Irene Georghiades

The Record

Local actor and stunt supervisor Aaron D. Alexander stars as “ Ulysses”, the film’s antagonist. As leader of the West, Ulysses seeks to claim the Eastern territories which has led to the bloody war that the film revolves around. 

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

The Record

 Click here to view the Sleepless Cities behind the scenes photo gallery. 

On Saturday, April 14 at approximately 3 p.m., an adult man was killed at one of the university’s learning facilities in cold blood. The suspect was about six-feet-tall, dressed in a vest and pants. The murder occurred in the midst of 20 or so on-lookers, who saw the murderer fight the victim fiercely before the latter was stabbed in the stomach with the suspect’s sword. The victim fell to his knees with a yell and collapsed, lifeless, on the floor. A few seconds later, a man watching the fight from an HDTV on a table a few feet away yelled a three-lettered word, and the onlookers, who up to this moment had been petrified, burst into movement. The victim got up on his feet and conversed with the perpetrator, miming key moments in the fight as the set around them was prepared for another take. 

The man at the HDTV is Steven Hendrix, fresh-faced, easy-going and sporting a tribal graphic T-shirt, jeans and skater shoes. He speaks to his assistant director quietly about the take, lost in intense reflection over what he just saw on-screen and how it connects with the other shots in the film. Once he’s processed the lingering take, he speaks to his actors, makes adjustments, has a word with his director of photography, Ricardo Palomares, and orders action. 

Hendrix is a radio-television-film senior and native Austinite directing “Sleepless Cities,” a short film written by recent RTF graduate Zach Endres and produced by fellow senior Irene Georghiades. The film follows Imogen (Rachel Myhill) in her quest to avenge her murdered father from the fierce Ulysses (Aaron Alexander), who killed him while taking control of Imogen’s land. As a director, Hendrix oversees the creative vision of the entire project, from pre-production to distribution, all the while guiding the actors to preform their roles in a way that works thorughout the entire film. Beyond that, Hendrix takes charge of balancing out all of the problems that, and he says this with confident if not slightly reproachful certitude, “will occur.”

Sleepless Cities is one of 12 undergraduate RTF thesis films being produced this semester, all of which will be screened on May 11, at 2 p.m. in the CMB’s Studio 6A. The thesis class is only offered once every year, in the Spring, and provides the time and resources for student filmmakers to amass a film that will hopefully compile and showcase all that they’ve learned in their time at the university. As the crowning project of a student’s university career, the film serves as a sort of bridge between the student and the professional filmmaking worlds. It becomes a sort of calling card, and as any agent or talent scout or famous producer who may glance upon the film in the festival circuit or elsewhere will tell you, that card better be good.

This is not the first time that the Endres-Georghiades-Hendrix trifecta has made a film. They have collaborated before, first without Hendrix in “The Teleported Man,” which won the Esurance Audience Award at the 2012 Austin Film Festival, and later in a short called “Rough Waters,” which premiered on The Longhorn Network in March earlier this year. 

“The crew members were friends I’ve been working with for years,” Georghiades said in an email. “The difference was the scale of production.”

She refers in part to the temple that sits furtively on the sixth floor of the CMB, that, if viewed from the outside, is merely wood and textured paint and hours and hours and hands upon hands of laborious efforts. Yet from within it’s hard to deny that one is not inside an ancient building corroded by time and grime. 

Though lots of student short films are produced in the RTF program every year, not very many build and furnish massive sets, have their fight sequences choreographed by professionals, or have their own blood effects crew standing by. 

“The scope of ‘Sleepless Cities’ was bigger than anything I’ve produced to date,” Georghiades said. “The size of the crew, script content and location challenges all contributed to the difficulty of production, and at the same time the feeling of accomplishment when we wrapped.”

The producer wasn’t the only one challenged by ‘Sleepless Cities.’ Endres, who had a script go through to the second round of the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, a coveted accomplishment, also treaded new ground in the project. While usually dealing with a character’s internal struggles, and often writing drama and black comedy, Endres found himself shifting gears for this particular screenplay. 

“This is the first time I’ve had the chance to fully realize an alternate reality, a new world,” Endres said in an email. “And this is the first time I’ve written an ‘action’ film. 

Though “Sleepless Cities” is bountiful in  action sequences, Endres tried to ensurethat these were not gratuitous. He described the film as a conversation between two adversaries that, while sporting a good amount of action, also displays his own tendency toward more cerebral work. 

“Sleepless Cities” incorporates elements from director Hendrix’s past work. The combination of heavy dramatic moments, dark humor and the fantasy/adventure tale complete with fighting and blood are things he’s used to and builds on in his thesis. Thinking of the projects he’s made since starting the RTF program, and even on some of his commercial work, he sees a pattern. 

“I love creating content and bringing fresh ideas to life,” Hendrix said by email. “Of course, once you start making movies it stays in your blood forever. Now if anybody will ever watch them, that’s a different story.”

Here, Hendrix arrives at the point that many RTF students often find themselves fighting. In the information age, it is much easier to distribute fresh work to eager eyes. But how to reach the right crowd, the one that will appreciate the film the most, and maybe even the crowd that will help monetize it and future projects, remains a mystery. The sets, the effort, the time; none of it comes cheap. Crowdsourcing has helped a great amount of filmmakers foot the bill in recent years. “Sleepless Cities” raised $3,080.00 On Indiegogo. But a clear path toward professional fiction filmmaking remains elusive. 

This doesn’t faze Hendrix too much, at least for now. 

“In the end, if I did my job right, you’re thinking a little bit,” Hendrix said. “Questioning what you watched as well.” 

And in the controlled darkness of the set, as the next take unfurled following a cry for action, the film had found its first audience.

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Correction: The first version of this article mentioned that Endres, Georghiades and Hendrix had worked together on "The Teleported Man", which is not true. Only Endres and Georghiades worked on that film. The article has been corrected for accuracy.

The scene before the teleportation in The Teleported Man. Courtesy of Zach Endres.

Perhaps cleaning mustard and mashed potatoes off of the walls of a school cafeteria is a less-than-glamorous spring break ideal, but for radio-television-film seniors Mystie Pineda and Irene Georghiades, the dirty work has paid off in a big way.

The duo co-produced “Incident at Public School 173,” a tale of love and war in the form of a school food fight. The film has earned a coveted spot in the 19th Austin Film Festival & Conference under the Narrative Shorts category.

But if one entry wasn’t enough, the team also worked together on another short film, “The Teleported Man,” a sci-fi thriller that also snagged a spot at the festival. No small feat for two students who also have jobs, internships and classes to handle.

“Both of these are our first films that we’ve made into festivals, so it’s a pretty big deal for us,” Pineda said. “We were just so thrilled to find out we made it with both films.”

The films were shot almost back-to-back last March, with very little time for rest in between. Georghiades said the teamwork between she and Pineda was crucial to the success of their work.

“We had worked together before but never in leadership roles,” Georghiades said. “And from the very first meeting, we both worked really well together. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a team with someone where it just clicked that quickly.”

Pineda also stressed the importance of finding a team that works well together, not only to keep things running smoothly but to keep attitudes positive during the strenuous process.

“There are a lot of groups that just love to work on projects together, because they know how to communicate together,” Pineda said. “That communication is so important when you’re all
giving your time and creative input, because people could get really hurt.”

One of the biggest hurdles during production of the films was securing locations. For “Incident,” Pineda said finding a school willing to host a food fight was a challenge.

“We had to really search for a place that was going to let us throw food and put 50 elementary school-aged kids in their school,” Pineda said. “We secured the spot the day of the deadline we had set for ourselves to find a place, so it worked out. They completely trusted us to not ruin their cafeteria.”

The two vastly different films shared most of the same crew and were made within weeks of each other. Georghiades said the tight schedule would not have been possible without the versatility of the crew.

“We literally finished the food fight, rested for about a week and got right back up and started working on ‘Teleported Man,’” Pineda said. “We were all over the place. I think we had about six different locations. When you’re working 12-hour days and carrying around equipment, everyone’s tired, but everyone kept such a great attitude.”

With an almost endless list of duties, including casting, budgeting and securing locations, Pineda said one of her most important roles as a producer — and something she takes the most pride in — is keeping morale high to ensure the success of the films.

“It’s so important that everyone feels they are appreciated, because even with the smallest task, without the help of the crew I’d be totally screwed,” Pineda said. “But everyone was so pumped. I think the positivity leaked to everyone on the crew, and every day people were just so happy to be there and covered in mashed potatoes and broccoli and flour.”

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: Students score two spots in film festival