Over a month after the renowned Tribeca Film Festival drew to a close, a new group of filmmakers took over the Tribeca Cinemas’ Varick Room for Headsets and Highballs’ The Greater Network 2012 and their celebration of the Ghetto Film School. Tickets to the event were $50, $65 at the door, in front of which lay an unostentatious square of red carpet. Inside, the large, warehouse-like space was furnished with standing tables, a mini photo-shoot area, a silent auction for coffee with the likes of Ted Hope and Christine Vachon, and an open bar over which hung a huge, neon-red sign that read LIQUORS. “Teach Me How to Dougie,” “Beez in the Trap” and “Theraflu” thumped through the speakers.
The event was organized by Headsets & Highballs, a media networking organization. Between chatting with GFS students and guests, H&H founder Adam Neuhaus explained that he has coordinated three of the last four annual fundraisers, known as The Greater Network, which are always linked to the Ghetto Film School. The organizations have close ties, notably between students and film or media industry mentors.
Founded in 2000, Ghetto Film School shapes high schoolers, especially Bronx natives, into filmmakers, with the mission of facilitating the telling of stories by authors often overlooked. The short film Creep, which premiered at the event, was produced entirely by GFS students.
The short film follows a nerdy girl as she stalks a French photographer through New York City. Funny, tidy and set to a simple soundtrack, the seven-minute film provides a glimpse into the process of these young artists finding their voices. As it became apparent in the panel discussion, these new directors, writers and editors have ambition to spare.
Director Sharif Anthony explained that he initially had a complex and lengthy shot list including jump cuts à la Breathless, but the film’s cinematographer (another GFS student) took one look at it and said, “Dude, it’s a comedy. Calm down.”
Anthony feigned annoyance at screenwriter Ashley Jovine’s insistence on including French characters, which added some complications to the casting process (The students sent out Craigslist ads three days before principal photography began). Unphased, Jovine exclaimed that she has loved France since she went freshman year. She held her necklace pendant up to the audience; an Eiffel Tower was painted on it. A 2011 graduate of GFS, Jovine is currently a junior at the organization’s Cinema School. After college she hopes to work in advertising and ultimately direct her own films, she said.
First Assistant Director Ashante Parker declined the microphone when Jovine offers it to her, stating simply, “Y’all can hear me,” the intonation in her voice barely suggesting the posing of a question. The close-knit gathering laughed. She explains that shooting the short was “energetic as well as frustrating.” The filming was done at a hotel, and because they rented a room for twenty-four hours, everything had to be completed within that time. In the end, though, she was happy with the product. Parker will attend SUNY Potsdam this fall.
An audience member and self-described “neophyte screenwriter” asked for the panel’s advice on balancing action and dialogue. In an interview afterward, he introduced himself as Kwesi Driskell. He was a 2004 GFS student. Having recently graduated from Syracuse University where he completed various film projects with friends, he is currently living in Brooklyn, writing nights and weekends.
Out on the dance floor after the screening, film industry higher-ups mingled. You would have been hard-pressed to find a person who was not there in enthusiastic support of Neuhaus. Joshua Pasch of Authentic Management, who has known Neuhaus for a couple of years, is a mentor to a high school freshman at GFS. He contrasted New York City to that other U.S. film center, Los Angeles, noting that the H&H and GFS partnership is valuable because although in LA you can essentially meet other film industry members on your lunch break, in New York it’s more difficult. “Adam’s done a really smart thing here,” Pasch says.
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