“I USED TO WANT to be just like Ashton Kutcher,” said Paige Fahrenkrug, a senior in Thespian Troupe 1451 at Waukee High School. “He is an actor from Iowa, much like yours truly; he did great things for his community by creating an anti-trafficking organization; and he starred in Dude, Where’s My Car?, an absolute cinematic masterpiece. What more could I ever hope to be?”

Fahrenkrug started performing and participating in the run crew of community and school theatre productions at age 6 and making short films with her brothers and friends at 11. In 2019, her aspirations led her to the five-week Acting on Camera program at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute, where she collaborated with production and screenwriting peers.

“I watched them combine creativity and technology to create many different types of films, ranging from documentaries to narratives to silly comedy sketches,” Fahrenkrug said. “I brought their visions to life as an actress, but I realized I wanted to share my stories too. I learned that my love of acting was actually a love for storytelling, and my goal transitioned from becoming Ashton Kutcher to becoming a great filmmaker.”

Fahrenkrug’s comedic short The Breakup earned her a spot in this year’s Thespian Filmworks program at the 2020 Virtual International Thespian Festival. She said she was “ecstatic to get to work on a project with other young, driven filmmakers.”

Fahrenkrug admits it can be challenging to find workshops or professional mentors when your community lacks an industry presence. Yet, she encourages Thespians to avoid using these limitations as excuses not to pursue an interest in film.

“Do not let a lack of access to equipment or resources hold you back,” she said. “I used to be so upset that I live in Iowa and not California, New York, or Chicago because there aren’t many opportunities for young filmmakers here. If you feel you’re in a similar situation, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to make your own opportunities. Use your phone if you don’t have a camera, recruit your friends as actors, and just make something.”

Fahrenkrug says there’s nothing better than sharing laughter, tears, and “a huge bucket of fresh, artificially yellowed popcorn ― extra butter, please ― with your friends as you plop down to watch a good movie.” The important role films play in our lives inspires her to keep inventing new projects.

“Some display important themes or messages, while other, less impassioned films like Dude, Where’s My Car? present the viewer with a chance to temporarily divert from their daily struggles,” she said. “I want to contribute to that kind of impact on an audience, as a filmmaker and as a storyteller.”

What inspired the unique tone of The Breakup?
The Breakup’s style was mostly inspired by the Thespian Filmworks producers and mentors, Matt Ringrose and Chris Veneris. When I wrote the script, I was planning to incorporate dark colors and heavy saturation. However, since The Breakup contains no dialogue, Matt and Chris suggested I borrow techniques from the silent film era, such as muted tones and more comedic beats. While it was a full 180 from what I was originally planning, I took the idea and ran with it, and I think it made my film unique. Thank you, Matt and Chris.

What were the difficulties of making a film in the age of COVID-19?
Creating a film during a pandemic was challenging but also super fun. When I learned I was a Thespian Filmworks winner, I was just excited to finally have another project to work on. I knew I couldn’t use a public area for my location, so I decided to use my garage. While shooting, we all made sure to follow social distancing guidelines. I even placed the chairs in the film around six feet apart for the safety of the actors.

What were the most important lessons you learned as part of the Thespian Filmworks program?
Thespian Filmworks was a unique filmmaking experience that I will always remember. My favorite part was getting to learn from the other Filmworks winner and our amazing mentors. Thanks to technology, I was able to connect with other filmmakers, even though I live miles away.

The top three things I learned from this experience are how to properly color-grade my film; how to safely make a film during a pandemic; and that all you need to make a film is a script, any kind of camera, and hard work. No expensive technology or fancy sets required.

What’s your favorite part of filmmaking?
While I love all aspects of the process, I’d say I appreciate editing the most. After long days of preproduction and shooting, finally getting to sit down and watch the project come together is an unbeatable feeling. It is definitely stressful, especially if I’m working on a tight deadline, but I think that’s what makes editing so exciting.

What films inspire you?
I love old horror films. The Texas Chain Saw MassacreNight of the Living Dead, and Phantasm are a few of my favorites. I appreciate horror films from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s because I think they can be very indicative of social norms from their respective eras. I keep this in mind when making films today. When people look back on my films in the future, how will they represent the 2020s? What sort of messages will I spread?

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