By Daniele Amandolini
For the past nine years, students in the Communications & New Media department have had the chance to write and direct their own movies — and show them in sold-out theaters throughout the state.
This very unique senior project is known as Maine Mayhem, a creation of CNMS department chair Corey Norman along with former student James Crocco. I had a chance to sit down with this year’s directors, ahead of the May 9 premiere at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland.
Director Brendan Kellogg and producers Alex Goodwin and Mitchell Kleege guided me through “Crystal Clear,” a movie starring a non-binary protagonist dealing with a wish-granting magical crystal. Heavily influenced by the work of Terry Pratchett, Brendan relied on the Captain’s House when locations proved to be difficult.
Jack Gentempo wrote and directed “Off the Tracks,” a Portlandia-inspired sketch comedy with a very unusual casting process: Jack created a Tinder profile, specifying that he wasn’t looking for a date but for extras for his short film. That’s right: When in doubt, swipe right! You might end up on the big screen.
With “Washed Away,” Madison Holbrook tells a story about friendship and guilt. A car crash is a pivotal moment for her characters, and it was also a huge challenge for Madison as a director. Shot under torrential rains and on the very first day of production, she was able to pull it off brilliantly and cap her intense two years at SMCC that saw her pick up her first camera, dive head-first into film, and have her own movie screened all around Maine.
In describing how her “42 Atwood Lane” came to be, Breanna Penney repeatedly referenced how past experiences have already started shaping her still-young career. Serving as a producer for one of last year’s Mayhem films, she learned the importance of team-building on a film set. Creating a positive environment on set was her main priority, and one that she brings into every project she takes in. As for her movie, the idea came to her in the form of a dream, and follows a teenager who, in Breanna’s words, “attempts to escape the uncertainty of her fragmenting family.”
On a very different note, Justin Taylor’s “Parasite Night” stars a group of actors who fall victim to an intergalactic plot to use their body as vessels for parasites. Justin’s aesthetic is carefully crafted around VHS-era horror flicks, from Vincent Price’s features, to David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” — a taste developed during his middle-school days, when he first discovered the magical world of movies. When asked how he lightened the mood on his fake-blood-filled set, Justin recalled sneakily recording his actors’ histrionics and attaching clothespins on fellow crew members.
Jason Smith’s “Champ” is a the story of a boxer spiraling into drinking and self-loathing after losing his career match. Inspired by Scorsese’s masterpiece “Raging Bull,” Jason tried his hand a crafting a story around boxing, a sport he knew nothing about. On the opposite, his lead actors are professional boxing trainers who had never stepped on a set before, making “Champ” a learning experience for all of them. The process of guiding them while listening to their input was Jason’s favorite Mayhem experience.
While superhero movies are very common these days, Bodhi Ouellette approached his film “Phoenix” as a more intimate story, focused on the human aspect rather than the visual spectacle. Phoenix is a former superhero, facing demons of the past and a familiar foe. Mayhem represented a great opportunity for Bodhi to grow as a director, and he already has eyes on future projects and developing new ideas.
Closing this list is Ben Rooker’s “The Wile.” While Ben was not available for this interview, his Kickstarter campaign describes the project as “a film about anxiety, isolation, and extraterrestrials.”
All the directors I talked to were clearly touched by the opportunity that Maine Mayhem provided. Seeing their creations on the big screen is something many aspiring filmmakers will never be able to accomplish, and their lives will be forever changed by this experience.
The Maine Mayhem shorts will screen Wednesday, May 9 at 5:30 and 8:30 at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland. Tickets are available at patriotcinemas.com