Student Film Offers Twist to Classic Noir
By Alejandra Ortega
Student-made film, “The Case of the Torched Turf” premiered Wednesday at Celebration! Cinema to a full house.
A fast-paced, witty film noir-comedy, “The Case of the Torched Turf” focuses on Theo Wilder, a high school student obsessed with Humphrey Bogart noir films. Theo decides to take it upon himself to help his classmate and love-interest out of being framed for torching the football field.
The film was made for the fiction film specialization in association with the communication arts program. The course, ENG 435, offers a chance for students to experience a more in-depth process to filmmaking.
The film runs a total of 28 minutes, but it has taken the cast and crew roughly a full academic year to complete. The fall semester was focused on pre-production and filming while the spring semester has been focused on post-production.
The 18 students divided between themselves jobs for pre-production, production and post-production.
Of the 18, four were writers. After one of the writers pitched the idea what followed was a series of sleepless nights; some of which were at Theio’s Restaurant, the restaurant the central character is named after. The four writers divided the scenes between each other and found ways to make it flow as one script.
“The writing process was frustrating but rewarding,” said Matt Wrobel, an English major with a film concentration senior. “We had to figure out what was compatible and what was not.”
Noirs are typically serious, dramatic films focused on a private investigator. By adding comedy, the writers hoped to provide something new to the genre style.
“I would say that the goal of the film is to take the elements of a classic noir character and put them into a modern day setting, and in this case it’s a high school student,” said Danny Gianino, a media arts and technology major with a concentration in television, cinema and radio senior, as well as the actor who portrayed Theo. “The two do not mix well, and hilarity ensues!”
Two directors were chosen for the film. After receiving the script, the directors and crew scouted locations in the Lansing area, casted the roles and prepared to film.
“A lot of things change between writing and filming,” said Michael Steinfield, a Residential College in the Arts and Humanities senior. “Actors can improvise a line better than what you’ve written. Directors can suddenly decide what’s on the page doesn’t work when they try it out for real.”
The process of filming required just as much hard work as the writing process did. Filming took place over roughly seven to eight weeks, with eight to 10 hour days, said Ryan Walsh, a media arts and technology senior with a film studies minor, who was one of the directors of photography.
“This is not your average class,” said Walsh. “It’s about passion and it’s about struggle. It’s about hating what you’re creating until you love it. It’s about sacrificing your own creativity in order to create something larger than you could ever create alone, or could possibly desire to create on your own.”
After the filming process came post-production, where the students edited their shots and added in music. Test screenings were held to see what audiences liked and did not like. After these screenings, said Taylor Normington, an English major with a film concentration senior, and one of the two directors of the film, little things were added, including the voice over for the main character.
While these added voice overs were hilarious and filled with Noir references, the sound could have used some more time in editing, and the chemistry between Theo and his femme fatale felt a little forced. However, the film was truly an enjoyable experience overall, the style and writing was great and it is clear just how much time and effort was put into creating the film.
The filmmakers hope to continue moving forward with “The Case of the Torched Turf,” and send it to festivals, said Wrobel.