There wasn’t a red carpet or paparazzi, but for a group of Northwestern students, the Jones Residential College Great Room turned into a movie premiere on Sunday night.
The movie was a musical short film called Identical, created by a group of students who lived on the same floor of Jones last year. It focuses on identical twins Helen and Kenneth (played by Communication juniors Nina Jayashankar and Ethan Carlson), who try to rekindle a relationship despite Kenneth being a superhero and Helen being a supervillain.
The team behind Identical hosted two premieres, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. I attended the 8 p.m. showing, along with 20 or so other students and friends of the film’s creators. Afterward, I talked with five of the people behind the film: Weinberg junior Taylor Beck, the film’s co-producer, director of photography and script editor, Communication junior Arthur Gilchrist, the film’s co-producer, co-director and writer, Medill junior Jayden Zvonar, the film’s editor and first assistant camera who also played Kenneth’s roommate, Rolph, Bienen junior Hunter Hanson, the film’s composer and music director and Weinberg junior Jon Mathias, the film’s co-director (who arrived halfway through the interview). Check out the highlights below:
On the idea for the short film:
Gilchrist: So, this is a story that I have told a couple of times since then. It’s not an exciting story, but it’s a story.
Hanson: It’s actually pretty cool.
Gilchrist: We were all, we all lived in the same like suite upstairs in Jones last year, and we all were gathered around the television set one fine evening, and we watched Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and I made the casual comment that, I was like, “See, this is the kind of filmmaking that I want to do, where you just get together with a bunch of friends and just make a movie.” And then Hunter was like, “Hey, let’s do it.” And that’s the story of how it started to happen.
Beck: Doctor Horrible, if you’re unfamiliar, is a 45-minute film by Joss Whedon with Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day and Neil Patrick Harris, and it’s basically the same thing [as Identical].
Gilchrist: It’s not the same thing. … They have a lot of similarities, but they, they’re not the same thing.
Hanson: We were inspired by it. We didn’t, we didn’t copy it.
On starting production:
Gilchrist: We started mostly, yeah, a lot of asking our friends, we posted around on the Jones Facebook page, we were really trying to get people in the Jones collective to be, it really was trying to be a Jones project.
Beck: Yeah. For a long time we just called it, we, when we didn’t have a title for it, we called it floor musical because it was like people who lived on our floor in Jones working on it. But I think first it was like casting it, and then –
Zvonar: Yeah, there were auditions to cast it –
Beck: We held auditions.
Gilchrist: Right in this very room.
Hanson: Oh yeah, that’s right.
Beck: And then once shooting started, it was, it was a lot of like begging our friends to come to Jones at seven in the morning and help us film and move lights around and hold booms.
On making the short film independently:
Beck: People don’t expect like independent groups to do it. Like, they expect you to go to like Studio 22 or Applause for a Cause and do things through those, but we’re just like a group of friends getting together and doing a thing, which is a lot more informal and a lot more fun, but also is difficult.
Gilchrist: There’s a lot of obstacles there.
Zvonar: There was a lot of organizational hurdles that we had to get over.
Hanson: With this it was just … having to really be self-motivated to get this thing done, because we didn’t have, you know, faculty or someone on top like telling us, you need to get this done by this date. … A lot of it was very self-, self-motivated, which I think was really cool.
On the work that went into the film:
Beck: The core people who worked on it were really excited to do it even though we knew it was a lot of work going into it. We wanted to make cool art together, and this was a way to do it. Mathias: Jayden and Hunter, God bless their souls. They were the entire post-production team of video and music. As far as like the filming and like being on set was … it was like, you lose a whole Saturday like once a week, for spring, during spring quarter.
Beck: And Friday nights.
Mathias: And Friday nights. And sometimes it’s very cold, and you don’t realize how cold it is. And you bring your actors and your crew to the beach, and it’s like zero out … and everyone’s crying, and you have to come back inside and make hot chocolate at 10 in the morning.
Beck: But it was a real fun production. No, that was like one day.
Mathias: That was the worst day of shooting. On our best days, we had a lot of fun.
Zvonar: Overall, it was really fun.
Beck: It definitely varied in terms of commitment. When we were filming, it was about 12-15 hours a week on the weekends filming, and then post-production was down to the wire, and by the wire, I mean 9 a.m. this morning.
Hanson: We didn’t sleep last night.
On watching the film for the first time at the premiere:
Mathias: I still haven’t seen it. … I had rehearsal.
Gilchrist: It was really positive, I just, there was a lot of anxiety also going into it. Like, there was relief and fear and comedy and dragons. … I had seen each of the scenes individually … but I hadn’t seen like the scenes put together, so I didn’t know if the transition from scene to scene was going to work, so that was the biggest thing that I was worried about. And so when they started working, and they felt like they made sense, there was just a deep moment of relief. But there was also like these occasional shots where I’m like, “Oh, that didn’t work exactly the way that I wanted it to in my brain, it’s the end of the world.”
Hanson: Also, like, the experience of the audience is interesting, because, like, people, people laugh at, you know, the oddest times. It’s like, “We didn’t mean for you to laugh there.”
Gilchrist: Or, like, “This part is really funny, laugh. Why aren’t you laughing?”
Hanson: And then they would laugh, and we’d expect them to laugh, and we were like, “Oh shoot, we didn’t give them enough time to laugh.” So now the next line is already –
Beck: Just hearing people laugh at a thing we made and, and just knowing all of the work and like the zero budget and the really poor equipment that went into it, and knowing that it turned out as well as it did, and it turned out so that people can laugh at it when they’re supposed to laugh, that’s really satisfying.
Gilchrist: There was, when like, when the movie started, like the first couple seconds, I was like, “Oh no, the audience is being quiet, like I know the audience is supposed to be quiet, but also now I’m paranoid about their reactions right now. I can’t see their faces, what are they thinking?”
On the future of Identical
Gilchrist: We haven’t talked specifically about when the online release date is yet, but there’s going to be an online release date.
Beck: We were thinking about some kind of special features that might go up on the channel as well.
Gilchrist: We’re also considering looking at film festivals, like finding some local ones. Not like big ones. Not like Sundance, but like … we’re looking at submitting to some local places, see what happens maybe.
Hanson: Then I’m also going to release the album on my SoundCloud. … It’ll be out there.
Mathias: This whole thing was a riot. It was really fun making a dumb movie with all my friends and then it turns out to be really cool.
Gilchrist: This was exactly what I wanted this to be.
Beck: It’s silly, and it’s on zero budget, and it, like, it’s not a perfect movie, but … I love it.
Hanson: I think, if I could say one more thing too, it’s not just a movie, it’s a musical, like, which, not, not to like toot my own horn, but it takes so much more effort on the side of the, the camera team, and everyone, everyone like writing the film. … The fact that we were able to make movie in less than a year is incredible, but the fact that we were able to make a musical movie in less than a year is insane.
Zvonar: As someone who got to see it from like beginning to end – I’m like one of the only people on the team who got to do that – it’s so surreal to see the finished product, and to know how far we’ve come since the beginning.
Gilchrist: Like, remember when we were auditioning people in this room?
Beck: Remember when we watched Doctor Horrible?
Hanson: When we sat down with a guitar and a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote the beach song?
Beck: Yeah, I just, I’m so, I continue to be in awe of the fact that we are a group of friends who decided to make a musical together and just did it. I love, I love that we went out and just did it.