Thursday, July 22, 2010

by Joseph Pena
Published in The Point Weekly on March 29, 2004

In just an hour, the Governor’s Cabin on the ship the Californian was transformed from a stop on the Maritime Museum tour to the den of the evil pirate captain, Marcetti.

The cast and crew of the student film “The Isle Nevis” prepared for its first shot of the night, a crucial scene in the pirate-period piece.

With the lighting and the eight bodies moving around in the 10 by 10 space, the cabin was 20 degrees hotter than outside.

“Constructing a captain’s cabin that’s accurate to the time period, factoring in space constrictions and a 104-degree temperature isn’t easy,” said Jared Callahan, junior and art director for the film.

It took time to get the room ready for the shot; the scene was elaborate, accentuated by the authenticity of the Californian, the ship docked in the San Diego Bay.

The clutter of props was impressive, everything from aged parchment to old books to a talking parrot.

The costumes were detailed, with characters and extras in tattered shorts, slathered in mud, hair caked with dirt and matted to their heads.

Crew members were coming in and out of the cabin putting the final touches on the set.

Director Jason Carter, senior, ducked out to get a breath of fresh air.

“Are we ready to go yet?” Carter asked. “We’re running 40 minutes behind.”

That’s all he has to say. Within minutes, the team gathers for the shoot.

A Whale of a Tale

The idea for “The Isle Nevis” started with a bank robbery plot formulated by Carter and Joel McGinty, senior, last spring.

“The idea wasn’t working, so Jason came to me one day and said, ‘There’s two men on a deserted island––go with it,’” said McGinty. “So we tossed around ideas and it turned into a pirate movie.”

In the fall, McGinty attended the Los Angeles Film Studies Center and Carter, Chris Roberts, senior, and Lindsay Olson, junior, adopted the project for COM210, a communications practicum course. Now, the group is using the film as a project for its field production class.

“I came back and the project became so much bigger than I thought it would be,” said McGinty. “Everyone just wanted to see how far they could push the limits.”

After rewrites, the script, originally a two-man pirate tale, evolved into a plot requiring four lead actors and more than 30 extras, for some scenes.

“We wanted to do something different,” said Olson. “I think the requirement for the project is a five-to-seven-minute film and we just wanted to do more. We wanted to do something no one has ever done before.”

The plot takes place in the imagination of a child. The child, Cole, pictures himself as a man, avenging his father’s death against the evil pirate, Captain Marcetti and chasing a hidden treasure on the island Nevis.

In the fall, Carter, Roberts and Olson formed FallenROC pictures and started pre-production and casting for the film.  Hundreds of people responded to casting calls in the San Diego Reader and on and more than 50 auditioned for the lead roles.

The support for the film started to pour in––the crew had no luck scoring product placement, but restaurants offered to donate food for cast and crew meals and the San Diego Film Commission helped the team score on-site locations on The Star of India and the Californian, waiving the permit fees.

“The only costs so far have been paying for security for the on-site shoot and the cost of some of the props,” said Olson. “Everyone’s been really good about supporting the project.”

With pre-production in the works for months, the cast and crew was ready to start filming. Last weekend, Carter and his team gathered for the first time to film scenes in caves along Sunset Cliffs. Despite a few setbacks (the lead actor broke two ribs in a sword fight), the crew was ready for round two of filming.

Battling the Elements

Shooting on the San Diego Bay posed the obvious challenge for McGinty, senior and cameraman for the film.

The airport less than a mile away didn’t help with sound. The passing sailboats and the downtown skyscrapers didn’t help with the camera angles.

“I’ve just had to play around,” said McGinty. “Shoot low, shoot high, have the extras scrunch in from the back--we want the background to either be all water or all sky.”

With the help of Daniel Cretton, PLNU alumnus and assistant cameraman, and lighting director Brian Ruark, McGinty’s night shots had an eerie moonglow and the lights from the houses surrounding the bay weren’t visible.

The communication and teamwork between cast and crew has been essential to the production, said Carter.

Carter said it’s nice to watch the project succeed and the student crew to take initiative in filming.

“Everyone treats students like they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t always, but you have to know when you have a good project and run with it,” said Carter. “It’s nice to see everyone take jobs and do them well or step into a job for the first time and succeed.”

It’s inspiring to watch Carter, Roberts and McGinty work, said Olson.

“Those guys eat, sleep and breathe this film,” said Olson. “Their dedication is incredible.”

The crew and the extras consist of mostly PLNU students, but workers from physical plant and PLNU staff are also contributing to the project.

“Marty Coon [from physical plant] is amazing,” said Olson. Anything we need, he does. He’s been great about helping and he’s gotten guys he works with to be pirates for us.”

Lowell Frank, another PLNU alumnus and Cretton’s filmmaking partner, said cooperation is key to the production’s success. Frank and Cretton wrote, filmed and edited “Longbranch,” a short film that won best film at the Peach City Film Festival in Georgia. The film was also shown at festivals in Seattle, Austin and Tribeca, New York.

“To coordinate this many people, to have this many people show up all for free, all working toward one thing, on a Sunday at midnight is impressive,” said Frank.

“The Isle Nevis,” though not completed, has already been accepted to the San Diego Film Festival in September.

“I’m extremely impressed with the production value of this project,” said Cretton. “They had such a small amount to work with in regards to money and experience, but they’ve weaned everything they could.”