A team of Anna High School students took second place at the UIL Young Filmmakers Festival, held at Austin’s Paramount Theatre.
Their seven-minute production, “Tommy Superstar,” won over the judges with its complex-yet-humorous plot.
The film was created by AV Production II students Johnathan Chih (writer/producer) and Gabe Silva (writer/director). Aaron Coleman served as cinematographer and editor.
Chih says the idea for the film came him when he and others in his life were going through tough times. He wanted the movie to inspire people to pick up everything and keep going, even if all seems to be lost.
“So many films focus on the negative aspects of life and convey negative messages as well,” he said. “When we decided to embark on this project, we as a group knew that we needed to do something different.”
The protagonist, Tommy Superstar, is similar to the animated television character BoJack Horseman. He finds out that executives have decided to reboot his show with a younger actor.
In response, Tommy enlists his estranged son to vlog him picking on unsuspecting people to prove that he can still be an action star. The results are less than convincing.
Silva, who has a theater background, played the son. Anna High School teacher Randall Kramen says the teen did a phenomenal job in terms of developing the script and bringing the character to life.
“His story sensibility is off the charts,” Kramen said. “He took this character and story from Jon (Chih) and did an amazing job.”
As for Tommy, that role was played by Kramen. It was first time students had cast him in a leading role in one of their productions.
According to Kramen, one of the most impressive things about the film was the students’ ability to compress such a complex character arc into the required seven minutes.
The original 14-page script was whittled down to 10. Many funny scenes were left on the cutting room floor. They will be added back in when the film is shown later this year at the school’s film festival.
“Tommy Superstar” was developed over the course of the first semester. In addition to scenes filmed at school, there were also offsite shoots at many places in the area including Slayter Park, Downtown Van Alstyne and My Estrella Mexican Cuisine.
Students sacrificed days of their Thanksgiving and winter breaks to keep the project going. They worked around the clock in early January finalizing edits.
The final product was submitted to judges at 11:52 p.m. Jan. 15 - eight minutes before the deadline.
“It’s not just the talent of these kids for this particular project,” Kramen said. “They put in the most (over time) of any team ever in the history of our program.”
While taking second place in the competition was an impressive feat, the result was still a tad disappointing for the team.
The semifinal final round featured 12 films split into two groups of six. Three films from each group moved on to the final round. The film chosen as the overall winner had only placed second in the previous round, unanimously losing out to the film that ultimately placed third.
“If you ask me, ‘Did we get robbed?’ I’d say, ‘Absolutely we got robbed,’” Kramen said. “It is what it is.”
It’s also the best showing ever for an Anna High School AV team. Kramen says he could not be more impressed with the work of his students.
He also relishes his role as a mentor who’s committed to ensuring they always give it their best shot.
“These kids who come through this program have the passion and the fire, and it’s my mission to give them the opportunity that I really didn’t have in high school,” he said. “I’m very very blessed to have this opportunity to do that for these kids and to send them forward not only with the confidence from an experience like this, but with the real skills to really do it.”
Chih says that it took many people to put tougher the film. He’s quick to add that the final project was not just his writing, but the voices of many.
He also stresses how much the communities of Anna, McKinney and Van Alstyne helped by granting the film team access to various businesses, parks and other public spaces.
“Tommy Superstar” will premiere locally during the 5th annual Anna High School Film Festival. The community screening is set for 7 p.m. May 18 and the school screening will take place at 2 p.m. May 19.