"Hatching Max," a 30-minute short film written two years ago by New Mexico State University alumna Anna Pattison and directed by College of Arts and Sciences Professor Mark Medoff, was recognized as Best in Fest at the recent Sycamore Film Festival, an event held just outside of Chicago.
The film began as an idea, a scene in Pattison's head - an awkward man talking to a clerk in a grocery store - and grew from there. At the time, she was a student in Medoff's screenwriting class, and her script was selected by the class to be produced as a film.
"It was the coolest thing I've ever done," she said of the process. "I had never written a screenplay before, and I didn't know where to start. I ended up liking screenplay writing more than fiction. I found myself doing it on my breaks. I was so excited."
In the film, Shell, a young pregnant woman, is befriended by Max, an older man, whose intentions are ambiguous until the end.
The film screened four times at the festival, including twice before high school students, and was voted Audience Favorite by ninth and 10th graders, as well as Runner-Up Favorite by 11th and 12th graders.
Medoff said he didn't expect the film to resonate with high school students.
"It's a very delicate love story, and the script is purposely misleading," he said. "To our credit and theirs, they got it, and they clearly liked it a lot. That's incredibly gratifying."
"Hatching Max" was shot entirely in Las Cruces in five days. A team from NMSU's Creative Media Institute helped the student writers bring the script to life. Medoff encouraged the class to write screenplays that could be filmed in the area. The cast and crew shot at Toucan Market, Milagro Coffee and a local home.
The film stars veteran actor/musician J.D. Hinton as the title character, and Tania Raymonde (TV's "Lost" and "Chicago Fire") as Shell. The crew consisted of NMSU student Matt Wilson as cinematographer and editor, CMI alumnus Sean Pilcher as co-producer, along with professionals such as Ginger Perkins and Lara Myrene. Other students were cast as extras.
"The process (of setting up and filming) is unbelievable, even for a 30-minute film," Pattison said. "Thirty seconds can take an hour and a half to set up. When you see it on the big screen, it's pretty awesome. I don't think people realize it takes so much work from everybody. There's no way to get a film made without all of those people. The cast and crew were really close.
"Another challenge was editing. You think you're finished, then you realize you're not. Even when we were shooting, we were making changes to the script. Mark tells me it's not that common, but he wanted me to experience the whole process. I'm grateful for that."
The Sycamore Film Festival recognizes the cinematography efforts of students in both short and feature independent films.
"Today there is a truly independent film world," Medoff said. "Ninety percent of the independent films that are made no longer go into movie houses, they go directly to the on-demand delivery systems. Anna came to the MFA program as a novelist, but she really has been bitten by the movie bug.
"You don't really have to be in Los Angeles anymore to make movies. You can just as well be in Austin, or New Orleans, or New Mexico. So many movies today get made by a conglomeration of people piecing together 'x' number of dollars. The budget for the 'Hatching Max' came out of funds available to me at NMSU. Today it's possible to make a good movie and get it into film festivals for not a whole lot of money."
Pattison, after graduating from NMSU's creative writing MFA program, is now living in Columbia, Mo., working on a feature-length screenplay.
"I realized what I want to do with my life, and that's to be a screenwriter," she said. "My dream job is to get paid to write movies; that's my goal."
Her advice to aspiring filmmakers, she added, is to start and continue writing.
"You might get discouraged, but don't let that stop you. You have to immerse yourself in that community. Network. Collaborate."
"Hatching Max" was also screened at the White Sands International Film Festival. Medoff, Tony Award winner for "Children of a Lesser God," said he hopes "Hatching Max" will be selected and shown at other festivals.
"All of us who teach at CMI are thrilled when our students do well," he said.