Young filmmaker Sam Gorman returns to Light House as mentor

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The music video for the song, “Want Me Close,” was produced in a week and focuses on the concept of “hallucinating from chicken wings,” an idea that came out of a brainstorming session with Dwight Howard Johnson band members. Courtesy of the artist The music video for the song, “Want Me Close,” was produced in a week and focuses on the concept of “hallucinating from chicken wings,” an idea that came out of a brainstorming session with Dwight Howard Johnson band members. Courtesy of the artist

It’s going to be an exciting summer at Light House Studio. The local youth filmmaking nonprofit’s website redesign is up and running, and they have a new location for their summer workshops while the City Center for Contemporary Arts—also home to Live Arts and Second Street Gallery—undergoes renovations. Inside the studio, a group of Light House students has been working on a series of short videos in partnership with the UVA Department of Neurology to help teens better cope with treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy, while other students have been selected for filmmaking awards at festivals around the country.

One of these award-winners is Sam Gorman, who stands out as a filmmaker to watch among Light House students.

Gorman began making films when he was 8 years old, when it was little more than a game he’d play with friends. When others lost interest and moved on to another game, Gorman kept at it, and in eighth grade he began enrolling in hands-on Light House workshops.

Despite taking almost everything offered by Light House, Gorman’s the first to admit that the one that was the toughest sell was narrative filmmaking. Feeling unfulfilled after the first two times he took the class, Gorman almost didn’t take a third round. Then, Light House Program Director Jason Robinson encouraged him to try after he graduated from Nelson County High School. Though some Light House students become filmmaking mentors after graduating high school, Gorman’s August birthday meant that he was still under 18 that summer and only eligible to take classes. He ended up taking the narrative filmmaking class, and out of it came something far greater than he could have imagined—a short film entitled Space Girl.

Working with fellow students Daniel McCrystal, Madeline Hunter, and Si Affron, as well as Robinson and other Light House staff and mentors including Aidan Keith-Hynes, Gorman set out to make a short film for the class. According to Robinson, “Half of them wanted to make a movie about a girl and her grandmother and the other half wanted to do something about outer space…and I said, ‘that’s the same movie.’” The result is Space Girl, a film approximately seven minutes long, with a healthy dose of special effects, outer space adventures, and a surprise ending.

From planning to post-production, Space Girl took two weeks to complete. Primarily told in flashbacks without any voiceover narration, the film shares the story of a grandmother’s outer space adventures, as told to her granddaughter. As for the surprise ending, you’ll just have to watch it yourself.

When student films are completed, they are submitted to film festivals around the world. Space Girl was well-recieved as one of 29 student films from around the country accepted to the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Future Filmmakers Showcase. The short film was also a finalist for FutureWave in the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, the William & Mary Global Film Festival, and the Competitive Shorts Program in the Virginia Student Film Festival.

It’s easy to see the influence of one of Gorman’s filmmaker heroes, Joss Whedon, in Space Girl. The special effects and off-kilter humor parallel what you find in Firefly or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, to name a few. More surprisingly, Gorman noted that he’s primarily influenced by Whedon’s “dialogue and self-awareness and how he messes with genre to do something new.”

Related to this is Gorman’s idea of “cardboard sci-fi,” which refers to the genre’s openness to self-deprecating humor, whether it’s purposeful use of cardboard spaceships, stop-motion animation, or a person dressed in a Godzilla costume.

While the spaceships and laser guns in Space Girl are impressive and convincing, Gorman’s other work sometimes takes a more playful approach to digital effects. In 2013, Gorman created an off-the-wall, chicken wing-inspired music video for the local band Dwight Howard Johnson.

In the video, two characters dig into a plate of chicken wings before leaping into a hallucinatory reverie bursting at the seams with chicken wings of all sizes. The purposefully outdated digital effects throughout are amplified by transferring the digital video to VHS in post-production, adding the grainy feeling of something taped off of MTV in the 1990s. One of Gorman’s favorite scenes depicts chicken wings growing out of the two characters’ shoulder blades before they fly away.

The video recently won Best Music Video at the 2014 CineYouth Chicago International Film Festival, which showcases work by filmmakers 21 years old and younger from around the world. It was also a finalist for the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho, the Pendragwn Youth Film Festival in Washington, D.C., and the competitive shorts program in the Virginia Student Film Festival.

Gorman has just completed his first year at SUNY Purchase and is returning to Light House this summer to mentor student filmmakers who hope to follow a similar path and share what he’s learned with local youth who are taking part in the numerous summer camp workshops.

“I like to be able to push kids to work on developing character,” Gorman said.

Ironically, his one disappointment is that the only Light House workshop he’s not mentoring this summer is narrative filmmaking. The days when he dreaded a third session of that very workshop are clearly behind him, and the future holds great promise. 

What local films have you seen recently? Tell us in the comments section below.

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