MANCHESTER —At 18-years-old, college, a full-time job, or the end of homework assignments is usually on the mind. For James Moore, it's winning a film award, sharing his masterpiece with the community, and moving to California in the fall.
Moore is a Burr and Burton Academy (BBA) senior and debuted his feature-length film "Life Heist" on May 19 at Village Picture Shows. Additional viewings will occur on June 5 and 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school's Riley Center for the Arts.
"Life Heist" is about a group of high school students who try to raise money for one of the boy's younger brothers who has cancer. Fund sources change as they develop a plan to rob a local bank with the help of a janitor who served jail time for doing just that. During it all, one of the students becomes infatuated with the janitor's daughter, which ensues plot twists.
With the focus on local teenagers, Moore wished to incorporate more adults into the film, and was able to have Tom Ferguson, his mother's friend, and a theatre actor out of Arlington to play the part of the janitor.
"I met with James and read the script, and it was fun and interesting. I have to say the one thing that really impressed me the most was James' knowledge of film and film history at such a young age," Ferguson said. "We sort of rewrote a few things along the way, and he was interested in my view point and how I felt about certain scenes but he also carries the authority of someone who's in charge. His youth doesn't allow him a lot of experience, but you have a sense that he has a vision and knows where he's going. I was very comfortable and trusted him."
The idea for "Life Heist" came from Moore's film research and watching the behind the scenes DVD of "Pulp Fiction." He noticed a pattern amongst filmmakers in that their first film was made at age 27 and that it was their first or second big hit, but 10 years prior was when they had their research period.
"So if I was 17 and wanted to make something at 27, I wanted to have an idea of how," Moore said. "I made some comedies and vlogs (video blog) with my brother, and home movies like "Indiana Jones" since fifth grade, but I never had a crew or resources of high tech camera equipment until junior year. Being able to play with those, it allowed me to do more."
Moore started writing the film's script at the end of last spring with an expected production finish time of Christmas 2015, but he spent more time on post production work than planned.
After being consumed with the film for about a year, on top of finishing high school, Moore said he felt exposed once it was shown on May 19.
"It's nerve racking to see what [audience] going to think about it or if they think it's a legitimate idea. It's scary," he said. "I watched the movie so many times just for doing score and sound and editing on my own. I'd seen it so many times with every error and plot hole. [After the showing] I had my head down a little because I noticed even more things with an audience. Having some conversations, they didn't even notice it, the fact they didn't was relieving. They noticed all the good parts."
Ticket proceeds from all "Life Heist" showing events will benefit the cinematography department at BBA.
"[Moore] understands that we support him. He understood he always had the support and during the summer if he needed anything he knew he could get it," Bill Muench, head of BBA's cinematography department said. "The department backed him up and it's so cool that the money will go back to the department and it will go back to give kids the opportunity to do what he did."
Muench got to know Moore as a basketball player as well as a film student. He said he helped the student director look at clips and rationalize why he chose to do the things he did, with shooting or editing, for example.
"We just talked, it's not even like I weighed in on a shot, I would let him know what I knew about a shot and ask him what were you thinking why did you do this. My job was to force him to articulate something as to why he did something the way he did. He always had a reason," Muench said. "The kid is so self motivating and hard working that it's so much fun to work with him because he's willing to work all summer on a film and three or four months on post production. That's a lot of work for a kid his age."
About 100 people were involved in the making of the film. Johnny Girdzis, Max Mackson, John Amigo, Noah Kane, Ethan Hacker and Jack Geurts made up the core film and technical group. Locations such as BBA, Bennington Bank, the Inn at Westview Farm, Village Picture, Wood Fired Pizza and Stewart's were used as sites in the film.
Moore was allotted $3,000 to create the film. He said his parents decided to fund the project rather than send him to a summer film camp in California. In the fall, Moore will fly out there to attend Pepperdine University to further his film studies.
Moore was this year's recipient for BBA's Gawlik Film Award, which goes to the best senior cinematography student. Wes Anderson, Moore's favorite director, even called from London to congratulate him. The Best Picture award for his digital short film "Cut" also went to Moore.
"What a cool couple of weeks for him. He wins the award and has ["Life Heist"] shown again for someone who started this process a year ago," Muench said. "I have a lot of respect for him and I'm excited to see where he goes in life."
Purchase tickets at bbacinema.ticketjunior.com; $5 for students and $10 adults.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.