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April 03, 2014 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-04-03

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4B - Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

4B - Thursday, April 3, 2014 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

I walk into the basement of an apartment building off of Washington Street. Various members of the production team sit
hunched quietly against the walls on either side of the hallway, and usher me into an apartment to the right. The apartment
is devoid of furniture and film equipment leans against the wood paneled walls. Cottage Inn pizza boxes are scattered across
the floor, doubling as product placement and sustenance for the crew.
LAYNE SIMESCU stands at one end of the apartment in front of a -monitor that is hooked up to the camera. The camerawoman,
JACKIE VESICS sits on the ground next to her, with the monstrous filming device perched on her shoulder. She is small, with
a Peter Pan-like air and a checked lady blazer with suede elbow patches. The camera dwarfs her, in comparison.
VRESICS: Let's start taking it now just in case some movie magic happens.
Enter GRAHAM TECHLER. He is standing over by the door, texting on his cell phone.
SIMESCU: (To Techler) Graham, do you need me to take your phone away?
The crew laughs. Techler puts his phone back in his pocket and sets up for shoot. Two men, the antagonists of the story,
enter the door. They punch Techler, who offers them a beer. They kick him until Simescu shouts cut. She asks them to do it
just one more time. The crew breaks for dinner. Cottage Inn, again.
TECHLER: In movies, you use the same toolbox and skills as in theater, you just apply them in completely different ways. In
stage acting, if something goes wrong the actors have to cover it. There's a lot of emphasis placed on the actors. But in
movies, you are acutely aware that you are a small part of a large machine. It's an extremely humbling experience, being
a tiny gear in this movie. I'm relying on them heavily, and they're relying on my heavily. It's a symbiotic relationship.
TECHLER's character, Brendan, is at the center of "Thru Traffic" 's plot. The story is about the essential spirit of a road
trip, as inspired by Jack Kerouac. The story deals with two estranged brothers and a hitchhiker that they pick up, traffick-
ing drugs across the nation from Detroit to Chicago.
MATT MONTGOMERY has been working on this script for three years. From what I've gathered, he is a fantastic writer. When his
name is mentioned in conversation, it usually accompanies some praise.
MONTGOMERY: None of the characters are ever really at home until they find each other and are able to connect with each
other. Brendan is self-isolated, they all are really. Karina is this hitchhiker whose doesn't want to make any connections,
Brendan is just trying to get away and Connor is really caught up in his own world. The idea of "Thru Traffic" is that thru
traffic in traffic laws is traffic that is non-residential, the non-home traffic. Throughout the story, they are the thru traf-
fic because they don't have a sense of home until the end of the script.
The crew reconvenes in the tiny apartment, setting up a different angle of the same scene. The guy holding the boom mic
contorts himself into a pose like Atlas, holding the long stick with a ball of fuzz at one end up and over the actors. They
run the scene again, and get halfway through when an ambulance drives by outside, sirens blaring. The crew rolls their eyes.
They'll have to scrap that take and go again. Simescu says a phrase the crew is all too familiar with, "One more time, guys."
They sigh and resume their positions.
This is how they spend about 12 hours of their Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for 5 weeks until the movie is complete.
I pull into the driveway of the house that "Bad Girls" is shooting in. It is a modern brick house that is virtually transpar-
ent - it has floor to ceiling windows in front and in back that look out over the woods. Three deer are wandering, cracking
through the brush immediately to my left. They perk their heads and freeze when I lock my car.
The inside of the house is open and airy. The floors are lightwood, the walls white and the windows are the only source of
light but they are plenty. The house was recently purchased by a woman who agreed to let the students use it as long as
they didn't bring in any "bad energy." I'm led into a bedroom that is being constructed carefully by the art crew - they are
crafting a queen bed out of a pile of air mattresses and blankets. At first glance I am skeptical about the idea. Ten minutes
later there is a fully made bed with a canopy hanging above it in the center of the room. This is a clear example of what
is referred to as "movie magic."
Enter ERIKA HENNINGSEN, dressed in her costume - ripped jeans, a slouchy purple t-shirt. She and actress Lena Drake walk
through their scene, rolling around on the multi-mattress bed. Dustin Alpern looks on as they rehearse.
HENNINGSEN: Were those lines right?
ALPERN: I wasn't paying attention to the lines.
HENNINGSEN: (laughing) Neither was I.
Henningsen's musical theater personality has been toned down over the years for the films she has been part of. Where she
once over-acted, now she tones down her emotionality. Her character in "Bad Girls," Christine, is a shy, meek teenager who
is easily manipulated. The part seems the exact opposite of the actress's true personality.
The story, written by JANET HU, centers on Christine and Sara, the new girl at her school. Christine is drawn into Sara's
scheming ways, which ends up getting them both into trouble.
HU: I look back on high school, kind of wanting to gain independence but not really knowing where the line is, and then
you get yourself in over your head. I definitely relate .to Christine sometimes, just in floating through life and reacting
to it, more than just making it happen. Then eventually you have to decide for yourself.
When it comes down to examining this long and grueling process, I am left with one main question - why? Why do these stu-
dents spend virtually all of their free time making these movies? Why is there a class at this University that cranks out
two student films every single year? I see the answer most clearly through a comparison. Musical Theater students put on
musicals, art students slave away over gallery openings, music students practice for their concerts and almost everyone else
work on their theses. But what do Screen Arts majors have to mark the pinnacle of their college career? The answer is the
Traverse City Film Festival.
BURNSTEIN: Six years ago, the Traverse City Film Fest called me and said 'We'd like you to do something with the film fes-

tival.' 'What're you looking for?' 'Maybe you could do something with screenwriting.' And I said 'Yeah, I'll do that, but
I want you guys to do something for me. We have these two films that come out of this class, and I would love if we had a
chance to show 'em.' They said yeah, we could do that. So we did, and they were a hit. Michael Moore said to me the next
day, 'So you're going to do this every year, right?' And I said 'deal.'
The tradition has stuck, and for the last six years it has been the motivating factor that drives 423. The students conclude
that seeing their names on the big screen more than makes up for losing their weekends and for the most part, their social
lives. On July 31, in Traverse City's City Opera House, their hard work will pay off. For now, they lug cameras, costumes and
equipment around Ann Arbor, inhabiting vacant homes and apartments and using movie magic to make local haunts into Hol-
lywood sets.
BURNSTEIN: We tell every class, your job is to raise the bar for the next class. You want to be the best one yet, and you
want the next one to be better than you by the example you set. That's how you get great.

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