By: Lucy Garcia
The Charles C. Baum Film and Visual Storytelling Department here at Baltimore School for the Arts is jam-packed with projects, productions, and complex creations. There is not a moment in the school year where film students do not have individual projects to complete or stories to write.
However, every year, one big production assignment is given to each grade. The seniors have that year’s Expressions video, the juniors have their episodic films, and the freshmen are busy learning the foundations of cinema.
The sophomores are tasked with their first big production: the sophomore film.
The sophomore film, a project from the minds of department heads Beatriz Bufrahi and Thomas Ventimiglia, was created to be a teaching tool.
The film is a staple in the sophomore curriculum and has been in practice since the film program was first created in 2017. It is used for sophomores to gain experience on set, to work on problem solving, and to develop their skills as filmmakers.
The sophomores begin working on the film a little before halfway through the school year, and eventually it is premiered at the annual End of Year Screening at BSA.
“The first year is set around the frame,” Beatriz Bufrahi said, “So, the freshmen have photography, storyboard drawing, animation… but then in sophomore year it’s skill building, and the accumulation of that skillbuilding is the sophomore film.”
The film is a student based production, using only the equipment the sophomores have access to, paired with a small budget for wardrobe, make-up, and props. The entire film, including scripts, shot-lists, and storyboards are all original student work.
In the early stages of planning, the sophomores get assigned production positions in the film, such as director, gaffer, audio, etc.
However, the procedure with the role of the writer is slightly different than the rest. Every sophomore is required to make treatments, beat sheets, and finally, produce a script. A vote is then held amongst the students, and the winning script gets transformed into the sophomore film.
And through that process Henry Schmid-James came up with the script for this year’s sophomore film.
“The title is Senioritis. It follows a group of restless students in their last year of high-school, and their attempt to pull off one of the craziest senior pranks their school has ever seen,” Schmid-James explained.
Once the script is chosen, heads are butted, rewrites occur, and wardrobe, actors, and set locations are decided. With these decisions complete, filming can finally begin.
Filming, for any cinematic piece, is constantly a stressful stage. Guaranteed, there will be problems. There’s not enough time, miscommunications occur, and sometimes it feels as if the entire universe is working against you and your project.
“The most stressful part about making this film was definitely the constant battle against time,” Sophomore and Assistant Director Toni Wells disclosed. “The fact that we had very little time and so much to shoot left the whole cast and crew stressed throughout the eight days of filming.”
In a war with deadlines, actors, and clashing opinions, film sets can often get overwhelming and unpleasant, but there is no time to halt the production. When issues come up, there is no option but to persevere.
“The most stressful part is having to keep going with production when issues come up. Having a deadline to work through issues is very difficult, but so far it’s worked out with good management.” Georgie Restauro, another sophomore and PA, stated.
And while filming may be the worst of times, it is also the best.
For every bad moment, there is always a good one that counters it. Every crisis is eventually justified by the satisfaction of creating something with your own mind and hands. There is the beauty and brilliance of wrapping a shot, of the final take of the final scene.
The fulfillment that comes with finishing a film is undeniable and is definitely enjoyed better with a team.
“As writer and director, I try to help oversee all of the creative and technical aspects, but it’s really the whole class that makes the film.” Schmid-James said.
The film is a team effort, and everyone contributes to the long creative process. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is the sophomore film.
“To me, the sophomore film is a really big moment for collaborative work. Maybe the biggest they’ve ever had, because this is the first production where everyone is together. Everybody is so on point because they have to be, because they don’t want to let anybody down. So everybody is super focused, super on point and it has been really amazing,” Bufrahi explained. “There’s always a difference between students sitting in the classroom and then being on set. That’s where they really, like, supershine. All of them.”
While the film not only helps the sophomores develop their cinematic skills, it also helps them develop relationships with other branches of the school. The main department that helps with this film each year is the acting department.
In the sophomore acting department curriculum, there are two weeks reserved for the sophomore film. Through a careful and precise audition process, a group of actors are selected based on the film’s needs.
This year, the main actors for Senioritis include Nefer Purvis, Ellie Schmid-James, Charles McLain, Lailah Jaan, and Zemirah Blount.
With the Film and Acting sophomores working closely together for two weeks nonstop, beneficial work relationships often blossom. The film helps place people together who otherwise may not have interacted.
“I’ve been able to connect with people more and talk to people I probably wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the project, like certain actors,” expands Restauro.
And while good work contacts are always needed, friendship sets the tone for the set, and can create a comfortable atmosphere. While it is imperative that actors and film crews stay professional and get their work done in a timely manner according to their schedule, it never hurts to have fun with the people you work with.
“My experience on set is very fun… we get hair and make up done and it feels very professional,” actor Ellie Schmid-James explains. “They kind of just order us around and we go with the flow, but we’re friends. There’s no power imbalance, we’re all just friends and we all have fun. I really enjoy it.”
But even with a good script, good actors, and a good production team, it can still be nerve-wrecking showcasing the final product to an audience.
“I’m really scared, honestly. There are a few jokes in there that might land horribly… There’s lots of room for error. I’m so excited for BSA to see it though. I think the film department has this stigma attached to it, that ‘we don’t do anything.’ We do so many things, but we’re never given a platform to show the stuff we create to the school. Even if half the stuff we make is crap, film deserves an audience just like everyone else,” says Henry Schmid-James.
When in front of an audience, nervousness is expected, but excitement often exceeds any negative emotions. The film department thrives off of taking pride in your own work, so despite the fear that accompanies bringing your creations to the public, it is important to remain confident in your endeavors. And to absolutely never forget how proud Beatriz Bufrahi is of her students.
“I am so, so proud,” Bufrahi begins. “I mean, even if they’re in a bad mood, they still work. They still get the job done. Seeing them collaborate with each other, seeing them problem solving, and seeing them engaged, it’s all so amazing, they’re all so invested. It really is all so beautiful.”
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Photographs taken by Alex Taylor for the BSA Muse