects, locations, and casting notes, were closely examined. Ultimately, McFall’s simple story of a 50-year-old man who returns to his hometown won.
Last November, McFall ’09 and his crew of Zack Redmond ’09 and Joshua Bushueff ’09 traveled to New York City to cast actors and scouted local locations for filming.
“Finding a high school that would let us go in with our camera was like trying to film in an airport,” recalls McFall. With the help from the former dean of the Park School, Dianne Lynch, McFall found a high school in nearby Whitney Point, New York, to do a large part of the filming.
With only three actors and simple shooting locations, McFall says they were able to focus on the details, and include some intimate moments. “The film is about a man traveling to his hometown, where he runs into his old girlfriend and his father,” McFall says. “It’s meant to be about regular people; it’s not sci-fi or action.”
So how did they spend $10,000 without special effects or action sequences?
McFall estimates that over half the money went to buying and then transferring the film. McFall and his crew shot on Super 16 mm film, because of its high quality. However, when producing the finished product, watching any film in digital HD is preferred.
“The best shooting format for us is the film, and the best finishing format is the HD,” says McFall. “As students, we were very lucky to afford the transfer process.”
The students usually have a bare bones budget,” adds Blumberg, saying she feels it’s important to give students an opportunity to produce a professional-level film.
“The award gave them a higher production quality than they’d usually get in a student film. That’s what David Ames wanted, and he really wanted it to start with a writer, so that’s why we chose the script first.”
Although McFall didn’t get much sleep throughout the process, he says it has been an incredible learning opportunity.
“It’s a difficult balance,” McFall says of budgeting, organizing, and producing a film while taking four other college courses.
“It really is a crazy amount of work. It’s an endless list of things to do. It’s several hours every day, but at the same time it’s super fun. I’m making a movie. What’s to complain about?”
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