By Adam Sieff
Within 18 minutes, the student initiated âMovie Madness,â a film festival today showcasing the work of several upper school film students, sold out online.
What began as a private screening for Dr. Jane Matz and the rest of the independent study panel mushroomed into a stampede of students fighting for a chance to hold one of the 143 seats in Ahmanson Lecture Hall, this afternoon at 4 p.m. The demand for seats forced the filmmakers to add a second screening at 6:45 p.m.
The screenings will show four student films, âTicklishâ by Drew Foster â08 and Max Gray â08, âKiss and Donât Tell,â by John Howe â07, a music video by student band Carlotta, and the feature presentation, âHamlet,â an interpretation of Shakespeareâs play, by Garrett Lee â07.
Lee has directed, edited and produced dozens feature length movies since the 9th grade. He wanted to attempt a modern adaptation of a Shakespearean play as a senior independent study to cap off his high school film career before heading to the University of Southern Californiaâs School of Film and Television.
âShakespeare is just so timeless in terms of the characters and the types of conflicts they face,â Lee said, âI wanted to try and create a modern version of a dark play like Hamlet.â
Andrew Pattison â07, who stars as Hamlet in the film, and Lee created a Facebook event to publicize the original 4 p.m. screening, which the pair dubbed âHarvard-Westlakeâs âGrindhouse,ââ in reference to the recently released 1970s styled double feature by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
The two invited approximately 80 students via the online networking site on May 22 and had about 75 students confirmed to attend by that evening. A trailer and a music video, both directed, edited and produced by Lee, were released on YouTube.com that same evening. The trailer was shown to the senior class earlier that morning.
âThe movie had a lot of hype,â Lee said. âThe trailer and music video certainly helped contribute to that. Everything was going great until someone other than Andrew or I invited another 140 kids to the event. After that, things got messy.
Within the hour, the online event blossomed to more than 143 attendees, the capacity for the Ahmanson Lecture Hall. That number did not include faculty, students and family members not invited via the website.
âWe wouldnât have even had room for Dr. Matz and the rest of the independent study commission,â Lee said.
To limit the number of attendees, Lee and Pattison set up a system through Eventbrite, an event managing website, in which interested attendees must obtain a free voucher on a first come first serve basis to be admitted to the screening. It was when students began reserving their seats that Lee, Pattison and all those involved really knew they were dealing with something unusual.
âWe would never have imagined that the screening would sell out all 143 seats in 18 minutes,â Pattison said. âIt was like, âWhoa, what just happened.â I felt bad that some people wouldnât be able to attend.â
Even though the larger Rugby Theatre, which holds more than 300 people, was not available, the venue is considered suboptimal for screenings anyway. Lee and Pattison briefly considered renting out a private theatre, but ultimately decided to hold a second screening that evening.
âItâs going to be awesome,â Pattison said. âI just hope the finished product can live up to the incredibly high expectations.â
Lee found his inspiration from some of his favorite directors and cinematographers and an unlikely source â his English class. All seniors in Eric Schrodeâs AP English IV read Hamlet in October, but not all of them were drawn into the play as much as Lee was.
âMr. Schrode really inspired me to make this movie,â Lee said. âTalking about the philosophy of death in his class excited me, and I tried to incorporate some of the ideas from our discussions in the movie.â
âGarrett originally planned on doing a 28-minute scene from a âMidsummerâs Night Dream,ââ film teacher Kevin OâMalley said.
âHe changed to Hamlet at some point in the middle,â OâMalley said. âWhen he first began turning in drafts, Iâd cross out pages at a time, and heâd turn it back in and itâd be even longer.â
âThis is the first time I have ever actually sat down and wrote a script,â Lee said. âUsually I just give my actors instructions and let them improvise.â
The 28-minute scene soon developed into a one-hour feature and, by the time he was through, Lee had over nine hours of footage. âUsually, I only need to use two tapes. This project needed 10,â he said.
OâMalley provided some lighting and sound equipment, but all the props, HD camera and camera equipment were purchased by Lee.
âProduction was really a three-man team of me, Andrew [Pattison] and James [Lee â07], my assistant director,â Lee said.
To edit the movie in high definition, OâMalley allowed the young filmmakers to take one of the computers from the video classroom to Leeâs garage studio.
The trio lived there together for nearly two weeks during spring break, often staying up into the wee hours of the morning to shoot and edit footage.
âWe pulled two all-nighters and usually didnât get to sleep until 5 or 5:30,â Lee said.
One night, Lee and crew were filming a gun battle in a Beverly Hills alleyway. With half a dozen automatic BB guns in plain sight, Lee said he noticed something approaching in the distance.
âWe saw a car pulling up with its lights off,â he said. âIt was past 10 and I was pretty nervous. It turned out to be the Beverly Hills Police. I explained to the officer what we were doing and told him we were from Harvard-Westlake. At that point, he just left us alone.â
The officer threatened to issue curfew tickets but cited the schoolâs record and just told the kids to go home.
OâMalley compares Leeâs cinematographic ability to the Greek goddess Athena.
âHe came in doing things better than anyone else, as if he had sprouted out of the forehead of Zeus,â OâMalley said with a smirk. âHe is still doing things better than anyone else. We just try and stay out of his way.â