Aspiring filmmaker sinks his teeth into learning experience with 'Vampire' short

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Count Dracula will be stalking the woods and trails of Milwaukee’s Schlitz Audubon Nature Center next month, but it won’t be the tuxedo, opera cape and pointy canines that will give him away. He’ll have a professional film crew in tow.

This Dracula is at the center of a project by Collaborative Cinema, an educational initiative sponsored by Milwaukee Film, the nonprofit organization responsible for the Milwaukee Film Festival.

“The Vampire Formerly Known as Dracula,” written by Milwaukee High School for the Arts freshman Ian Walls, is Collaborative Cinema’s seventh annual production. The initiative matches emerging filmmakers with professional film crews each summer to produce short films as a way of promoting filmmaking education, says Milwaukee Film education director Susan Kerns.

“We work with high school students and adults on screenwriting, we make music videos with young people and we make one short film every year as part of our summer film shoot,” Kerns says. “For the summer shoot, we work with emerging professional and student filmmakers at various stages of their careers as an opportunity for them to bridge to the next level.”

The 11-page “Vampire” script, one of the top five scoring screenplays submitted for consideration, chronicles a lonely Count Dracula, adrift in America and falling behind the new “Twilight”- era breed of sexy young bloodsuckers. It takes the help of a blasé, would-be victim to get the 200-year-old count in step with the times. The theme attracted Nate Schardin, a freelance videographer and part-time restaurant cook who was tapped to direct this year’s short.

“The story has a great sense of humor that I felt mirrors my own,” says Schardin, who has been involved with Collaborative Cinema since 2007 as a junior at Nicolet High School. He has studied videography at MATC, attended Milwaukee Film screenwriting workshops and worked in some capacity on nearly every Collaborative Cinema production.

This was the first year that Collaborative Cinema has allowed an emerging filmmaker like Schardin to direct, Kerns says.

“Nate pitched a great film,” she explains. “He’d clearly done a lot of research and had a lot of terrific ideas for the film, so we chose his project.”

The short script has three locations: Dracula’s apartment, a city bus stop and the woods. The Audubon Center agreed to allow the forest scenes to be filmed there, and a bus stop at the eastern-most end of Silver Spring Drive also was chosen as the street location.

The apartment and cast have yet to be chosen, Schardin says.

While the students work for the experience, professional crew members are paid, although at a reduced rate. Productions costs vary and a typical crew consists of anywhere from 30 to 50 people.

“There is no such thing as an average cost to produce a film anymore,” Kerns says. “There is such a range of equipment that short films can be made very inexpensively and very expensively. It totally depends on the kind of film you want to make and where you want to screen it.”

The Collaborative Cinema program is funded by the Richard and Ethyl Herzfeld Foundation, the Mary L. Nohl Fund and the Milwaukee Arts Board, part of the Wisconsin Arts Board. The program also relies on in-kind donations from North American Camera, which provides state-of-the-art equipment, and Independent Studios, which provides post-production editing, sound design and other services.

Once finished, “Vampire” will receive its world premiere as part of “The Milwaukee Show” at the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival, scheduled for Sept. 27-Oct.11 at various venues around the city. Previous years’ Collaborative Cinema shorts have gone on to be shown at other state film festivals.

The 2011 film “Memento Mori,” about a traveling showman who steals people’s souls with his magic camera, is currently winning prizes on the film festival circuit, Kerns says.

If Schardin has his way, “The Vampire Formerly Known as Dracula” will follow the same path, providing much-needed exposure for the emerging filmmaker.

“Despite my other jobs, I still think of myself as a full-time filmmaker,” Schardin says, “because I am always thinking about and planning the next project.”

 

For more info

Go to Milwaukee Film’s Collaborative Cinema, visit milwaukee-film.org

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