Students filmmakers learn in Nederland

black forest actressBarbara Lawlor, Nederland.  Last Valentine’s Day, Sheila Schroeder and her partner Kate were spending the weekend in their cabin in Eldora trying to recover from the death of Sheila’s dad in December and the death of a colleague and friend in January, due to stomach cancer.

They went to have breakfast at the Sundance Café, and after ordering, decided to engage in a random act of kindness. Looking around the room, they decided to buy breakfast for an elderly couple who were seated at a table. “We slipped a note to our waitress who returned to say she had shared our note.”

The story behind our script, “Happy F#cking Valentine’s Day,” a comedy with heart, is that we were spending Valentine’s Day Weekend 2015 at our cabin. We were trying to recover from some very difficult times. My dad died in December after five weeks in intensive care following open heart surgery and we lost a dear colleague and friend to stomach cancer in January. Trying to make ourselves feel better, we decided to do a random act of kindness. At breakfast at the Sundance, we decided to buy an older couple breakfast. “We slipped a note to our waitress who returned to say she had shared our note and gestured to the other employees, saying they would be happy to do this. We left the restaurant and headed back to the cabin, our sanctuary, feeling better but not really knowing what had transpired after we left.”

black forest sheila

A bit later, the women walked around Eldora and imagined what had occurred in the restaurant. What was the reaction of the couple? They started fictionalizing characters and making up scenarios and within an hour they had a basic outline of the story. Back at the cabin, Sheila, a professor at DU, Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies, started writing. She’d rough out a scene, read it to Kate and then they’d add, subtract and rework. They worked for five hours that Saturday and at the end of that time the script was born, “Happy F#cking Valentine’s Day.”

Since February, Sheila and Kate have done and redone at least 10 revisions of one sort or another but the basic structure has remained the same. The script won “Best Short Screenplay” at the Broad Humor Film Festival in Los Angeles in September.

Sheila decided she wanted to go on with the project. “As the producer, I decided I wanted to make the film and came up with Project DU F.I.L.M. (Film Initiative Linking to Mentors). The project pairs existing DU Film Studies and Production students with professional alumni mentors to produce, shoot, edit and distribute a short fiction film shot on location in Colorado.”

While filming the screenplay, they are also producing a behind-the-scenes documentary about the process. Sheila has long wanted to provide this kind of collaborative filmmaking experience for her alumni and students and this script was the perfect opportunity.”

black forest ret camera people

“One of my goals with Project DU F.I.L.M. is to help close the gender and racial gaps that are problematic in film and television. Women and people of color are disproportionally underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera.

For the past couple of weeks, the film student film crew has been shooting in Nederland, setting up the Black Forest Restaurant to become the Sundance set, the red-checked table where the story begins. Plates of real bacon, eggs, pancakes and toast are delivered to the table by the waitress, actress Jessica Anguiano, who says she believes in the work Project DU FILM is doing.

During the shoot, the film crew had the run of the restaurant, with the Black Forest staff for support. Sheila says, “Our experience at the Black Forest Restaurant was nothing short of phenomenal. Bill Lorenz was a dream partner. He and Martin, and Jose and Kay were incredible throughout. We simply could not have found a better location.”

She also appreciated the Kathmandu for donating coffee mugs to be used as props and for providing discounts at their restaurant and their sister restaurant, Ubon. Nate and the staff at the Magnuson Hotel were also gracious to the crew.

black forest actress

A key moment in the film happens when a police cruiser appears in the film and the officers, non-actors, Chief Paul Carrill and Sergeant Larry Johns turned out to be the dream team of law enforcement.  Town employees supported the shooting and answered any questions that came up, Sheila commends Town Clerk, Laura Jane Baur and Deputy clerk Cynthia Bakke.

“I also want to thank Kayla Evans, a DU alum, for her assistance in finding a location and for being a driving force for film and the arts in Nederland. We love attending the Backdoor Theater to see films on the weekend when we are in town…and winning the occasional box of Milk Duds in the raffle.”

Sheila says she fell in love with Nederland in 2001, and the cast and crew loved being introduced to the town.

“It would be a distinct pleasure to screen the film in Nederland. The content leans toward a PG-13 crowd because of language. Our timeline for completion is late spring.”

Sheila also hopes to screen the film at National and Colorado film festivals, in particular we’re targeting the Boulder International Film Festival run by Kathy and Robin Beeck of the film “Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed.”

“There are great stories all over Nederland and I hope to write more. I’d love to return and bring more students and alumni with me to shoot again.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.