“I actually feel kind of scared right now. I’m really in the moment.”
Scotty Graham slowly opens the back door to the alley, clutching a shovel for protection. His face is streaked with blood and he looks around nervously. He creeps around the back of a large white van. As he slowly opens the driver’s side door, he hears a voice:
“Cut! OK, let’s get that again from inside.”
This winter eNDVR, Missoula's homeschool cooperative learning space, is teaming up with the Roxy Film Academy for an eight-week filmmaking course. ENDVR courses allow students ages 5-18 to participate in unique quarterly learning programs. Last quarter, their instruction was focused on survival skills. This quarter, it’s filmmaking.
“Kids learn through experience,” said Annie Graham, eNDVR director. “We’re trying to get them out of the classroom and do something real.”
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Over eight weeks, 20 hours a week, the eNDVR students will be crafting a horror film, “Zombies of Zootown.” They wrote the script, held production meetings, blocked out the shots and are now spending three weeks filming scenes of zombies rampaging across Missoula. In January, they’ll edit the footage, mix the music and even create Foley sound effects.
The eNDVR kids are holding every job on the film crew, from slate operator to script supervisor to director. They’re also the stars of the picture, playing both the heroes and the undead.
“My favorite part so far has been being a zombie and attacking people. It was so fun,” said Chenoa Reid, a high school student working with eNDVR on the production. In addition to perfecting a zombie-shuffle, Reid works as both a director and script supervisor to make sure shots and costumes match scene to scene and day to day.
Guiding the production are Roxy Film Academy instructors John Nilles and Christian Ackerman. Both are local filmmakers with plenty of film set experience to bring to the table.
“It’s energizing for me to see the kids get excited about the process of working on movies,” said Nilles, “They have so many good ideas without the negativity and doubt and they can just roll with the process.”
That sometimes means one day a student will find themselves holding the camera and the next day they’ll be covered in fake blood and guts.
“The blood actually tastes really good, it’s kind of minty,” said Ry Schweitz as she applied a hearty amount of gore to a new zombie bite. Schewitz has taken a try at a lot of jobs on the movie set, but her favorite so far has been directing.
“I’ve always liked movies, and was interested in making them. I’m not a huge fan of policing people but it turns out I was pretty good at it!”
“We’re really trying to show them that ‘Yes! you can do this,’” said Ackerman, “We’re giving them responsibilities on an actual, working film set and they’re finding different strengths and capabilities that they maybe didn’t know they had.”
On set, the older kids will take on camera, sound and directing responsibilities while the younger kids will fill in the additional roles. All the while, everyone is working to complete the day’s slated tasks.
“What we end up seeing is the kids mentor other kids. They teach each other and share skills,” said Ackerman. “They’re no longer just a class, we’ve turned them into a film crew.”
The finished film, “Zombies in Zootown” will premiere at the Roxy Theater on Jan. XX at 7 p.m. For more information on Roxy Film Academy, visit montanafilmacademy.com.