Kate Young is a local filmmaker and photographer whose latestshort film, Presque, recently won Best Picture at a regional film festival. She’s also a graduating high school senior. You could say she’s had a pretty busy year.
Kate’s film recently won the Phantascope Film Festival put on by the Richmond Art Museum in Richmond, Indiana. This competition for high school filmmakers is entering its second decade, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for young filmmakers to learn the ropes and hone their crafts.
I sat down with Kate a few weeks ago at one of the locations used in her film (The Coffee Pot in downtown Greenville, Ohio) and we talked about Presque, fate, Quentin Tarantino, and the wide-open possibilities ahead for this talented young woman.
David Nilsen: Where did your love of film come from originally?
Kate Young: Originally? That’s a good question. When I was little I always made my cousins be in plays, and so, as my parents like to say, I’ve been telling people what to do since I was five years old. It was just a natural progression from plays to film.
David: How old were you when you made your first film?
Kate: I was probably 12.
David: How did you get started actually making your first film? What was the jump to doing that?
Kate: I got my hands on a video camera and watched a lot of how-to videos on Youtube, and then I just kept getting better cameras, working till I could earn enough to buy a better camera.
David: Tell me about Presque. Where did the idea come from and how did that take off?
Kate: It kind of came from… I had a job this summer, and I was thinking about how a lot of the natural progressions that came about to get me where I was came from these little, tiny coincidences, so I wanted to turn that around and say if this didn’t happen, then this wouldn’t be.
David: What was the experience of shooting like? How long did that take?
Kate: I started pre-production the beginning of February. I took a trip to Europe and I got home, and I realized I had to get this done if I was going to get it entered in Phantascope. I didn’t even have it written in January, and then I said, If you’re going to make this happen, you have to just make this happen. I already had some cast members–Taylor Huffman and Tyler Landis–in my head to plays the leads, so I just wrote the script the first week of February, and it took about 2 weeks of filming. I think we met 4 times, filming about 4-6 hours each time.
David: That’s a lot for 14 minutes on screen.
Kate: I know, and it’s incredible because I had to do so much digging through all the footage to find what I wanted. After that, it was about two weeks straight of editing.
David: How many takes would you do on average for each shot?
Kate: On average, I would at least want 6. My actor and actress were amazing sports because no matter how many times I did it, they were like, Okay, we’ll do it again. I was sure to get a wide shot, then closer, you know, just to cover myself from all areas. It ended up being a great thing.
David: Had either of them done any prior acting?
Kate: Tyler had done some acting. Taylor was in a short production before this, but this was her first one with more than a couple lines.
David: Were there any things you weren’t able to do that you wanted to, or locations you wanted to use but couldn’t, or anything like that?
Kate: For a lot of the transition scenes, those were just spur of the moment. I had a rough idea of what I wanted in there. One I wanted to shoot in a movie theater, with them on a date, but that didn’t work out because I couldn’t get the cast where they needed to be in the time we had. Not a lot as far as, I knew what I would have accessibility to, so I went off of that and adjusted as we went along.
David: So that was all done in pre-planning and you didn’t run into anything unexpected?
Kate: The hardest part was that the week before, once I was done with my script, I ran around and first I went to Kroger and asked if I could shoot there, and they were like, Talk to corporate, and I was thinking, Right, okay. Then I went to Eikenbery’s, and they said As long as we don’t have a shipment in. It ended up being a big deal. I wanted to shoot here (The Coffee Pot) in the morning because the light was going to come in at the wrong angle in the afternoon, but then I had to go around the shipment coming in in the afternoon at Eikenbery’s, and it was a big mess. The hardest part was organizing around people’s schedules.
David: So you shot at The Coffee Pot, Eikenbery’s, Montage, and where else locally?
Kate: Savage Used Books.
David: Was that Savage? I couldn’t tell which bookstore it was. Did she clean it up for you?
Kate: I told her not to. I had gone in there last year and thought, I have to film something here. So that was definitely already in my head. So I went and asked permission. She said Yeah, sure. Do you need me to clean up? And I said No, just leave it exactly how it is.
David: What did you shoot with? What’s your camera?
Kate: I had a Canon 70D. I used Adobe Premier for editing.
David: I noticed–and I haven’t done any recording for a long time–that your sound quality was really good. I feel like in short films, or in really low budget stuff, that’s the first thing that tells you about the quality of the production: the sound is awful. Yours was really good. What did you use? How did you pull that off?
Kate: So that actually happened because of a wonderful chain of events. I had a friend of a friend–Rusty Pietrzak–who’s from Dayton, and I had a friend who knew him and told me he does sound for free on low budget films if you contact him and let him know what you’re doing. So that happened. He was really great. He came up three times–I just paid for his gas–but other than that…yeah. I’m not sure what kind of sound equipment he was using. He would just give me the SD card every time we finished. It was amazing because that was one thing I really wanted. I knew I needed to get the lighting right, which, in some of the shots is a little iffy, and then sound. I wanted those to be really good.
David: That’s what’s going to set you apart from another short film.
Kate: I was so happy, because in the scene we shot here at The Coffee Pot, when I went to match up the footage, the difference in sound quality was incredible. You couldn’t hear anything. There was so much background noise. It saved it.
David: That’s fantastic. What was it like winning Best Picture at Phantascope?
Kate: It was great. I had been entering all four years of high school. The first year, I didn’t get in, which I was pretty heartbroken about. The second and third years I got the Audience Choice Award. But I really wanted something to prove myself, to my family, to the film community. It was great. It was a great way to finish off, because this was my last year entering, and to have that be the final stamp approval was great.
David: Sure. How many entries are there?
Kate: I’m not sure. I hear it’s about 60?
David: Can you tell me a little about the festival and the program behind it?
Kate: This was the tenth annual film festival. It’s put on by the Richmond Art Museum. Originally it was at the museum, but the last few years it’s been moved to the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, right downtown. It’s a much bigger and more prestigious venue. Scott Allen Tucker has always MCed and he’s just amazing. They have a featured speaker each year. This year was Angelo Pizzo, who wrote Rudy and Hoosiers. He spoke about breaking into the film world, and then opened up to the crowd so students could ask questions. There was also a woman whose son is in the industry, and she talked about what’s it like to be a parent in this situation. It was good for the parents to hear, and the filmmakers as well. After that, they have the screening. There are colleges that come to the screening as well. For a couple years, Watkins College gave a scholarship to the winners. After that, they have the awards ceremony.
David: Did you have to go up and give a speech?
Kate: So before they play your film they announce the title and filmmaker, and then they have you come up and talk about your film and introduce it, how you came up with the idea for it. Sometimes they have you speak after you win, but that’s just usually thank yous and stuff.
David: And this is entirely for high school filmmakers? Do they have other age groups as well?
Kate: It’s just for high schoolers.
David: Do they have any sort of training program or film classes that go along with the festival to help young filmmakers?
Kate: I don’t believe so.
David: So your expertise has come entirely from Youtube and trial and error?
Kate: Exactly. I took a one day course when I was a sophomore, but that was way out of my league. That became what I aspired to, but ever since then it’s been, I don’t know about this, I’m going to look it up on Youtube. So it’s definitely come from trial and error. I was talking to my dad the other day and told him I don’t know if I’m doing this right, because I’ve never been on a movie set or watched somebody else create a film. I’m just kind of going off of what works.
David: Is anyone in your family interested in film?
Kate: No, not at all.
David: Are they a little confused by this passion you’re following?
Kate: They are. They’re happy for it. They don’t understand it, though. During production on Presque, I was sleep deprived, going 100%, but I still had tests and stuff, so between studying and stuff like this they were like, I don’t know why you’re doing this. But they support me.
David: Do you plan to go to film school?
Kate: You know, I think after Presque, I might try it. I’m under the impression it’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. I’m thinking about it. I’m taking a gap year this year to try to find out exactly what I’m interested in.
David: Do you have other artistic outlets besides filmmaking?
Kate: I’m also a photographer.
David: You wrote the screenplay for Presque. Do you write much?
Kate: I do. I write fiction mostly, but I have written a couple articles for County News Online.
David: What are your artistic goals long term? What would you like to accomplish?
Kate: I don’t know. I’d really just like to capture the essence of a place, wherever I go, whether that’s with photography or film, and be able to share that with people.
David: Do you want to eventually make feature films?
Kate: I don’t know. Everything sounds good at this point. Making features, or producing a TV show, or being part of a travel company. I’m still working that part out.
David: Do you have any short films planned?
Kate: I always have ideas going around in my head. Nothing cemented. It usually takes me a couple months to rebound from a production and get psyched up for a new one.
David: Going back to Presque – Do you believe in fate, or is it all random coincidences?
Kate: I think the universe can push or pull you in a direction, but it’s up to you beyond that.
David: Tell me about some favorite films or filmmakers that have inspired you.
Kate: Definitely Quentin Tarantino. Inglourious Basterds is one of my favorites.
David: I think that’s actually his best, but I think we’re in the minority on that.
Kate: It’s my favorite of his. So him, definitely. The guy who did Amelie – Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Every year I attend the Indiana Short Film Festival, and these directors come from all over the world, and I always get so much inspiration from them. They have a lot bigger budgets than mine, but still. I have a friend who won Phantascope before I did, and now she’s going to NYU–Jenna Yonker. She’s a pretty big inspiration to me, because she’s basically doing what I would like to do.
David: What is your earliest film memory of a movie that made you realize what film could do?
Kate: This is probably typical, but definitely Star Wars. Any film that could make me have an intense feeling. To this day, I’ll watch a film, and if it can make me feel really happy for the characters, or sad, or whatever, I’m thinking, Yes, this is what I want to do. I want to be able to inflict emotion on people.
You can find Kate’s photography and other work on her website.
And now that you’ve heard Kate talk about her craft and passion for filmmaking, take a few minutes and watch the short film that won Best Picture at the Phantascope Film Festival!