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Weird Science: Hollywood comes to West Sound Academy

For the past three months, Thomas Hurley III and the film production class at West Sound Academy have been creating a short science-fiction film, “Children of Fire.” The story revolves around a mad scientist, a billionaire businessman and a female FBI agent. And some alien teenagers thrown in for good measure.  - Cover design by Douglas Crist
For the past three months, Thomas Hurley III and the film production class at West Sound Academy have been creating a short science-fiction film, “Children of Fire.” The story revolves around a mad scientist, a billionaire businessman and a female FBI agent. And some alien teenagers thrown in for good measure.
— image credit: Cover design by Douglas Crist

Quiet on the set! And action...

Cut! Cut! Let’s try it again. Try not to laugh this time.

And action...

Producing a 60-minute film with one adult and 18 teenagers is challenging, to say the least.

“It’s been half frustrating and half glorious,” said Thomas Hurley III, West Sound Academy’s film production instructor. “There were days where we could get through only four to five lines in one class period because there was so much giggling going on.”

For the past three months, Hurley and the film production class have been creating a short science-fiction film, “Children of Fire.” The story revolves around a mad scientist, a billionaire businessman and a female FBI agent. And some alien teenagers thrown in for good measure.

Shot in a 1950s-style black and white film, Hurley and the students are responsible for the acting, costumes, set design and filming. The script was written by Bainbridge Performing Arts Director Steven Fogell.

Over the course of the class, they have gone through six hours of film, which Hurley admits is a lot for a 50-page script. There has been a lot of laughing and a lot of mistakes causing the need for a lot of tape.

“We are having a great time barely getting through it,” Hurley said.

Students have learned that making a movie isn’t as glamorous as they might have thought. It’s hard work: reshooting scenes, standing in the cold rain, memorizing lines of dialogue.

In unison, students Helena Peterson and Connor Haugen called their filmmaking experience, “Intense.” And “invigorating.” And several times, “awesome.”

The students began the semester excited and full of energy. Halfway through, they lost some of their steam. Many students asked Hurley, “How long is this movie?”

“Movie making is a lot of grunt work,” Hurley said. “When you mess up your lines, you feel bad. You feel like you’ve let down your classmates. I hope they’ve learned it’s tough and not just a game to play.”

Peterson, who plays Candice the FBI agent, agreed. She was surprised how long the process took. To her, it seemed like two hours of filming added up to only five minutes of the actual movie.

One of the biggest challenges of the film was working around students’ schedules Hurley said. Some scenes involved seven to eight actors. They would get half way through filming the scene one day and planned on finishing it the next, only to find out that the actor needed was absent. That was when the students learned one of the trade secrets of the film industry: body doubles. Students with similar hairstyles, or who were the same height, would fill in for the absentees.

The script for the play was finished the day before class began. Hurley didn’t have time to give the casting much thought. He gave the adult roles to the older students and gave the teenage parts to the younger ones. Hurley said having teens play adults gave the scenes some comedy.

“I don’t know if it was luck or karma, but everyone seems to fit the characters that they were chosen to be,” said Hurley. “Things fell into place really nicely.”

There’s no business like show business
The class learned the reality of firm deadlines. When things were going too slowly, Hurley would have to zip them through the scenes. Hurley explained to the students the importance of making movies on time and on budget. There are always limits he said. With deadlines looming, Hurley had to push the actors through to the end. He compromised and settled for semi-good takes versus great takes.

“It will add to the charm and campiness of the film,” Hurley said.

Philipp Sonnefeld, a foreign exchange student from Germany, plays the mad scientist. One of his filming highlights came when he “blew up” his boss Mr. Hobbs and a cat.

Cooked spaghetti noodles were thrown to simulate body parts exploding. A quick survey of the cast members confirmed that throwing spaghetti was a memorable moment.

Hannah Beck said she enjoyed getting out of her comfort zone and playing a different person.

“It’s fun to get to know a different life that you have never lived,” she said.

Since taking this class, Stian Josok now watches movies with a critical eye. He pays attention to minor details and not just the story line.

In the future, Hurley hopes he can delve deeper into film theories. The combination of an hour long class and the lengthy script, didn’t allow much time for contemplating. He’s teaching a similar class during the January term and hopes to include more discussion time. For the January class, Hurley will have the students for four hours a day, versus one hour.

A 1993 North Kitsap High School graduate, Hurley grew up interested in films, but didn’t think it was a possible career for a kid growing up in Poulsbo. With an impressive resume that includes working on the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” television show, Hurley has proved it is attainable. Now he’s come full-circle and is teaching what he has learned to other Kitsap teens.

Like most teenage experiences, this class has had lots of emotional highs and lows.

“There were definite days when I thought this was not for me,” Hurley said. “Then there were other days when I felt ‘I’m getting through to them.’ It doesn’t matter how the film turns out, what matters is they are learning.”

Hurley is doing something right with the teens. Fourteen-year-old Josok had this to say about the class: “It’s not too strict, not too loose. It’s just about perfect.”

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