Students form production company
Lights, camera, Area 51 Films has been in action since 2013. Area 51 Films is a student-run production company that was formed by four cinematic arts students who wanted to create videos that reflected their progress in Liberty University’s cinematic arts program.
The team of Area 51 Films is currently working on its third Coffeehouse video “Guardians of the Holidays,” which is a parody of the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy,” according to Writer and Director Tiller Gray.
“When we announced what the current project was, we had probably half of the cinematic arts department start (saying), ‘We want to be a part of this,’” Gray said. “We eventually found a group of very reliable people and were able to put together a crew that worked together amazingly.”
According to Gray, the team has grown progressively from a four-person team to approximately 14 members.
“Our current Coffeehouse video has close to 20 people in different positions, making this video much larger than anything we have done before,” Gray said.
The production time for the videos has also increased since the company was formed. The first video was filmed in the course of two days, the second in a week, and the third video was filmed within a month, according to Gray.
Special Liberty guests that have been featured in Area 51 Films’ videos include Director of Center for Ministry Training Dr. David Wheeler and Creative Arts Associate, Jake Holland.
During the filming of their current project, Holland asked Area 51 Films if they would help with the production of Christmas Convocation this year.
Each team member has a different role that they play to help bring the finished product together.
According to Sound Editor David Paul, every team member contributes to the finished product by sharing their thoughts and giving input.
For the current project, Kyndall Winegar helped in pre-production as the concept artist.
“I originally started doing concept art for the different costumes and stuff,” Winegar said. “And then after that phase (was) done I (helped) locate some wardrobe, and then once it got to the actual production, I was just wherever they needed me at that moment. Each day was a little different.”
Sarah Gabert is currently fulfilling the role of first assistant director (AD) of the team. However, she has also helped with sound and acted in one of the videos.
“For the past projects, I’ve been director of photography, so I do the camera, visuals and post (production),” Director of Photography and Editor Hart Jaquez said. “Pretty much as soon as we’re done filming I do everything.”
With the contribution of every team member, the project can be completed. The filmmakers such as Gray must fulfill their duties as well as the editors who smooth out the film.
“Mainly I just write and direct, and that’s where I fit in so far,” Gray said. “If they ever wanted me to do something else I would definitely do it. Whatever betters the team.”
Throughout the past year, the team’s correlation has improved through working together more and gaining experience.
“I think every person that has joined us along the way has been very helpful, but also has surprised us in a lot of ways,” Gray said. “Each person has really grown.”
Area 51 Films has worked on a few other projects outside of Coffeehouse, including working with 48 Hour Films. They also created a commercial for the movie “Son of God.”
Gray said the team of Area 51 Films would like to eventually start producing short films on the side that they could enter in festivals.
Although the team members all have different roles when it comes to production, one thing they all have in common is a love and passion for filmmaking.
“When I was 16, I was in Thailand at a career conference and they were talking about film and different industries where believers were not present, and … when they mentioned film they said there’s a lack of people who are passionate in their faith,” Paul said.
Paul was convicted when he heard about the lack of Christians in the film industry, and he decided to pursue film and use it for God’s glory.
“I started taking my talents and my skills and saying, ‘Alright God, you’ve given them to me, and I’m going to develop them, you use them, I am yours,’” Paul said. “So that has taken me anywhere from working in film companies, to (being) a janitor on feature film sets to working with (Area 51 Films).”
Jaquez compared his journey in the film industry to a rabbit trail.
“I was watching ‘Veggie Tales’ and ‘Toy Story’, and I got really interested in 3D animation, not necessarily film,” Jaquez said. “Then that got me into visual effects, so I was like, ‘Oh, now I have to film something and actually put visual effects in.’ And so somehow that translated to learning photography so that you can apply it to film, so I got into photography and then that came back around to film.”
For Winegar, working with theater production throughout her childhood is what sparked her interest in working with film.
“I’ve always been involved with the set designs, and I’ve loved story-telling as long as I can remember,” Winegar said. “I’ve always loved building the background sets, building the stuff up to tell that story in a way that you feel like you’re in that setting.”
According to Gabert, her first experiences with film were in high school when she helped people with some small film projects.
“I’ve always loved film, but my parents made it very clear that I could never make a profession out of it, so when I came to college, my dad was like, ‘You should just be a graphic design major. You’re really good at art,’” Gray said.
Gray studied graphic design for a year before realizing he was in the wrong major. During this time, Gray applied to be an extra on a feature film and spend a total of 72 hours on the set.
“I didn’t really like acting, … but while I was on set I looked around and I saw everybody working, and I was like, ‘Even if I get the smallest role on a film, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than on a film set,” Gray said.
“It has been a learning process being a student-run production company,” Gray said. “We hope to make the company legitimate in the near future, taking our work to the next level and sharing it with the world.”
For more information on Area 51 Films, visit facebook.com/51Films/info.
Bunner is a feature reporter.