Three months ago, UT students Kent Juliff and Shannon Cloud began working on their film “Summer Night,” using only $12, borrowed equipment, donated pizza and a crew of unpaid volunteers.
Released for free on YouTube Aug. 2, radio-television-film senior Juliff and radio-television-film junior Cloud created the short film “Summer Night,” which follows the journey of a group of friends over the timespan of one summer night and the following morning. The characters hang out in different Austin locales and discuss relationships, filmmaking and social concerns. Juliff and Cloud said they enjoyed the freedom of working on a project outside of school.
“There were a lot of boundaries that were different for ‘Summer Night,’” Cloud said. “In school, you have limits like the number of script pages or deadlines, but since we chose to do this for ourselves, we had a lot more freedom. I think that excited people, and made them want to help us, even if there was no money in this.”
Juliff and Cloud borrowed camera equipment and lighting tools from friends and filmed “Summer Night” at various restaurants, arcades and apartment complexes in the Austin area, using their $12 budget mainly on bottled water and arcade tokens.
All of the actors who appear in “Summer Night” are friends of Juliff and Cloud. Juliff said he chose to name the film’s characters after their real-life counterparts because of their close relationships.
“This whole thing was a weird refraction of our lives,” Juliff said. “You could think of it like stand-up, where people like Louis C.K. or Roseanne Barr perform versions of themselves. It’s an honesty thing. It was so tied to us that we might as well put our names on it.”
Cloud and Juliff didn’t start out filming with a list of themes or motifs, but found that recurring ideas about authenticity and communication appeared during the filmmaking process.
“We were modest in approach,” Juliff said. “We wanted to tell a story that wasn’t set in this weird Hollywood world, where everything is shiny and no one talks the way a real person would.”
Cloud, who produced the film, said she talked to Austin-area restaurants about receiving food donations for the crew, hoping to create a sense of community between film students and local businesses. Scott Talkington, co-owner of Austin restaurant House Pizzeria, donated food to the “Summer Night” crew and said he was impressed by the student filmmakers.
“We like to work with local artists and students anyway, and these guys were so charming and earnest,” Talkington said. “[‘Summer Night’] reminded me of a polished sibling of ‘Slacker.’ For me, the mix of characters and the scattered, ordinary locations are a nice reminder of Austin’s film and television past.”
Juliff, who directed, scripted and acted in “Summer Night,” said the support he received from friends and local businesses motivated the decision to release the film for free on YouTube.
“Something like Kickstarter could have been an option,” Juliff said. “Crowdfunding is cool because it reaches an audience in advance of the film and gets them excited about it. But ‘Summer Night’ was made on such a local level, and came from a place of community and friendship, that I wanted the funding and distribution to reflect that philosophy.”
Cloud said she grew to appreciate the lack of funding for “Summer Night.” She said despite their budget limitations, the strong sense of camaraderie among the crew members pushed the students to get creative.
“People tend to look at a low-budget and think that corners were cut,” Cloud said. “But I think that there’s real creative potential in starting with zero dollars, and just getting to work with what you have, instead of wasting time dreaming of having more money.”