“I was in the military for a long time…I’ve noticed that there’s a very real parallel between the instant feeling of family I got with my comrades and the instant feeling of family I got with the people on set,” said Stefan Wisnoski, a graduate student in the media, film and journalism studies department (MFJS) at DU, describing his experience thus far working on Project DU F.I.L.M.’s current undertaking.
F.I.L.M. is an acronym: Filmmaking Initiative Linking Mentors. Frazer Lockhart, director of photography for the film, describes that the goal of the project is “half to be a program of mentorship allowing current students to work with experienced MFJS alumni and half to just make a really good film.”
“Happy F#ing Valentines Day,” their current undertaking, has so far been a complete success, not only because it is the product of an unparalleled opportunity that not many other universities provide, but it is also a clever story illustrated by a motivated cast, a tongue-in-cheek script and an authentically human inspiration.
This film grew out of an idea that Sheila Schroeder, an MFJS faculty member, and her partner, Kate Burns, had last year on Valentine’s Day. They were in the mountains, out to breakfast at Sundance Cafe in Nederland, mourning recent deaths in their family. To raise the spirits of their holiday, they had the idea to anonymously buy breakfast for an older couple at the restaurant.
“It sounds altruistic, but we really just wanted to raise our spirits,” Schroeder explained.
They went for a walk that afternoon and began talking about what might have happened after the couple received their anonymous gift and an hour later had the entire outline for the story they wanted to tell. Schroeder has been at DU for 19 years, and her goal has always been to make a collaborative, film-making community among the students and alumni. The opportunity was finally presenting itself.
“Happy F#ing Valentine’s Day” is a comedic story about a waitress whose husband just left her. She becomes unreasonably annoyed at all the happy couples around her restaurant on this beloved holiday. One of these couples, based off of Schroeder and her partner, buy lunch for an elderly couple who ironically turn out to be criminals who rob the restaurant. In the end, everyone is in their underwear and the viewers of the film learn to stop making preconceived judgments about people—in its simplest terms, to not judge a book by its cover.
Schroeder sought out students and graduates that she knew were the leaders she wanted involved in the production of what would soon be an utterly great film. The crew was assembled—seven cast members, 11 alumni and eight students; they no longer had to live in the abstract. In addition to a great crew, they found the perfect setting as well: the Black Forest Restaurant in Nederland, Colorado, owned by Bill Lorenz.
“He and his staff couldn’t have been more hospitable,” said Schroeder, explaining that they allowed them to use a whole space in the back of the restaurant, contingent only on their eating lunch there every day during the week of filming in early December.
“This is a professional crew. This is not a student crew,” said Lockhart on the last day of filming, just one week after all the students involved with the project began doing what they were doing for the very first time.
Proof of this claim is found in the leadership of graduate student Teri Andony, who stepped up as assistant director of the film immediately after the original, more experienced AD got sick. Lockhart credits the uncanny success of Project DU F.I.L.M.’s first short film to everyone’s passionate willingness to learn, much like Andony’s impressive example. DU students were able to be genuine, contributing members of the crew, moving lights around, acting, logging audio and footage, setting up mics, possessing creative control of the picture and everything else having to do with making a story truly come to life.
The film is currently in the post-production stage, soon to be entered into various Colorado film festivals, women’s film festivals and comedy film festivals. In the spring, there will also be a screening of the movie on the DU campus, accompanied by Hidden Woods Media’s documentary of the behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film, made by alumni Patrick Gillespie and Dave Stewart. After the completion of “Happy F#ing Valentine’s Day,” Schroeder intends for Project DU F.I.L.M. to continue to provide this collaborative approach to filmmaking for years to come, giving opportunities to all students, regardless of gender, race or experience.