Student-made film gives Hollywood a run for its money

Laura Forti, senior English major, stepped down the aisle, filed into one of the back rows and folded down a cushiony seat next to her boyfriend last Thursday night. On the large screen before them, a new film called “The End” started to play, creating flickers of light in the darkness.

This wasn’t the typical date at the movies though. Forti was actually in the Science Complex lecture hall, Room P101, at the premiere of the independent film she co-produced. Her boyfriend, John Mirabella, is the director and writer, and both were anxious to gauge the reactions of the first audience to whom they’ve shown “The End.”

To their relief, the 20 or so viewers in attendance laughed at the right moments and showed approval with a round of applause.

“The End” is a two-hour feature film that was made on an $18,000 budget by a group of friends who were on a mission to prove they could create a film that meets Hollywood standards.

“The End” is the story of a couple who feel their love is fated to survive, despite all the signs that suggest otherwise. It was told backwards, beginning where most movies usually end – with the hero falling in love with the girl.

Forti became involved in the film through her friendships with three men who created Seventh Art Productions to realize their dream of movie making.

Writer/director Mirabella, co-producer Max Gettinger and first assistant director Barry Rosenberg graduated from the University of Maryland in May 2002. They began shooting the film in August 2003, relying on a cast and crew who worked for free.

On average, there were at least 10 to 12 people on the set at a time. They worked 12 to 18 hours Saturdays and Sundays, so as not to interfere with anyone’s work and class schedules.

“Everyone was invested in it personally,” Forti said, explaining that having a feature film on one’s resume pays off in the long run.

Camaraderie from already existing friendships made the arduous days more bearable as well. “But we tried to be all professional on the set,” Forti said.

As co-producer, Forti was responsible for breaking down the script into segments that could be filmed in a day and coordinating where they would be shooting. She made sure the team stayed on schedule and budget, which was no easy task.

Originally, the team had laid out a six-weekend filming schedule, but that turned into eight consecutive weekends, followed by a few scattered weekend days, for a total of 27 days of shooting.

Forti said on the most frazzled days, the production team cast people right on the spot, just before starting to film. Sometimes, to deal with the shortage of actors, they would have to give the behind-the-scenes crew small on-screen roles. Forti was no exception, having taken a small part as a last resort, much to her dismay. Since filming was often done in the early morning hours, as early as 3 a.m. when the locations they rented out were vacant, there was literally no one else around.

Forti was cast as a woman sipping a cosmopolitan in one scene at a bar. She sat next to a man who tells Jude, the male lead played by Jason Markarian, “Everyone’s got stories,” which is one of the underlying themes of the film.

The true actors on the set were Markarian and Dalilah Freedman, who played Jude’s girlfriend, Emma. Both are from Worcester, Massachusetts and made the commute from Boston to Jersey every weekend.

Markarian, 26, has modeled in Europe and the United States, for companies such as Nautica and Hugo Boss, and he has appeared in GQ and Rolling Stone. Freedman, 25, has acted in over 20 plays in the New England area and aspires to a career in film.

For Forti, producing “The End” was also a way to jumpstart her professional career. She now works for “Court TV.” Back in 2003, however, “The End” was her first real field experience.

“It was my first time in such a stressful professional environment,” she said. “I liked the fast pace and waking up at 4 a.m. to film.”

After she graduates, Forti sets her sights on producing films for an independent production company.

“I would love to organize that from bottom to top – hiring actors, working with actors, eventually trying to sell (the film) to a big studio,” she said.

Speaking for her colleagues at Seventh Art Productions, Forti said, “I don’t think we all want to end up as sellouts to the mass media. I think at this point, the best way to be successful is to take up independent films.”

Forti said the success of a low-budget film like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which was made with approximately $5 million and grossed $241,250,669 at the box office, shows hit films don’t require Hollywood backing.

While Seventh Art Productions doesn’t expect “The End” to have a theatrical release, Forti and her friends hope that it will be a “spring board” for getting major studios to finance future films. To draw attention to “The End,” they are entering it into film festivals. Forti likened the process to applying for college admission, since they are waiting to receive acceptance or rejection letters.

“There are always things we could do better,” she said, looking back on her debut as a producer. “But we have a real good start.”