Northside film students to premiere feature-length film

Published 8:03 pm Friday, May 12, 2017

It’s a mystery — an independent film that follows a group of high schoolers as they get to the bottom of a local legend.

It’s no mystery, however, that a group of high school students, 24 strong, put in countless afterschool hours to create a feature-length film that will be shown on the big screen at a historic downtown Washington theater.

“School Night,” a film by the Northside High School cast and crew of Big Turtle Productions, will premiere Tuesday night at Arts of the Pamlico’s Turnage Theatre. Admission is free to the public.

“We would like to say this is Northside’s first feature-length film, and it will be first feature-length high school film shown at the theater,” said Jennifer Woolard, a Northside math and science teacher, as well as scriptwriter and co-director of the film.

Woolard leads Big Turtle Productions, the name assigned to what is not a class, but an extracurricular activity for these dedicated students. They began working on “School Night” in fall 2015. Afternoons and nights were signed over to create what would result in a film with nine cast members, 65 extras, voiceovers by “Walking Dead” actress Amber Dawn Fox, a musical score written by a local musician, special effects and more.
It was a learning process, and not only in a technical sense, Woolard said.

“Every film is a learning process, and I try to teach unique skills that exhibit professionalism,” Woolard said. “They have learned to find creative solutions. They’ve learned problem solving. We have worked for this film; we worked to find creative solutions to achieve excellence in film. … Being limited, with a limited budget we have learned that filming with one camera you have to shoot every shot several times from different angles so you get that multidimensional look,” Woolard said.

It was a tremendous amount of work, and students had to get creative with effects normally provided by high-end film equipment.

“The hardest part about the filming process was having Ms. Woolard make us do 20 takes from 20 different angles,” said Dylan King, a Northside senior. “It was exhausting to keep the same amount of energy take after take, but it was worth it.”

That each student contributed to a single project that was years in the making built camaraderie and, ultimately, a team, that included many from outside the school who contributed their talent and knowledge to a unique education: Ken Braddy, PC Sound owner helped with sound equipment; Blake Scott, owner of STRS Productions, contributed his post-production audio skill; musician Hayden Drake composed a music score and added sound effects; Rita King, graphics for the film’s posters and T-shirts.

According to senior Julie Burgos, the project spurred friendships — she said she’d gained a family and group of friends she can trust and rely upon. Berly Soto said her experience with “School Night” has potentially sparked a career interest — she plans to take film classes in college.

“It’d be an unbelievable experience to see our film on a big screen,” said Henry Nimons, a junior and co-director of “School Night.”

Such a thing might have seemed unattainable just a few days ago, but on Tuesday — a school night — the cast (who will arrive via limosine) and many others will be there to watch “School Night,” a surprise to the students, courtesy of Woolard and Arts of the Pamlico Executive Director Debra Torrence.

“Basically, this is a surprise gift for the main cast, and a graduation gift to the seniors,” Woolard said. “They had to contribute a lot. …. Cast and crew has worked hard, and worked late night. It was such a huge undertaking.”

The Turnage Theatre is located at 151 W. Main St. in Washington. Showtime is 6 p.m. and “School Night” admission is free.