The Longshot Collective, a group of film students are embracing the new normal. As a result of COVID’s impact on their universities, they opted to take the fall semester off and form a collective to shoot a film instead. The group consists of eight students (all seniors) from three top US film schools: Wesleyan University, NYU Tisch and USC.
Their original plan was to make a collection of short films, but due to a last minute change of location, they instead worked together to make one feature for which they used the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and Video Assist 4K as part of their kit. In order to help stay safe and isolate, they all moved in together during production. Their goal was to gain real world experience and to put what they’ve been learning in school into practice. They completed the project’s production this fall, and will continue with post through their spring semester.
They explained to ProductionHUB how they adapted to COVID and created a new unique opportunity to continue their education away from their colleges (with plans to return for the spring semester).
PH: Can you talk about the inception of Longshot Collective? How did it start and who makes up the collective?
Daniel Sorkin: This project began in early July when we were all faced with the decision of whether or not to return to school for what would be our senior year of college. Within the film programs at Wesleyan, USC, and NYU, the schools which the members of our collective are enrolled in, this fall semester is intended to serve as an opportunity to create a capstone project. As we began to hear about upcoming safety measures and restrictions being imposed in order to make these projects possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us began to explore the possibility of taking the semester off in order to pursue an independent project. We had all been musing over this idea on our own. Finally, Theo Matza talked to fellow students from Wesleyan’s college of film—Caris Yeoman, Alvaro Chavez, Sherwin Yu, Liza Gross, and Anna Yeo, as well as friends and former collaborators Daniel Sorkin and Joel Kaswan. As soon as we realized there was a group of like-minded young filmmakers eager to use the upcoming semester to create something, we hopped on Zoom to make a plan. There, a collective was formed.
PH: What film did you decide to create? Describe pre-production.
Dan Sorkin: Our initial impulse was to recreate the sort of environment in which we would have made our senior projects. The idea was to create an anthology of seven short films which would each be conceived as an individual vision, allowing for each member of the collective to write and direct their project. Every week, from late July to early September, we would hold workshop sessions and discuss each story in-depth. As these conversations advanced, the anthology began to form as a collection of stories inspired by the emotional experience of quarantine, drawing on themes of isolation, escape, and growth.
We based our narrative as well as our production plan on the premise that we would have access to a specific property which we could use as a primary location, however, this did not pan out and we had to quickly pivot. We intended to stay in close proximity to this property and to spend 7 weeks shooting on it. After several days of deliberation, we decided to devote our energies entirely towards writing a feature film which we could shoot over 5 weeks in order to dedicate more time to pre-production.
We all wrote the script together, alternating between group sessions where we would discuss an outline and days dedicated to writing scenes independently. Simultaneously, we began to tackle the work of sourcing remaining equipment, location scouting, production design, storyboarding, casting. The script was intended to highlight all of our individual sensibilities so that each member of the group would be able to feel a sense of ownership over the project. In the end the film that we wrote and produced tells the story of two isolated young adults, Ronnie and Zak, former high school friends who refuse to acknowledge how poorly their lives have progressed thus far. Together, they drive through California seeking out new directions in life.
About Daniel Sorkin
A rising senior in the Film Production program at the University of Southern California. "At USC, I have had the opportunity to explore writing, directing, and producing through collaborations with other students. In my own work, I tend to gravitate towards surreal stories as well as dark comedy. I particularly enjoy developing story ideas in a group setting which is sure to be a key element of this project. I am extremely excited to devote the next several months to working with all of these amazing people on a project which combines all of our individual strengths and interests."
PH: What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you deal with them?
Anna Yeo: One of our main challenges was delegating set roles. With our initial idea of making seven short films, we planned on alternating positions by film so that at some point during production we each had a primary role in directing, or doing sound, or production design, or etc. When we changed our idea from making seven films to making one feature-length film, we had to make a more concrete decision on who would spearhead each department. For the most part we each assumed the department that we’d previously had the most experience in. For directing, we split our story up by scene and assigned each a person a group of scenes to direct. During production we were all invested in how something should look or feel since we had all written the story together, and naturally this was challenging at times because as eight different people we sometimes had eight different opinions on what to do. One way we overcame this challenge was by giving the assigned director the final say on whatever scene we were shooting. This challenge will surely persist as we decide on how to edit the film, but as a group we’re a passionate and talkative bunch, and we will likely come to some sort of consensus after much spirited and impassioned debate. Another one of our challenges was harmonious living, since we were living and working together around the clock with little personal space, and people are bound to get on each others’ nerves once in a while. But we regularly had family dinner to reconvene as a family and sometimes we did yoga. That was very nice.
About Anna Yeo
A rising senior at Wesleyan University studying Economics and Film Studies. "At Wes, I’ve been able to experience filmmaking from a number of different perspectives, whether that be working on student films in various roles or interning with the University’s video production department. A lot of my personal creative pursuits have been in solo stop-motion and/or hand-drawn animation work, so I’m stoked to collaborate with this group of thoughtful and driven individuals in building a world and telling its stories."
PH: How has COVID shifted the industry and the work that you do?
Sherwin Yu: It is hard to exactly quantify the impact of COVID on the industry this past year, but it is clear that so much has changed in such a short amount of time. In the early stages of the pandemic, the industry (and the rest of the world) came to such a sudden halt, and we saw theaters shut down, productions postponed, and festivals canceled. As a group of college upperclassmen nearing graduation, we were especially frustrated at the time as we were all sent home from campus with little notice in March and eventually had to forfeit our production theses/capstone experiences. Because of the United States’ overall inability to contain the virus, returning and adapting to a new normal has been a long, challenging, and ongoing process for the arts and entertainment industry. COVID safety and awareness is no longer just a part of our everyday lives but on set as well, as professional productions have only just begun to resume with strict and expensive Covid guidelines to varying degrees of success. Obstacles with gathering crews, casting, and location shooting have made the pre-production process longer and harder. With jobs and gigs getting cut everywhere, it has also become more daunting for young adults like us to break into the industry and get the experience necessary to learn and grow as professionals. Even on a more macro-level, the pandemic has completely shifted the landscape of exhibition and development. Covid has hastened the downfall of the movie theater and the rise of streaming, greatly influencing the viewing habits of the average consumer and in turn, the type of content that gets made and distributed. Long term, we're not sure what these changes mean for the arts and entertainment industry, We’ve come to realize that essentially every filmmaker and artist that we know, student or working professional alike, is still learning to navigate this new normal. However, if there is anything that filmmakers and artists know how to do, it is how to adapt and overcome the challenges facing them.
About Sherwin Yu
A senior at Wesleyan University who is majoring in Film Studies. "I have had the opportunity to work on multiple short films in a variety of different capacities such as producer, assistant director, and production designer. Professionally, I have also worked at Oscilloscope Laboratories as a distribution intern. I am an avid film-lover and have been digging into a lot of East Asian cinema and 2D animated films recently. While I normally enjoy handling the logistical aspects of production, I am excited to pursue and involve myself more in creative development, directing, and acting through this project, in addition to collaborating with such talented peers."
PH: Safe shooting—what precautions did you take?
Caris Yeoman: We all lived together, effectively forming our own pod, and filmed most scenes in a car, Airbnb, or the outdoors, so we largely did not have to take the same Covid precautions that other productions are currently forced to, since we had very limited contact with people outside our household. We were still tested frequently, and made sure to get negative tests before the occasions that other people came to act in a scene. For instance, a friend of my mother’s was on set for one day, to play our protagonist’s grandfather— although this man had already contracted and recovered from Covid, we all wore masks and maintained distance from him. There are several talented chefs in our group--I’ll shout out Sherwin and Daniel in particular--so we cooked our meals at home, and of course we followed strict safety protocols when going out to get groceries, props and costumes.
About Caris Yeoman
A senior at Wesleyan University. "I have focused my studies around film, photography, and creative writing. I have also worked on various student films as cinematographer or as a crew member in the camera department. I have always been fascinated by the communal and collaborative nature of filmmaking, and this project represents a culmination of so many of my passions."
PH: Now let's talk gear. What did you use to shoot and why?
Theo Matza: As we are students working with such a minimal budget, we would have realistically shot on whatever we could get our hands-on. That said, with a little bit of ambition we were lucky enough to receive a six-week loan on an Arri Alexa Plus Camera. I reached out to a friend of mine who connected me to a studio in LA, Breakwater Studios. After I personally pitched our project to them, they chose to support us. It was a great privilege to be able to shoot on such a legendary body for free, and, to top it off, the slightly softer look you get from shooting in 2K was rather fitting for the sort of coming-of-age road-trip story we were trying to emulate. We used a number of Blackmagic Design products on the production, including one of their gorgeous Ultra HD monitor/records, a Video Assist 4K, which certainly became crucial when working with so many creative voices on set at once. We all spent a lot of time huddled around that thing. We also had a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K on hand, whose compactness and retained resolution made for a fantastic B-Camera. Back on the East Coast before we left for Cali, Daniel and I also spent days calling up camera and lighting manufacturing companies, pitching our project in the hopes of getting some free loans on equipment. FJ Wescott lent us a set of their beautifully versatile Flex Cine Mats. Zeiss lent us a pristine set of PL Mount CP3 primes. Zoom North America sent a F6 Multitrack Field recorder for our sound capture. It's safe to say we were well-equipped for a low-budget student production.
PH: Do you think some of what you've done with the collective should be emulated in colleges in the future?
Theo Matza: We have all been told by our film professors that making movies is no practical task, that the obstacles are different every time, and that it requires a certain resilience, a commitment, an ability to roll with the punches that no school-generated assignment or deadline can entirely teach. Some of us had experiences before this one in which we got a taste of what that level of creative intensity looks like in the real world, but none of us had ever had to make something from nothing with nobody older cushioning us along the way, handing us the resources to do so (as great a privilege as it was at school to have access to those tools). To have an experience that actually held us to that expectation was the reason I brought the idea for this project to my talented peers in the first place. I wanted us to be able to prove to ourselves that we could do it, that we could have an independent filmmaking experience that was real, in which we had to build our movie from the ground up. With such firsthand wisdom under our belts before we even graduate college, I feel as if we are moving forward with a newfound confidence and understanding of what it means to dedicate oneself to our craft that we would not have had before. I’m not sure that colleges could teach that or simulate the experience of throwing yourself into the fire that is such a run-and-gun independent production, but they sure could advocate it. Some, including the schools that we go to, luckily tend to do so already.
About Theo Matza
A senior at Wesleyan University "finishing my degree in Film Studies and English. I have collaborated on numerous short film projects, primarily serving as Director of Photography (shooting on both 16mm and digital formats) in addition to working in camera and lighting departments. I’m looking forward to playing a part in the exciting work that this group of talented people will produce."
PH: What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
Sherwin Yu: Obviously, there is still a lot of looming uncertainty regarding the future as we continue our fight against Covid. However, we are confident that the filmmakers and artists of today and tomorrow will find ways to adapt to another new landscape in this ever-changing industry, and continue to work and grind in order to tell the stories that matter. Even in a socially distanced world, the digital age that we live in today has enabled us to still find ways to connect with art, each other, and ourselves. And as technology and information become more accessible to all, we hope that more young people of all races, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations will be equipped and motivated to study their own craft and to tell their stories; now is always the right time for new voices to emerge. Considering the crazy year that we all just had, we feel excited about the industry’s output in the near-future and beyond that will certainly have us doing a lot of processing, thinking, and inspiring (and hopefully the movie theaters come back stronger than ever too)!