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Country Day junior starts Charlotte high school film festival

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/24/14/27/10Ulkh.Em.138.jpeg|316
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Jacob Wishnek, a junior at Charlotte Country Day, is launching a film festival, the first of its kind, for Charlotte-area high school students in May.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/24/14/27/1aLlK5.Em.138.jpeg|213
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Jacob Wishnek looks at a short film with teacher Erin Springfield at Charlotte Country Day.

More Information

  • Jacob’s picks

    Top films:

    • “Gravity.”

    • “The Truman Show.”

    • “Good Will Hunting” (particularly Robin Williams’ role).

    • “Monty Python” films.

    • Wes Anderson films.

    • Spike Jonze films.

    His next must-see movie: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”


  • For budding filmmakers

    Get help from friends. It’s a lot of fun, Jacob said, and makes the process a lot easier.

    Persevere. Film festival judge Kim Brattain encouraged aspiring filmmakers to keep trying and creating new things. She wrote in an email that sometimes filmmakers “constantly debate whether to keep a shot up longer or zoom in or fade, you name it. Then we leave it alone for a few months and look with fresh eyes and think, ‘Dang, that’s pretty good!’ It’s always a work in progress.”

    You don’t have to have a ton of money to make a good film. “You don’t always need the best tech equipment or script-building program,” Jacob said. “You just need a good idea, and build around that. There’s unlimited possibilities.” Filming on smartphones also makes filming a lot more accessible, he said.

    Don’t forget about using sound to create a mood or a statement. Sound quality counts too. What really made an impression on Jacob about “Gravity”? “The sound engineering. It was so cool. Ugh, gosh.”

    If you want to get into the film industry, connect yourself. “Networking and who you know is more important today than ever,” said Bert Hesse, one of the festival’s judges. “You have to believe in yourself, have a sense of self, go out there and make contacts, network and appreciate everyone.” The best place to start is in school – have a conversation with your drama teacher, or join a film club.



For the first time, Charlotte will have its own film festival for high school students in May.

A lot of prep goes into putting one on: finding a venue, judges and, most importantly, young filmmakers.

Behind it all is Jacob Wishnek, a junior at Charlotte Country Day School. He came up with the idea for the Charlotte Student Film Festival in August after attending a five-week film camp at UNC School of the Arts.

His inspiration for a Charlotte festival was twofold: He loved the festival at the end of camp showing participants’ work, and he has enjoyed competing in Country Day’s student festival, FilmFest. The two events got Jacob thinking about filmmaker friends who don’t have a chance to share their work, beyond posting it on YouTube.

“It can get lost in the fray of cat videos and the Harlem Shake,” Jacob, 17, said. “The film festival puts it on stage and gives them a venue to express themselves.”

The festival will be 7 p.m. May 9 at Country Day’s theater, and entries must be submitted by April 25. Jacob will choose the top 10 entries to show at the festival.

There aren’t many festival restrictions, but Jacob asks that filmmakers keep projects, at a maximum, PG-13. “No one shows up and expects to see gunslinging and ‘Pulp Fiction’ kind of stuff.” Also, films can’t exceed 7 minutes.

The winner gets to have lunch with Bert Hesse, chief executive of Studio Charlotte, and with other film executives. Hesse will be one of the festival’s three judges.

Hesse said he’s looking forward to seeing what young local filmmakers can do, and talking to them about their projects. He plans “to pick their brains and give them positive, constructive ... input, and encourage them to keep working at it.

“Someone is going to be making blockbuster movies in the future. Why not them?”

Kim Brattain, owner of Phase2Productions and former news anchor for WSOC-TV, will also serve as a judge, and said she loves seeing young folks like Jacob excited about filmmaking.

“I hope he’ll work with me one day! Heck, I might be asking him for a job,” Brattain wrote in an email.

In addition to finding judges (the third is a Country Day drama teacher) and a venue (the school’s theater seats 350), Jacob had to spread the word about the festival. He’s been using social media, such as Facebook, and also has emailed and met with some area drama teachers.

Jacob recently finished performing as Jesus in the school’s spring musical, “Godspell.” Out of the spotlight, he also enjoys directing, writing and being a cinematographer. His collection of 5-second sketches, “Really Short Films,” won at last year’s FilmFest.

In the past few years, Jacob’s classmates produced homemade “Hunger Games” videos that gained an international following on YouTube (and the four students were featured in Young Achievers). They had been in charge of the school’s film club but graduated last year. Now, Jacob is president.

“He had some big shoes to fill with the ‘Hunger Games’ crew, and he’s been filling them well,” said Erin Springfield, the film club’s adviser. “It’s become a much more productive club under Jacob’s leadership.”

About 15 active members meet regularly to discuss techniques and help each other with projects. “We’ve been gushing about ‘Gravity’ for the longest time,” Jacob said.

He loves so many aspects of art, music, film and theater that he has a hard time picking what he enjoys best. “I want to be a modern-day Renaissance man: act, write, direct, do cinematography. I want to be doing everything.”

Jacob wants to end up in the Northeast, maybe Boston, and his dream school is Columbia University in New York City. But: “I don’t like being a struggling artist.” He thinks he’ll major in business or entrepreneurship and minor in film, wherever he ends up going to school.

Still, his ultimate job would be writing for “Saturday Night Live.”

“I’ve always wanted to perform,” he said. “And I like writing funny concepts. I like writing sketches and comedies.”

For now, he hopes to receive a lot of festival submissions, and that students and film fans attend the free event to support the area’s young filmmakers.

Springfield said she’s proud of the initiative he’s taken, and Jacob said he hopes the festival becomes an annual event long after he graduates: “I’d like to leave behind something that’s lasting.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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