EVERETT – Keith Cotterill sits in front of a control board, preparing to show a trailer for his upcoming film.
The room is dark, illuminated only by the glow from the screen as dramatic music begins to spill out of speakers at each end of the wide table.
The room lights up with the face of his main character, a rogue priest who moonlights as a pimp. He’s devouring a hot dog when he begins to speak.
Could this be a scene taken from a studio lot in Hollywood?
Maybe one day.
But, for now, Cotterill, 22, and nine other students make their magic in the basement of Henry Cogswell College’s Peed Hall.
A group of 10 Cogswell students used volunteer actors and music from volunteers, with scripts written by instructor Hank Isaac, to put together “Five Short Films About Staying Alive.”
Shooting ended in early August and they’re getting ready to screen their work soon, although a time and place have yet to be determined.
It’s all part of a film-directing class that seems simple enough when you read the course description:
“The director as storyteller,” it reads. “Students will examine the role of the director from pre- production planning, to casting, set or location management, editing and post-production. Scripts will be analyzed for visualization, characterization, shot design and staging.”
But as the rookie filmmakers describe how several months of work are compressed into an eight-minute film, the class description doesn’t tell the half of it.
“There were times when I’d be standing around thinking, ‘Why isn’t anything going on?’” said Andy Case, 20. “Then I’d think, ‘Oh, wait. I haven’t told anybody to do anything.’”
The class deals only with directing. Editing and producing the film aren’t part of the curriculum.
But the students are following through on promises to the actors, Isaac and themselves, and putting the short films together on their own time, though the grades were entered long ago.
They’re sifting through as many as three hours of footage for the eight minutes that will eventually make up the finished product.
For Cotterill, the class has brought some insight into the filmmaking business and the various aspects of directing a film crew. It also was a welcome change from the monotony of a strictly classroom education.
“This is definitely something I’d want to do, and this is the only class where you deal with real actors,” he said. “I was waiting for this class as soon as I heard about it.”
Directors had to deal with child actors, late actors and otherwise flaky actors, and give orders to their peers. Students who directed their own films were holding boom microphones for others.
Cotterill said he learned that being a good director has as much to do with giving orders as it does with staying out of the way.
“We had the luxury of probably having the most experienced actors (out of the group),” he said. “They jelled easily, so, for us, it was about sitting back and not wanting to interject.”
Student Kathryn Fairchild, 36, said her focus is on the visual side of filmmaking. She’s also a photographer. But the class gave her a chance to work with actors – an experience she hadn’t had before.
“It’s also about learning how to motivate actors,” she said, noting that she’s now more certain that she doesn’t want to work directly with actors. “The whole visual part is a little closer to my heart.”
What’s certain is that her peers are closer to her heart, and each other’s. After months of long hours on location, in editing rooms and in screening rooms, the love fest surrounding this group rivals that of any family.
“We couldn’t do this without Hank,” Cotterill said of the course instructor. “He’s put in so many hours, just for our thing. He got us the locations, got us the actors and wrote the scripts in, like, a week and a half.”
Isaac replied, “I’m really proud of these guys. Every time they got to a wall, they kept climbing over it.
“I just kept building those walls as fast as I could.”
Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or vbalta@ heraldnet.com.