In room F-203, the world flips upside down as students become directors, friends become co-stars and ideas become reality. Courier-font decorated scripts fly off the printer, table reads are regular and rented monkeys make an appearance every once in a while. Scripts are passed from hand to hand before a table read, while specific lines are highlighted. In the Intro to Film class, students learn how to use the film equipment, how to correct lighting, learn to write stories and scripts and discover how to make visually appealing and engaging films.
Senior Sam Curtis, coincidentally the student who rented a live monkey for a film, has been a part of the world-bending film class for four years. Valuing comedic aspects in his films, Curtis has made eight films throughout the upper school.
“[I] began making amateur films as soon as I had access to a camcorder,” Curtis said. “I have wanted to tell stories since before I can remember.”
Curtis has portrayed stories through film since childhood and plans to continue his passion through college and beyond. He will attend Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television this fall and plans to major in film production.
“My dream job has always been to be a film director on a risky blockbuster production,” Curtis said. “Or the executive at a creative studio. My favorite director is Christopher Nolan; just to meet him would make my year, but to work with him would, without exaggerating, make my life’s ambitions complete.”
The “risky” line of business would be fitting for Curtis, according to Bobby Weiss, Curtis’ film teacher who has been teaching at ESD for seven years.
“Sam takes risks by writing stuff that’s difficult to shoot, and then actually doing it,” Weiss said. “[He] is one of the few students in the past years that worked with real actors and did a casting call [to find] the right people.”
Called a young Quentin Tarantino by Weiss, Curtis has a unique writing style that sets him apart from other young filmmakers.
“His writing skills are something that comes along once every blue moon,” Weiss said. “He’s very smart and clever about the way he writes. [His films are] so funny. It’s like [watching] people having these intimate, funny conversations amongst themselves, and you really, as an audience member, feel like you shouldn’t be there watching it.”
Curtis has made many films with creative storylines, whether it’s a search to find an elusive finch or a film where burglars can’t seem to get their story straight. While Curtis has used hired actors in his films before, his fellow students have also been featured as actors and crew members, such as seniors Christopher Hess, Aidan Cox and Braydon Giangiulio. Curtis’ films describe a variety of different situations, with titles varying from “Beyond Protein” to “The Mythic Golden-Breasted Finch.”
“My favorite part of filmmaking is being on location and witnessing the jaw-dropping experience of seeing your idea become a reality,” Curtis said. “Every crew member and actor was amazing in each of my films.”
Curtis’ many projects in filmmaking provide a springboard to continue his passion in college. Although he’s one of a few seniors majoring in film, Curtis’ writing style sets him apart.
“Sam is an incredibly motivated writer,” Weiss said. “His writing style is incredibly unique.”
Although Weiss praises Curtis’ filmmaking abilities, Curtis remains always humble.
“It’s hard for me to pick a favorite film of my own,” Curtis said. “As a filmmaker, I’m hardly proud of my previous work. And [I] choose only to look ahead to knocking it out of the park with the next.”
Curtis said that he has yet to find a definitive signature technique, but he wants to take old myths and legendary stories and translate them into a modern-day short film in the future. Many of his films draw inspiration from movies and artists around him. His favorite genre of film, action/adventure comedy, inspires his ventures.
“The Nice Guys starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is up there in my top choices,” Curtis said. “The type of comedy, fearless screenwriting, and retro 70s style in the film hit the nail on the head for me.”
However, the definition of a film that knocks it out of the park, according to Curtis, has many qualities that put it over the top.
“My ideal film has a meaningful story with a clear theme to assert, fascinating characters who develop logically from beginning to end, an airtight plot with no wasted time, and a game-changing innovation, style, or cinematography,” Curtis said. “Not to mention, a film is only as strong as its third act; the ending should close out all loose ends in a satisfying way.”