Bringing "The Shape Shifter" to life

Like a well-mobilized small army, the Film 33 production class began production on its latest short film project over the weekend. Led by professor Salvador Carrasco, a crew composed entirely of students have been trekking their way from the Bundy campus to the Van Nays to make "The Shape Shifter." Written and directed by SMC film student Kelly Thompson, the film is a comedy about a woman who sells diet products amid a culture that glorifies certain body types. One of the film's producers, SMC student and actress Carrie Finklea, took some time off from a hectic set to chat about the progress of the film. Finklea is an experienced actress in her own right, having worked on numerous projects including Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," which won the Palm d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

How has the shoot gone so far? How long is it projected to last?

The shoot is going amazing. In preproduction there were times where it didn't seem like it was going to happen. To be honest, we were this close (a string of hair) to having to cancel the shoot. I think possibly two days before shooting. I'm not even sure if the entire crew knows that, but yes, this almost didn't happen, though deep inside we all felt canceling was not an option. But that is the magic of filmmaking that I love and thrive upon: the art of making it happen through turbulence, steep hills, muddy waters, friction, a lot of "No's" and "Cant's" and empty pockets that we all overcome together as a team. Through creativity and unifying minds I love seeing a movie come together on production day. Hearing those words, "ROLLING, CAMERA, ACTION" are three of my favorite words of all time - especially as one of the producers of “The Shape Shifter” because it means we did something right against all odds and made it happen. How long is it projected to last? Our goal is to have it ready to screen at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica in October when several of the SMC films will be screened. As well as hitting the festival circuit. So hopefully this film will be 4 months in post and at least a year of festival and screening circulation after that.

As a producer, what have all your duties been like so far?

Producing is difficult to define as the work and the word itself is not a tangible one. For instance as the camera operator you "operate the camera". As a producer you what? Produce what? Well, hopefully, a film. One thing I know is that the SMC Film Program has taught me that producing can be an amazing and creative endeavor. You are the one that everyone turns to in a crisis. You are the one that is the supervisor and overall communicator to the crew. You get to help everyone’s talent blossom from ideas to realization. You are the one that is instrumental in preproduction as you connect the crew and facilitate communication between all the departments. You help fulfill the director’s vision of the film. You help bring on key team members. For instance, both Michael Osborne (the other producer) and I are actors as well, so with the casting directors and the entire casting process we both had a lot of experience and were able to help Kelly Thompson (our director) pull from a pool of incredibly talented and experienced actors.

Money is a big job in which we spent a lot of our time focusing, with the support of one of our line producers, Travis Fields. I give a lot of the credit to Michael as he was the one attending all the meetings (I'm in the middle of a 9-6 internship 5 days a week at Village Roadshow Pictures that prevented me from attending such meetings). We also have an Indiegogo campaign still going on ( in which Samanta Gomez and Maroua Baaboura have been incredible helpful in keeping things updated and alive.

We also make sure everyone is happy and doing their part. We have to make sure our wake is clean for the next group of students, meaning that rental houses, sound stages, investors, student associations, etc are more than delighted to have the SMC Film Program back and continue being involved with us.


What is the most important thing you hope audiences get out if this film?

Out of this film in particular - I really hope people see the humanism aspect of this film. I really hope people relate to the Brenda character as we all did when we first read the script. Body image concerns are rampant in this society, culture, world, era.. It wreaks havoc on what we as a society think is important and instead what is sacrificed is quality of life for the superficiality and instantaneous gratification of "looking good.” We want people to see truth in this film and then hopefully take that nugget with them and not only crave truth in their own life, but demand for it. Kelly’s script hit the nail on the head, and now we’re all making sure that her vision materializes under the umbrella of our SMC Film Program.

As an actress with much experience, how does working on a student film compare to working on a higher budget production?

Thank you for the credit but there is never enough experience. Every time I step on set, especially in front of a camera I have a deer in headlights moment and I wonder if I have ever done this before. But that's the beauty of it. Every time it is totally different.

As for defining SMC as a "student film" I would say that this program is really breaking the negative connotation often associated with that term. I didn't notice a difference. In fact I had much better time on this set then many of the so-called "professional" sets I've made in the past. I've seen some really crazy behavior on million dollar sets and seen countless movies never get finished or even started because of egos and the inability to budget. On the SMC sets I see students coming in from previous Film 33 projects or other film classes carrying cables for our movie because they believe in what we’re doing and in the philosophy of the program. Everyone wants to be on set to learn and be part of the magic. It's really beautiful.

I would also like to say working on Like A Rolling Stone (the fall semester film 33 project) as an actress was an honor. I was directed by Daniel Hawley under the mentorship of Professor Carrasco and it was some of the best director/actor experience I've had in a long time. I felt completely safe and I trusted Daniel completely (I don't get to say that on most sets) because he truly collaborated with actors, he had a gentle and clear approach, and also because of who our mentor was - a director I respect and admire very much.

What's your favorite moment so far from the shoot?

Favorite moment on the shoot: Memorial Day weekend nine of us spending the entire day (around seven hours) at the Bundy campus with Professor Carrasco and Drew figuring out how to make the shot list a reality. Then the following day in a production meeting for 8 hours with another group of about 9 or 10 of us. Not one person complained about missing their Memorial Day bbq or whatever it is you are supposed to do on that weekend. Making a film was more important.

The subject matter of the film is pretty specific. Would you say looks matter?

Unfortunately, in our society, looks matter. But they don't have to. We are the generation that can change that. And that's why I love filmmaking because you can send a social message through art and it can affect people in an extremely powerful level.

I have no doubt that “The Shape Shifter” will, too.