Students produce neo-western film

Senior Jack DiCarlo spent his time in quarantine finalizing the script of his first neo-western movie.

DiCarlo, along with his cast and crew of 20 have started the process of filming the action-packed trials and tribulations of main character “Jerome” and his encounters with a rural gang called, “The Highwaymen.”

“At its heart, it’s a story about survival and overcoming these crazy odds,” DiCarlo said, elaborating on the storyline. “And this character, he’s going to keep being put in situations that are going to make him question the limits of how much more ‘The Highwaymen’ have up their sleeves.” 

DiCarlo, who wrote the screenplay and is directing the film, began working on the concept in October of 2019. 

“I’d say around New Years is when I started putting pen to paper, and from New Years all the way up until like halfway through quarantine, I was just writing,” he said. 

DiCarlo’s father, Patrick DiCarlo, says Jack has been interested in directing and film for as long as he can remember.

“He’s always been an avid reader and became interested in film pretty early on,” Patrick DiCarlo said. “He’s wanted to be a director since he was small.” 

DiCarlo described the writing process as “a journey.”

“You know, I really learned to question my own work, listen to other people’s criticism and accept that what I was putting out had some strengths to it but could also be improved,” he said.

Patrick DiCarlo says he was amazed by the quality of writing and was immediately willing to support his son’s project.

“I thought it was fantastic,” he said. “I was thrilled with the script when I read that …. I made sure that he understood how much I liked the script and was particularly impressed that at 17, he’d written something like that.”

DiCarlo began preparation to film shortly after the script was finalized. He recruited friends from school to assemble a crew and cast.

“Casting was a hard thing, like getting people who were available, who could come out at night and were okay with shooting with a group of people,” DiCarlo said. 

Motivated by the now concrete plans for filming, DiCarlo could tangibly see his vision come to life. For his 17th birthday in March, DiCarlo asked for Amazon gift cards to buy new equipment and lighting for the set. That, combined with senior cinematographer Spencer Cody’s GH4 camera, allowed the team to bring the image quality up in the rudimentary stages of filming. 

Cody says he’s always been passionate about film. This project gave him an opportunity to apply his experience with camerawork to the big screen.

“I love film,” Cody said. “I’m just not really much of a writer, and Jack is really good at that. So, you know, we’re a good team that way. The most surprising thing to me [about the process] is how willing everyone working on the project is to help out. ”

DiCarlo agrees that his cast and crew work well together. 

“I feel like a lot of people really are creatively excited by this project, and people have a lot of their own ideas that they want to bring into it … but you come to learn that a lot of the ideas that people can be contributing and want to incorporate are actually pretty cool,” he said. 

Senior Leif Martenson plays the role of Sam Bonder, a character that is kidnapped in the early scenes of the movie. DiCarlo says he’s found that Martenson has “a lot of raw talent.” 

“Even though it’s kind of hard to get over initially that it’s a younger cast portraying older roles, I think especially the main cast …  is doing a really good job,” DiCarlo said. 

Martensen, who has had no prior experience in the film industry or with acting, says the experience has been rewarding. 

“It’s a cool experience for sure,” Martensen said. “Obviously, this isn’t some high-budget Hollywood film, but it’s interesting to see exactly what goes on behind the scenes trying to make a film like that. That’s actually my favorite part, apart from actually doing the acting.” 

DiCarlo admits that one of the biggest challenges with filming has been the Covid-19 virus. He says that safety restrictions involving cast interactions forced him to get creative and reimagine certain aspects of the film to keep everyone safe.

“When I was writing all of this, I had to think of technical ways that we could do this and make it work with a smaller amount of people,” he said. 

In the midst of the demanding work hours and safety precautions, DiCarlo says his parents have been “incredibly supportive” of him. He says he’s especially grateful for the support they have shown him, both monetarily and emotionally. 

“It seemed like a very difficult thing, at his age to make a movie like that, but they’ve been working really, really hard,” Patrick DiCarlo said. “I stay up late when they’re shooting late, make sure that they have the time to do what they need and have supervision, so it’s all safe and [I try to be] generally be supportive of the project.” 

DiCarlo attributes some of his directing and editing skills to classes that he took at Grady, like the audio-video technology pathway and Grady News Network (GNN), taught and advised by Thaddeus Roberts and film classes with teacher Jake Dreiling. 

DiCarlo said those classes, “gave me the experience that I needed with directing, as well as crew work. So, those two classes were a huge influence.”

DiCarlo says he is looking to release the entire film in early spring of 2021. In the meantime, the crew plans to release the first scene of the movie to YouTube to draw attention before the official release.

“I want to get something out there because it’s just been so long that we’ve been working on it,” DiCarlo said. “And I think it would be kind of rewarding, especially because the first scene [we plan to release] illustrates a lot of what I think makes the movie so interesting. It gives you a taste of the main villain, as well as the pressures and dangers the characters in this movie are going to be under.” 

Overall, DiCarlo is proud of the direction his film is heading in. 

“It’s going to be a long process, but I’m really excited for it.”