‘My best production experience, and my best educational experience’: For Jay Craven, a new model of filmmaking turns his latest offering, premiering in April, into a hands-on opportunity for 34 students
Jay Craven’s new model of filmmaking
On-time, under budget, and revolutionary.
Though he’s still putting the finishing touches on his latest independent film, “Northern Borders,“ director Jay Craven can already say those three things about it.
Due for release on schedule, with early to mid-April screenings planned in Brattleboro, and elsewhere, “Northern Borders” is based on a novel by Northeast Kingdom author Howard Frank Mosher and stars Academy Award nominees Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold. It was budgeted to cost $500,000, and Craven estimates it’ll come in a little bit below that.
Now for the revolutionary part. In order to bring the film in at $500,000, far below the $2 million his other independent feature films have cost, Craven created a unique collaboration between his non-profit arts organization Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College, which turned the production of the film into college coursework involving 34 students from a dozen colleges including Marlboro, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Boston University, Smith College, George Washington, Connecticut College, Wheaton, Vassar, Cornell, Champlain College and the University of Connecticut.
Working under the tutelage of 19 film industry professionals, those students filled key roles in all areas of the production of the film, gaining valuable experience and handling tasks the film industry seldom entrusts to raw beginners.
On the eve of the six weeks of filming in March and April 2012, at sites in Marlboro, Guilford, Chester and nearby in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Craven didn’t know if this new model would work.
“It was an experiment. We really had no idea how it would turn out,” said Craven, in a January interview taking a break from final editing work on the film. “I had faith that the students would rise to the occasion.”
His faith was justified. While he admits that “Northern Borders” will feel “a little more hand-made” than his other films like “Disappearances,” “The Year That Trenbled,” “Where the Rivers Flow North” and “A Stranger in the Kingdom,” he‘s comfortable with this new way of working.
“If I take it all into account, it was totally worth it,” he said. “It was really my best production experience and my best educational experience. I’ve been really thrilled to be a part of it.”
What the college students lacked in experience, they made up for in other ways. “They brought a freshness of perspective. They brought a commitment to something larger than themselves. … They infused the entire spirit of the project and became central to it.”
By the end of the filming, Craven turned over 18 smaller scenes to be directed by the students. Since filming ended, about half the students have secured some kind of film industry work, including one who scored a coveted internship at “The Daily Show.”
The professionals who mentored the students also enjoyed the project _ several showed an aptitude for teaching they didn’t know they had.
“Unlike anything else they’ve done, they have a very fond and warm feeling from it,” said Craven. “I think it contributed to a sense that it was not just a gig.”
It worked so well, Craven and Marlboro have committed to a second project together, with work beginning in January 2014 on an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s “Pierre et Jean.” Meanwhile, there is work to be done on “Northern Borders” – sound editing, music and other tech work – and some money still to be raised, all pointing to an April release. For more information, visit http://www.kingdomcounty.org.