Making movies has a special effect on Eastchester student
Eastchester High School’s Jessica Costa knows, at 16, that movies are going to play a role in her future.
In her third year in Michael Goldstein’s film class, the only Eastchester senior to do independent study in film this year, Costa already has a demo reel of music videos, computer animation and short features.
The soft-spoken senior sees stories where others see the everyday. Her feature films, “Red” and “Ready,” demonstrate a vision and artistic sensibility.
“Red,” made when she was a sophomore, in her first year of film, is a tip of the hat to “Alice in Wonderland,” set in a world of black, white and red. Last year’s “Ready” — which she pulled together in just over 24 hours — deals with the real-world problem of a girl beset by insecurities as she prepares for a date.
Costa says film class has changed the way she watches movies.
“I saw ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and I kind of liked it because it dealt with themes I’m going for,” she says. “It’s about a boy dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and meeting new friends at school and living life to the fullest. And that’s what I try to do in my pieces: to take the hardship in something and tragedy and — not perfect it, because I don’t believe in perfection — but to try to show the beauty in it. You don’t have to be happy for it to be beautiful.”
Her thesis this year will be her most personal film yet, about her father.
“He died of suicide when I was in ninth grade and I wanted to touch upon that topic with my final movie this year,” she says.
The yet-untitled project — still being written — will include real scenes from Costa’s life, translated to film.
The opening scene, taken from life, is of a girl getting a text from her mom that she’s bringing her father home from rehab. Then there is a montage of images, panning through to show the passage of time, from a birthday to her father sitting on a couch to her mother asking if he’s ready to return to work. There is mention of Prozac, an anti-depression drug.
The filmmaker has pictured in her mind how she’ll capture that dark day, “the morning of.”
“There’s a note on the table and my mom’s character will find it, read it briefly and go to the bottom of the stairs. It will be a dark shot and there’s a closet where it happened and the door will be ajar with a light coming out. And my mom will let out a little gasp — or scream, I guess.
“And then it’ll cut to me talking to my dad in my car — so you know something is wrong, but you don’t know what it actually is. There are more hints and subtleness.”
Costa says she thinks she’s ready to tell this most personal story.
“It’s that final chapter of my high-school life,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do a message about it. And I’ve always incorporated the themes from it. But now it’s that big final step to finally show it. I’m still trying to add that meaning — that life goes on — into it. I’m still piecing it together.”
Asked if this might be a project that is too close to home, Costa stops and thinks.
“It’s my life,” she says eventually. “I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve lived with it. If someone grew up without parents, they get used to it. I’ve grown used to my life like this. My mom said ‘some people write about it, some people talk about it, this is your outlet.’”
Costa’s friends — many of whom are members of John Gwardyak’s Players Club, a band of actors — know that they could get a call any time, telling them they’re about to be “kidnapped,” that their talents are needed on screen.
Her best friend will play Costa in this year’s film, and other friends will play themselves. The moviemaker is still trying to cast the roles of her parents — “I think it might be too hard for my mom,” she says — and she’ll ask one of her father’s best friends if he’d be comfortable playing the father.
Her storyboard — where Costa charts key scenes, shots and camera angles — has time lapses of her character in a fog of mourners then fades to her sitting with her friends, who send her a video of them telling her they love her.
“I’ll use the actual video they sent me,” the filmmaker says with a smile. “I’ve already warned them.”
Each May, Eastchester holds its Student Film Festival, the equivalent of the Oscars, where student videos and films are premiered. Awards are given for best cinematography, best film, best editing, best story, best actor and honorable mention. Costa won best-story honors for “Ready.” On Friday, Goldstein presents “Best of the Fest,” the top 10 films in the decade of festivals. (See box.)
Having created the film, watching it on the screen with hundreds of other people was not the experience one might expect for Costa.
“It’s cool to see the finished product on a big screen, but I notice all the little critiques and what-not,” she says. “I even asked my friends, ‘Did you notice that thing…’ but they were like ‘No, not at all.’ You notice more because you know what it’s supposed to look like.”
There are lessons learned along the way.
“When people first start out, they overfill their movies. They don’t know what to take out,” she says.
Her film studies have taken her far from Goldstein’s classroom and studio.
Last year, she learned computer animation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, taking Metro-North and the subway on Saturdays.
“When you go to make computer animation, you realize how much detail goes into it,” she says, her voice full of a mix of wonder and weariness at the thought of all that work.
On the night of last spring’s festival, she was committed to go to prom, but that didn’t keep her from staying up the night before to crank out the animated piece, titled “Much of Madness” (based on Kelly Creagh’s novel “Nevermore”), grabbing sleep when she could.
“If the computer said it would take an hour to render a section, I would set the alarm and nap for an hour and wake up and do another section,” she says.
“It’s a book about Edgar Allan Poe’s work put into fantasy and coming to life. I always like that idea of fantasy and the dream world coming out. That’s why I want to go into special effects and such.”
Film, she says, fills her artistic and technical sides, a medium that is always changing.
“It can never get boring and there’s always so much more for you to learn,” she says.