Until now, much of PSU.TV’s work has consisted of short pieces and concert series. But when they received a generous grant from Mt. Hood Community Media, it seemed a fitting time to expand their scope and pursue larger narrative projects, which is exactly what they’re doing with the flagship Annual Film Project.
“It’s really a big step in our organization into becoming better filmmakers,” said Zach Huckaby, an associate producer on the project.
First, they looked to the community for scripts and then as a collective read them and voted on the one they wanted to produce. The winning script, Retro Hero, was written by two Portland State students, Dom Peña and Emma Kent. It’s the story of Eliza, a competitive gamer who must compete to help solve her family’s financial struggles and defend her father’s legacy.
“It’s really nice to see a really strong female character,” Huckaby said. “It’s always nice to see diversity.”
Julie Lew, who has been handling marketing for the project, said what makes this story unique is the way it avoids the typical cliches of student films. It will also feature virtual reality and retro arcade gaming, including one game created by a programmer specifically for this film called Turtle Fire. “Even though we are still student filmmakers the scope of this is on a professional scale,” Lew said. “We’re doing special effects.”
In fact, this is the largest student production Huckaby has ever worked on. They have 20 people on set, 40 people working on preproduction and probably another 20 working on postproduction. “When you get that many people working together to create something, it’s something far stronger than any one individual could create,” Huckaby said. “Very cool.”
Auditions for the cast were completed the first weekend in July and they will film for 20 days in August. In September and October they will edit the first cut of the film, followed by the second edit in November and December, with the film’s premiere slated for January.
But despite the generous grant they received to purchase new equipment, funding the project is still one of their main challenges. Logistical items, such as supporting the large cast and crew of student volunteers and producing the special effects, are very expensive items in their budget.
If they don’t raise the money they need, they will have to cut the number of days they can film, thus cutting the script, or else compromise the special effects. In response, they’ve launched an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, which will run until July 20.
Despite these challenges, the students remain optimistic and excited. “The story is amazing,” Huckaby said. “We have all these different people with different skill sets come together and create something that’s totally beautiful and unique to the PSU community.”
Jaclyn MacDonald, the production coordinator, added that this project is also giving students the chance to develop their craft. “There are a lot of opportunities for learning and growing and also broadening your horizons and figuring out different aspects of film that you may be interested in and weren’t aware of before,” MacDonald said.
Lew, who is new to the marketing work she’s been doing for the film, agreed. “I’ve never worked on anything of this scope on campus,” Lew said. “PSU.TV and the AFP are really great about finding what you want to do and then giving you the opportunity to do it on a really professional, large scale.”
Jordan Trout, a recent graduate and associate producer on the project, has also appreciated the experience. “It’s one thing to be in a classroom and be told what’s going to happen and to experience what’s going to happen in small doses,” Trout said. “But you get completely immersed with a great education.”
PSU.TV is a completely student-run organization. They hope that this project will bring them closer to the PSU film program and draw even more talented students to PSU.
Trout feels this project is a testament to what they can do and is excited to see everything come together. “It’s really interesting to see all of these pieces come together to make this one thing that everybody’s left their artistic imprint on and can point to as a sign of their artistry,” Trout said. “I think a film of this magnitude will show how serious we are about what we’re doing.”
Huckaby hopes that audiences will walk away thinking, “Wow, PSU.TV is a great asset. This is something we need to keep our eye on.”
You can support the film financially at their Indiegogo crowdsourcing page and follow the film’s production on their PSU.TV Annual Film Project Facebook page.