Creators receive upbeat response for ‘Dead Beat’ film

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Creators receive upbeat response for ‘Dead Beat’ film

MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE: Grady teacher, John Brandhorst, acts in student-prodced film,

MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE: Grady teacher, John Brandhorst, acts in student-prodced film, "Dead Beat."

MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE: Grady teacher, John Brandhorst, acts in student-prodced film, "Dead Beat."

MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE: Grady teacher, John Brandhorst, acts in student-prodced film, "Dead Beat."

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MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE: Grady teacher, John Brandhorst, acts in student-prodced film, “Dead Beat.”


Grady teacher John Brandhorst recalled the numerous stares he got as he pushed his cart in the grocery store. Clad in a blood-drenched T-shirt and dirty pants, he captured the attention of the surrounding shoppers as he made his way though the aisles. Unbeknownst to the people around him, minutes earlier, Brandhorst had just acted in a movie produced by two Grady students. This was just his costume.

What began as a hobby for juniors Ben Searles and Axel Olson quickly morphed into a full-fledged passion for filmmaking two years ago.

“In ninth grade, I made a ton of short videos on my iPod touch of my friends goofin’ around,” Searles said. “Then, in 10th grade, it got more serious, and that’s when Axel and I created a video series chronicling the adventures of an imaginary character, Obo Williams.”

But Obo Williams didn’t mark the end of their interest in filmmaking.

Searles credits “Film Riot,” a YouTube channel known for its short films, with inspiring him to make a longer feature film of his own. Olson credits Bad is Bad, a movie made by two college kids, with sparking his aspiration.

Searles and Olson were desperate to find an outlet for their honed technique and skill. From this desire, Dead Beat, the first serious film project each of them had ever undertaken, was born.The plot details the escapades of three students who skip school after missing the bus and eventually stumble upon a dead body thereby entangling themselves in a chilling murder mystery.

Although the film itself lasts for approximately 55 minutes, Dead Beat took about three months to write, film, edit and produce, a process that, in reality, spanned over two years with breaks between the writing of the script and the actual filming.

It aired Feb. 1 in a locally owned theater called 489 Edgewood. Proving to be a more extensive process than either of them had expected, the movie posed several hurdles. Searles and Olson were able to clear all of them, however, to create a movie in the end.

“We had a boom operator, someone who holds the microphone over the actor speaking, and we were going to use live audio from the scene,” Olson said. “We couldn’t, however, control the outside sounds like airplanes, lawn mowers or dogs barking, things interfered with our audio track, so we decided to use the camera audio as a reference and re-record audio on a studio mic, so the actor’s words and all our sound effects would come out clear. It was very time-consuming.”

Aside from recording the audio twice, both Searles and Olson also commented on the difficulty of scheduling once school began and the effect this had on filming.

“Everyone was busy when we came back [to school] in the fall, so finding a time when we were all free to meet and film was hard,” Olson said. “It’s kind of funny actually; we had to shoot some scenes out of order due to scheduling problems, so the trees in one scene in the movie will have green leaves, then the scene after will have multicolored leaves because the season had changed to fall, and the next will be back to summer green. It’s subtle though. I don’t think anyone will notice … Well, I guess now they might.”

Though there were stressful moments, actor Derek Bruno, sibling of Grady students Alec and Grayton Bruno, enjoyed witnessing the transformation of the mood on set.

“On set, it was always jokes, always fun,” Bruno said. “It was cool to see how serious the production got over time.”

Olson said he and Searles were able to raise $1,600 for the movie through a website called Indie GoGo that funds small projects.

He said the money was able to cover costs of their “Dolly System,” the sliding device that allows the camera to smoothly glide from location to location while filming. Several actors were cast in the creation of the movie, including Grady students Ryan Switzer, Decker D’alesio, Aaron Carter, Declan Farrisee, Lauren Meadows, Bailey Kish, Dominic Romeo, Grady teachers Brandhorst and Lee Pope, and family friends Derek Bruno and Ryan O’Neill. Searles and Olson said each actor’s role was completely unique, adding variety to the overall movie.

“I was definitely the antagonist in the movie,” Brandhorst said. “Axel must see me as a potential psycho, so he wanted to bring out that inner beast.”

Both Searles and Olson are considering further pursuits in filmmaking during and after college.

“I’m trying to decide between full-out film school or a liberal arts college with a focus on film,” Searles said. “Ultimately, I want to be involved in the movie production business, but for now, my goal in high school is to make one more feature film and a handful of short videos.”

Word of the movie has spread around Grady. Around 110 tickets were sold for the opening night, and Searles believes an audience of similar size will attend the second showing. The date has not been finalized.

“It’s an extraordinary task,” Brandhorst said. “Almost no one knows how much work goes into creating a short film, let alone an entire movie. It’s an impressive accomplishment for [Searles and Olson].”

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