One of our young account professionals, Melissa Lewelling, will be headed to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival next month.
Out of literally thousands of films, her creation called “More Than a Number” was one of 30 films selected by Campus Movie Fest to be shown in the Short Film Corner. Her film takes a raw look a foster care system that stops supporting kids at a certain age.
For the back story on the film, how it came about and the visual storytelling, Melissa gave us an exclusive interview (eat your heart out Entertainment Tonight).
Q) What was the catalyst behind the story in your short film “More Than a Number?”
A) My film is about one of the struggles facing former foster youth after they age out of the system, graduating from college. After my mom passed away when I was 19, following years of terminal illness, I became a pseudo-foster child of a loving family at my church. Having gone through this experience, I became very passionate about the struggles facing former foster youth, although I never ended up going through the system myself. My heart especially went out to those who are left without a support system at 18, which often results in homelessness.
Q) What other story lines did you consider?
A) I considered all angles of the struggles facing former foster youth trying to transition into adulthood. But I didn’t want to portray them merely as victims of a broken system. These individuals are strong and brave and deserve to be celebrated. I wanted a story that would be eye-opening and raise awareness around an important issue and at the same time offer hope and optimism.
Q) That’s a lot to pack into a film.
A) No question. And my film could be no longer than five minutes, so I had to be very narrow in focus. I decided to hone in on those who are fighting every day to just finish college.
Q) It’s like the camera isn’t even there during the interviews as each woman shares her story. How did you create an environment in which they could relax and tell their stories with authenticity?
A) It isn’t easy to get someone to open up about a painful part of their life, let alone in front of a camera and ultimately thousands of viewers. However, I knew this was a story that needed to be told, and I really wanted to tell it, so I started by opening up myself first and being 100 percent authentic about my story from the beginning.
Q) To build trust?
A) Right and the girls in my film reciprocated. I also approached each interview as a conversation. I genuinely wanted to know about each young woman and be there for her in the future. I was totally invested in all of them, and I think they knew that and felt safe that I wasn’t just trying to use their story for my advantage. I am still in contact with my girls and try to offer them encouragement where I can.
Q) Any surprises during the making of the short film? Anything end up on the cutting room floor that was compelling, but just didn’t fit the story?
A) Any time you film an interview you always have to make the difficult decision of what stays and what goes, so yes there was a lot more of their stories that I wish I could’ve told. However, I’d like to revisit the project one day as a full-length feature documentary, so hopefully I can include some of it there.
Q) Please share the tools used to create the film. How was the video shot? How was it edited?
A) Since Campus MovieFest is all about five-minute films that are shot and edited in a week, it was a very simple production that involved a high-definition camcorder and attachable boom microphone, which they provided, a tri-pod and lavalier mic. Editing a documentary is pretty simple since it just involves piecing together content and adjusting volume levels and maybe color correcting some shots. I used Adobe Premiere Pro 6 to do all 18-hours of editing.
Q) What was your previous experience in filmmaking?
A) I’ve had a closet desire to be a director since I was 14. My most valuable experience came from pursuing a multimedia journalism degree at San Jose State. I had an amazing, Pulitzer-prize winning professor, Kim Komenich, who taught me everything I know about turnaround event coverage for a news story. I then spent two years attempting to hone the skill in various journalism classes and while on staff at SJSU’s newspaper, the Spartan Daily. I later learned the ins-and-outs of professional editing with Adobe Premier in an art class as part of my digital arts focus.
Q) If you run into Stephen Spielberg at Cannes, can you ask him about the lighting in the final scene from Lincoln?
A) If I can get up the nerve …
Q) Seriously, any final thoughts not covered in these questions?
A) I would just encourage professionals to embrace all that it can mean to be a 21st-Century storyteller and not feel limited by the career path they’re currently in. Visual storytelling cuts across many fields and can be exercised in various ways.
I’m going to try to convince Melissa to start up an Instagram account before the big trip.
I hear the view in Cannes in May isn’t too bad.