Three Saugerties High School computer-video production students were recognized this month for their short film, Gaslight, which finished tenth in the annual worldwide 10-Day Film Challenge, in which high-school film students bring a movie from an idea to the screen in about a week and a half. All work on the film has to be done on school grounds, with no one permitted to work on the project over weekends or after school.
Gaslight was completed earlier in the school year before the pandemic closed schools. As the credits indicate, the film was the work of Three Sick People and Five Days to Film Productions.
“I got the flu. I was out for three of the ten days, and somebody else was sick, too” said SHS senior Mackenzie Feeney, who co-directed with Matt Morgan, and co-wrote the screenplay based on a story by Abigail Bravo. Bravo and Morgan also received a co-writing credit.
With some aspects of the already abbreviated production schedule halved, co-directors Feeney and Morgan found a way to strike a balance in order to complete the film. “It was difficult, because we couldn’t start filming until five days in,” Feeney said. “I had nothing to do with the poster, and I had nothing to do with final script changes, and basically all the stuff after writing but before filming I wasn’t involved in because I couldn’t be.”
She and Morgan “are both pretty powerful personalities,” conceded Feeney. “We both like to be leaders, and we figured why don’t we just do it together? And Matt did a phenomenal job. He photographed the whole thing, and he’s amazing at working a camera.”
“I’m watching you”
Gaslight is a thriller which opens in a high-school cafeteria; Parker Malone, the female lead played by Feeney, opens a fortune cookie with a chilling message: “I’m watching you.” A friend, played by Bravo, downplays the incident, advising Parker to buy another fortune cookie, saying, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
The message in the second cookie ramps up the tension: “Don’t ignore me. This isn’t a joke.”
Morgan plays a central role in Gaslight. Computer video production teachers Scott Wickham and Jackie Hayes have speaking parts, and several students are also seen in the film.
Feeney said that the 10-Day Film Challenge’s rules were difficult to manage. Having seen the film numerous times, she said she sees flaws not apparent to anyone else. But she’s still proud of the work everyone did on Gaslight.
“You can make a great film that’s five minutes long, whereas the requirements are that you’re only allowed to have 4 minutes and 20 seconds with credits,” Feeney said. “That makes it a little bit difficult. You can definitely tell some points that are filmed got a little bit choppy, but I think it’s because we watched it so many times where we can see where the mistakes were. But overall, given the time frame that we had, I think our product turned out really really well. And the ending is honestly my favorite part. I get chills every time I watch it.”
Very tough competition
The 10-Day Film Challenge started in 2011 with three New Jersey high schools, and by 2019 it had grown to include 130 high schools, involving around 3800 student filmmakers from 17 states and nine countries. In 2018-19, the state-level contest was eliminated in favor of a single multi-state challenge, with films submitted from as far away as Japan. Feeney and Morgan were involved last year with the production of Past is Present (A Film Within a Film), a submission from Saugerties High which placed in the top 30 overall. They worked on that film with David Henkel, Giona Kleinberg, Jaea Kleinberg and Dylan Smith, all members of the SHS Class of 2019.
In addition to being the tenth best film in this year’s 10-Day Film Challenge, Gaslight took first place in the category of best opening titles, and finished in the top three in best use of line dialogue, and best use of props.
Feeney began studying in the CVP-I program as a sophomore, earning the MVP award for her class. “It’s for the person who puts in the most work, and a lot of projects couldn’t be done without this person who goes above and beyond the requirements of their class,” said Feeney.
As a junior, Feeney moved on to CVP-II, creating a short film with fellow student John Smith which won best advanced project of the year and was submitted to a few film festivals. Now a senior in the CVP program’s broadcast journalism class, Feeney said it was gratifying to earn accolades for Gaslight in a worldwide contest.
A place to express creativity
“It was a really, really great feeling if I’m being completely honest,” she said. “There were probably ten or twelve submissions in our class alone, and we were the only ones in our school that made it. The results came out, and it was great to see, to be able to show people that think you can’t do it that you’re able to and that it was so successful.”
Feeney is a big fan of the CVP program at Saugerties High. She’s loved being involved in filmmaking.
“CVP has always been seen as kind of like a fun class to take because you can be super creative and you can express your creativity however you want, and that really appealed to me,” she said. “I kind of have this natural leader Instinct, and for me to be able to put that into a class was really great for me. I was able to direct people, was able to write things and make projects how I wanted without coming off as bossy. And I feel like in the film industry you have to be assertive and know what you want in order for your projects to come out as a quality thing. I feel like this program was really great for me and, Ms. Hayes and Mr. Wickham have been really great with providing us with opportunities. My favorite part of CVP is probably been not being judged for being yourself and being allowed to be fully creative at all times. The more creative you are, the more encouraged it is.”
Feeney will major in biology with a pre-med track at Russell Sage College in Troy this fall, and will also compete on the school’s NCAA Division III cross-country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams. She’s not sure whether she’ll study filmmaking again. But she’s not ready to leave it behind either.
“I feel like I’ll always be involved in editing things as some of my side projects, Feeney said. “My boyfriend is heavily involved in film, and he’s actually very good at it. So I feel like I’ll always have a foot in the door with film, even if it’s not my primary source of work.”