It may not be Los Angeles or New York, but a group of IU students is trying to put Bloomington on the map as a training ground for budding filmmakers.
Writer-director Jacob Sherry and Director of Photography Ed Wu, both IU seniors, have wrapped up shooting “Nathan and the Luthier,” which will debut as a short film in April at the IU Cinema. It is co-produced by telecommunications student Jon Stante, and the project adviser is telecommunications faculty member Susan Kelly.
The film is Sherry’s thesis project through the individualized major program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Last year, graduate Jordan “Jordini” Goldklang’s IMP thesis was a full-scale magic show for the campus. Sherry’s capstone project similarly combines an intense personal passion with an unexplored field.
“The individualized major program allows you to do projects like this, to really find things you’re passionate about and dive into them,” Sherry said.
Sherry said he hoped to achieve more than just a degree through the making of “Nathan.”
“This has potential to set a standard, set a bar, for what students can do with film at IU,” Sherry said.
Last year, Sherry and Wu teamed up to create the award-winning short film “Two Juliets.” Both have worked in the film industry and have founded a production company, Color Blind Pictures, along with co-producer Stante, which they said they hope to pursue professionally after graduation. Sherry said “Nathan” is the most ambitious and professional project the two have created so far.
“It’s been everything I’ve been working toward for four years,” Sherry said.
Sherry came to IU after accepting a Wells Scholarship. He initially planned to study directing through the telecommunications department but switched to the IMP after deciding he wanted a more interdisciplinary approach to a filmmaking major.
Sherry said he hopes the film will help him give back to the community by putting IU on the map for filmmaking. He said he also hopes the film will be distributed to local, national and international film festivals after its premiere at IU.
The film will follow 30-something Nathan on his journey back to his childhood home after the death of his father. As the film progresses, Nathan finds comfort in a project — the reconstruction of his childhood violin. Helped by a reclusive luthier, or violin-maker, Nathan finds a fix for his violin while examining the greater issues of
family and loss.
Wu explained that shooting the film helped him develop and stretch his skills in cinematography. Wu said creating scenes that flowed together into a 40 to 50-minute piece was a new challenge.
“Since it’s a longer form, you have to think of the story and develop the stories through the visual image,” Wu said.
“Nathan” was filmed exclusively in the Bloomington area, the farthest set being located outside of Elletsville, Sherry said. The crew was able to fund equipment with the help of two Hutton Honors College Creative Activity Grants and donations from the telecommunications department and local businesses.
These gifts helped offset costs, particularly because “Nathan” was made without other outside funding and offered cast and crew no pay. Sherry said the effort showed the dedication of his team and their love of filmmaking for its own sake.
“It’s become about just trying to work with this team and wanting to do something bigger than what we’d done before,” Sherry said.
Fortunately, the community pulled through for “Nathan,” Sherry said.
Local businesses provided meals for the crew, local homeowners allowed their houses to be turned into sets and local musicians lent both their songs and technical expertise to the production team.
In fact, the film’s cast and crew was largely composed of locals and students.
Local musician and actor David Wierhake joked that he accepted a few Heath Bars as his daily reimbursement for a leading role in the film. He said the role of curmudgeonly luthier Alexander was an opportunity to jump from stage to screen.
Wierhake has been acting since 2005, but has been in Bloomington since graduating from IU in 1985. He said the film broadened his field of experience while allowing him to remain in familiar territory.
“There’s a high degree of professionalism among the cast and crew especially,” Wierhake said.
That level of professionalism is what has propelled the project above others produced at IU so far, Sherry said. Currently in the beginning stages of film and sound editing, the film is far from finished.
School of Informatics graduate student Sean Connolly came to IU after working as a script developer at Universal Films in Los Angeles. Connolly said he helped Sherry flesh out the storyline of “Nathan” and develop a visual narrative.
Connolly is studying Human-Computer Interaction Design at IU, and he combined his previous industry experience with his graduate work to turn Sherry’s concepts into workable film shots.
Connolly said the film has turned out well because of Sherry’s good choices.
“One thing he did really well is reached out to a great team on every level, and that was really important,” Connolly said.
For Wu, the team effort and emphasis on a professional product provided a chance for all involved to hone their crafts.
“I think everyone brought their own different strengths and basically developed a lot and worked out a lot of their weaknesses,” Wu said.