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Filmmakers roundtable: Local filmmakers share their experiences with COVID-19

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Filmmakers roundtable via Zoom

CHALK writer Braden Shaw sits down with local filmmakers to talk about their trials and triumphs they've faced in the industry during COVID-19.

Connor Sandheinrich remembers sitting through a two-day session on foleying — another term for re-recording or recreating audio during a film’s post-production process — during one of her first film and media studies classes at KU. At the time, she deemed it unnecessary information. 

“You kind of just think, 'Well unless I'm a foley artist, I'm never going to have to do this so I kind of just brushed it off,'” says Sandheinrich, a 2020 KU film and media studies graduate from Waterloo, Illinois.

Fast forward to 2020 and that information comes in handy when shooting without an audio engineer. Sandheinrich shot two short films in 2020. The first was “Uninvited,” a horror short film about a woman who “unknowingly plays in a game of cat and mouse with an uninvited stranger,” according to the film’s description — partly a play on the fears of isolation during the pandemic. The short can be viewed on Sandheinrich’s YouTube channel.

“Uninvited” was filmed all in one night with a two-person crew, Sandheinrich and fellow 2020 KU film and media studies graduate Jacob Schermerhorn. The duo had to foley all of the audio in post-production, which is something neither of them had done before. That meant a lot of watching the monitor on playback and some trial and error, which resulted in noticeable frustration.

For example, there’s a moment in “Uninvited” when a character pulls a knife out of a wooden drawer. Sandheinrich says it sounds off because in post-production they used metal and not wood. But at a certain point, you take what you can get. 

“And now that I have watched it maybe 100 times, it's like, well, now I know how to do this,” Sandheinrich says. “Now I tell everybody who's still in film school, ‘Learn how to foley.’ I promise it'll change your life at least once.”

Thus comes the struggles of making films during a pandemic. It’s forced filmmakers to learn on the fly. It also opened up different opportunities, such as Sandheinrich becoming a COVID-19 compliance officer. The job entails taking temperatures, performing COVID-19 tests, sanitizing — basically making sure everyone on-set is following health and safety guidelines. She did have to pay for certification, but “it definitely has paid off because now there are productions who are really only looking for COVID compliance officers,” Sandheinrich says. 

In a Zoom roundtable, Braden Shaw talks with filmmakers in Lawrence. 

Ryan Njenga, a 22-year-old filmmaker from Kansas City, says he’s had to get creative with filming locations. For a music video shoot for KC artist FREDD1E FRESH last year, Njenga got kicked out of a spot in Westport due to COVID-19 restrictions. It worked out though, as Njenga was able to finish filming in the Power and Light district.

“Honestly I thought it was a much more visually appealing part of the project,” Njenga says.

Njenga also released four short films last year, including “Mobongo'' and “Switzer Lofts.” Each film deals with cultural identity and reconciling with the past in the digital age. Njenga shot “Mobongo” in Lawrence and “Switzer Lofts” in Kansas City, and found both helped him grow more accustomed to bigger sets and becoming more creative during the pandemic. 

“I feel more confident in my creative powers, because obviously, especially in the peak of COVID, you can't see anyone, it's like, not having that energy to bounce off of,” Njenga says.

Putting anything out during this time is a victory for the filmmakers in itself.

“That was a really big plus of the whole pandemic, that I still got to put out work that we had completed pre-pandemic,” says Ishan Parikh, a 2020 KU film and media studies graduate from Olathe. Parikh released his latest short film “Rainbow Boulevard” on Feb. 21, the third installment of his “Creators’ trilogy.” 

“Rainbow Boulevard”, along with Parikh’s “Novelty Ultra” (2020) and “Kickback” (2018), deals with young creatives finding their voice amid uncertainty. Not exactly a far cry from Parikh himself, especially when releasing work during a pandemic. 

“I mean, there's so many things in the movie that I think now looking back on it, I feel it's a really apt time for it to come out,” Parikh says. 

Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre, a 2020 KU film and media studies graduate from Lawrence, was excited about bringing her short film, “Apertura (Opening Night)” to film festivals. She quickly made travel plans with friends and family. But then COVID-19 hit, and those plans were put on hold.

“Apertura,” which was shot during Kalusha-Aguirre’s study abroad trip to Costa Rica in 2019, focuses on “an introverted geek opening a cafe in hopes to connect with others while also battling with his social anxiety manifests through musical numbers,” according to the film’s description.  

Still, “Apertura” played at 11 virtual film festivals internationally. It obviously was not the typical festival experience, but Kalusha-Aguirre still attended virtual panels and met filmmakers through social media and Zoom. 

“It just really allowed us to cross all of these borders and these distances in ways that maybe we wouldn't have otherwise,” Kalusha-Aguirre says. 

Each of these filmmakers would be apprehensive for the future during a less eventful year, a byproduct of graduating college. Add the pandemic, even more so. At the same time, there’s a sense of growth and perseverance that instills hope in filmmakers like Kalusha-Aguirre. 

“I think I'm just trying to get back to like, what is the thing that I actually want to create, just so that it can be something that's in the world?” Kalusha-Aguirre says. “And let me get back to that because that's where I'm going to have any kind of success is, I think, doing that.”

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