By Sunjin Chang
Six alumni filmmakers had the opportunity to showcase their short films in front of industry professionals and fellow Emersonians at the third annual 6 in 60 Emerson College Industry Film Showcase hosted at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
“I thought it would be such a great idea to really use our platform and the relationships we have in the industry to try and elevate our alumni by giving them exposure to more talent and assist[ing] them in any way we can to help them advance in their careers,” said Aimee Rivera ’07, co-chair of the event. “It’s challenging to break out in this industry, so for a school that has such prominence in this town to capitalize on that and help our talent be able to get any type of advancement using our amazing relationships is the best thing we can do.”
This year’s showcase featured films across a multitude of genres, from sci-fi to drama. The shorts featured were The Chosen One by Elazar Fine ’18; Harvest Moon by Frank Frascella ’21; Dead Beats by Mike Carrier ’08; The Flashlight is a Bomb by Dalton Pate ’20; A Matter of Time by Lizzy Yang Liu, MFA ’20; and Brown Sugar by Ruhi Radke ‘17. The CAA venue was secured through the help of an Emerson alum who currently works there and wanted to help celebrate Emerson talent.
The showcase is put together by Emerson LA staff and a group of alumni who volunteer their time to help build meaningful relationships within the film industry. Rivera serves as chair of the committee while other members include Jason Beck ‘97, Richard Arlook ‘83, and Keila Brown, MFA ‘22.
For some of the filmmakers, the event marked the first screening of their films while others have seen great success at festivals. Frascella was unable to showcase his BFA film due to COVID, but after two years he was glad to finally be able to screen his work to the Emerson community. His sci-fi film, Harvest Moon, is about a survivor who must find the strength to summon hope while escaping a dying planet. Originally his storyline was based on the relationship between the main character and her sister, but after realizing that he wasn’t able to bring a minor on set due to COVID regulations, he had to pivot.
“We were writing and it was kind of a different thing, and then COVID happened and we rewrote it because of the rule changes and it became a story about grief, because my co-writer and I were both dealing with loss at the time and isolation,” Frascella said. “In a way I think it is much better and I’m really proud of the pivot because it became much more meaningful than before.”
Frascella has always loved sci-fi and when his friend and co-writer, Neale Brown ’21, texted him with the idea, he immediately jumped on board. Hesitant about producing a sci-fi film instead of a traditional standard BFA film, Fracsella and Brown say they were encouraged by one of their professors to take on the challenge.
“Our BFA professor told us, ‘When else would you get support to do something like this? You might as well swing big and make whatever you want,’” Frascella said.
Throughout production, Frascella and his team continued to challenge themselves to break outside of the box as they looked for film sets outside of the norm. Even with a small team of eight people on set due to regulations, they were able to focus on the collaborative nature of filmmaking. Frascella remembers a day on set when his costume and prop master made a little butterfly out of two metal pieces strung together with wire, and carved the main character and her sister’s name into it.
“I thought it was so beautiful because I’ve never thought of it, but our prop guy was so immersed into the story that he came up with this prop, so now the butterfly and the imagery of it is a major part of the film,” Frascella said. “It’s funny because we never wrote or thought about it, but just the spirit of being collaborative and being on set created this special little prop that then became key to the movie.”
Just like the collaborative nature of his team, Frascella hopes that through his film, viewers are able to remember the importance of kindness and trust as they navigate through their daily lives.
“It’s a lot harder to do this whole life thing when we don’t help each other, and there’s a lot of power in helping your neighbor,” Frascella said. “I also just want to thank everybody that worked on [this film] because we all lifted each other up in such a big way.”
Before the event kicked off, Rivera took time to acknowledge filmmakers who participated in the second 6 in 60 Showcase, some of whom were in the audience. Because of COVID, that showcase was virtual.
Kicking off the event, Fine introduced his film, The Chosen One, which is about a young Hasidic man who experiences a nightmarish transformation that leads him right back to where he started after impulsively shaving off his beard and sidelocks.
Some of the evening’s films were shot prior to the pandemic. Liu traveled back home to Beijing, and with the help of friends, produced her thesis short, A Matter of Time (scroll down for trailer). Her film follows a grandmother in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as she confronts her daughter, who tries to persuade her to move into a local public nursing home. Even though the story is fictional, Liu was inspired to write this story based on her relationship with her grandmother, who helped raise her. Liu built a character similar to her grandma’s stubborn but hardworking personality.
Liu co-produced, directed, and edited the film, which has been screened at various film festivals, but Liu remembers a special moment when a mother and son approached her after one screening and complimented the deep meaning behind the film.
“The culture and background might be different, but social issues like the elderly and emotional issues [are relatable] because we should focus more on the seniors’ mental health and living conditions rather than just giving them money,” Liu said. “As a producer and director, you will have more power and chance to express your own feelings.”
For Pate, the idea for his film was sparked spontaneously. He was revisiting random notes he took on his phone’s Notes app and was inspired to create a short based on something he’d written. His film, The Flashlight is a Bomb, is about superstitions, a topic on which Pate found little public information and knowledge at the time of his production.
“There are more articles on this idea now, but back then the only information about it was that there was none,” Pate said.
The film garnered some of the biggest laughs of the evening, along with Carrier’s Dead Beats, about a guy who hires a medium to help him meet one his dead heroes, Tupac Shakur. Closing the evening was Brown Sugar, which tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who worries about her body hair and questions what it means to be beautiful. Radke, who’s based in New York, was the only filmmaker unable to attend the event.
Following the screening, there was a reception where alumni were able to network with each other, mingle with industry professionals, and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Rivera says her favorite part of the showcase is seeing what the filmmakers get out of it.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this incredibly talented school that has such great talent and alumni,” Rivera said. “This showcase is open to everybody at Emerson, so we really appreciate the support.”