The All-American High School Film Festival (AAHSFF), the world’s largest high school film, photography, and media arts festival, welcomed Westminster students for the first time this year. StudioW, a student-run film production club at Westminster, was selected to participate in the festival with two narrative shorts, Form 4473 and The Red Die. The films were screened at the AMC Theaters in Times Square, the busiest movie theater in America.
For StudioW founders, senior Andrew Stevens and juniors Jonas Du and Yash Kadadi, the selection represented the culmination of years of dedication and hard work. StudioW started two years ago when two different film clubs were combined. Du believes that the new club addressed a void at the school.
“A bunch of us had a vision to create a film community at Westminster, to empower all creators and teach people filmmaking,” said Du. “We’ve found that filmmaking has really changed our lives and given us a voice to express ourselves.”
After its inception, the club continued to produce new content, including trailers and short films for the school. They are also participating in the annual Westminster Film Festival. Driven by passion and hard work, the students behind StudioW feel that their work facilitates growth, passion, and relevance, thus being more than just a creative outlet.
“We want to make films that matter,” said Du.
The club allows other passionate filmmakers with the same vision to join creative forces and work together towards developing quality content while also strengthening the community.
The entire production process at StudioW is student-led with faculty support. Students are in charge of everything, from scheduling meetings to coming up with production plans, future film subject selection, storyboarding, writing the screenplay, and filming and editing. Daniel Searl, faculty advisor for StudioW, has been a part of the club for more than a year, lending help with logistics and ideas about how to share the students’ projects and connections in the industry.
“It sounds like it could be a really special [opportunity] for this group, as a pilot program, a launching pad,” Searl said.
This year, the club’s main focus has been the development and production of two narrative shorts, which were then submitted to several film festivals. Form 4473 was filmed over several months and then screened at the Westminster Film Festival in May. Less than a month later, Stevens came up with the idea for The Red Die, which he co-produced with Du.
After months of planning and filming, both shorts were then submitted to AAHSFF, and the news of the films being selected for screening at the festival was met with excitement and joy.
“We put a lot of hard work into our short [films]. We are very proud that all of our hard work has finally paid off,” said Kadadi, who directed Form 4473. “We are definitely super excited.”
In the days preceding the festival, the team also participated in the three-day shoot-and-edit challenge, during which they produced a short film in three days. According to Kadadi, who dubbed the project “[their] most ambitious project yet,” the group first received a prompt for a short film, then had about 10 weeks for pre-production. The pre-production process involved scripting, storyboarding, finding actors, and organizing locations for the shooting of the film. An important part of the movie was filmed at Grand Central Terminal in New York, which required additional planning, such as reserving the time slot for filming weeks in advance.
Being selected to participate in the AAHSS represents a distinct opportunity from which StudioW members will continue to benefit long after its conclusion.
“I think this festival will be very important for our future,” said Du prior to the event. “It’s like the Oscars of filmmaking in high school. The skills and the amount of interaction and connections that we’ll get there will be incredibly valuable.”
Kadadi believes that meeting and connecting with other filmmakers with the same focus represents a priority for the club.
“[So far] we haven’t really focused on meeting other filmmakers and getting their thoughts and perspectives,” said Kadadi. “It’ll definitely be awesome to meet people from all over the country and all over the world.”
The AAHSFF is not the only film venue that has recognized StudioW’s hard work and excellence. Form 4473, the first narrative short produced by the club, was also accepted into the Newark International Film Festival and Film-Ed International Film Festival, two prestigious film festivals that promote and support emerging filmmakers with passion and vision.
The club members consider the exposure and experience invaluable for future projects and remain hopeful it will enhance the creative process in the future. The recent recognition has fueled even more ambitious aspirations for the StudioW members, who vow to continue to work towards expanding and improving the club’s leadership of Westminster film initiative.
“I am optimistic about the future,” said Kadadi. “I definitely see StudioW as a leader now, I hope that people will see StudioW as the model for a filmmaking program in Georgia or even the nation.”
Kadadi believes that the nominations will help the club to attract more people, get more sponsors, and create more ambitious projects. Du remains equally optimistic and has high hopes for the future.
“We [are always] look[ing] to diversify and find new ways of doing things and solving problems,” said Du, addressing the club’s perspectives. “We are trying to set StudioW to become the best high school filmmaking club in the country.”
“I see StudioW being at the top of the world,” Searl said, “continuing to make films and producing filmmakers that are going to have an impact in the industry for years to come.”