Do student films speak to you? Find out at noon Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Capitol Theatre.
Among two hours of screenings from young directors during the Arlington International Film Festival is "Speak to Me," a thoughtful 18-minute drama by Emerson College student Nicolas Thilo-McGovern.
Having its world premiere, the film by the Cambridge native tells the story of a has-been, best-selling author and his fiancée. She is promoted; he has his latest chapter rejected. That triggers resentment and jealousy.
More lurks behind this basic plot, as the 21-year-old senior describes in response to YourArlington queries.
"I wrote this story for one main reason: I wanted to show someone who has a mental illness, but not make that their defining characteristic.
"I hated seeing people with different forms of mental illness being portrayed as if that was the only driving force in their life. No one greets each other on the street and says, 'Hi my name is Joe; I am bipolar.'
"People are what they are and have what they have, and that is their life. So I wanted to combat that a bit."
The film leaves the author's illness unexplained, the filmmaker said, not wanting it to distract from the main story.
The story follows two people who are just trying to make it, but instead of doing it together, they grow apart. "What I like about the two characters is that they really do love each other," he added, "but the conflict of goals, and not the conflict of personalities, drive them into each other.
"I think people are going to walk out of the theater with different opinions about what the story is truly about, and I don't think any of them are wrong. Whatever people get out of the film is great. At the end of the day, my job is to make people feel something, whatever that is, I did my job. If they don't feel anything, then I didn't."
How did the project evolve? Thilo-McGovern explained:
The writing process took about a year and another six months to be fully funded. A 2017 Kickstarter campaign raised $2,220 while the film was in production. Another six months passed before the final cut.
"I would be lying if the reason that I liked this story didn't change as I developed," he noted.
The visual- and media-arts major, with a marketing minor, began making films after his parents split up, when he was 7.
What happened after 'Star Wars'
"My dad showed me 'Star Wars' when I was 9 or 10, and that opened the floodgates for me.
"I used to hang out at my friend's house on the weekends. He got a camcorder from his mom, so we used to film ourselves having light-saber battles in the backyard.
"Over time, we added characters, more scenes and editing. We just kept making stuff and experimenting. I did not know why some stuff worked and other stuff didn't, but we just kept trying."
When he was in high school, at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, he worked at a public-access TV station, CAETV, until he went to Emerson, long providing germinating ground for young filmmakers.
"I am really fortunate to have parents who supported me through the process," he wrote. "My dad and I still go to movies, and my mom reads every script I work on. His father is Marc McGovern, the Cambridge mayor, and his mother, Pamela Thilo, is an online marketer and is on the board of A Better Cambridge.
Asked what excites him about filmmaking -- and about his film -- he explained:
"I think films are a great way to affect a lot of people for a long time. I hope people walk away from watching 'Speak to Me' and think about it. That is really what excites me in the simplest form."
He also focuses on an ethical dimension: "I also think that the power of the medium is a lot of responsibility to filmmakers. It is our job to make films ethically in front and behind the camera.
"One thing that was important to me was to take the extra steps to making sure the set was 50/50 men and women. I know my impact on the film industry is small, but there is no excuse for not putting into practice the change that should be seen in the industry at large."
Directors that inspire
Asked what directors inspire him -- and why they do -- he responded: "This is a tough question because I think there is something to be learned from every director, but of course I have my favorites. The first movie to really blow me away was 'The Big Lebowski,' directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. I think they capture the awkward moments in life really well."
Some of his favorite moments in that movie are between plot points: "I don't want to spoil anything, but from that movie I learned about the importance of every single second.
"If it is in the final cut, it is doing something, it is progressing the story."
Another director he likes is Nicolas Winding Refn. "I have seen almost everything he has made, and I think he does an amazing job of making the abnormal normal by altering your expectations.
"I actually watched 'Neon Demon,' 'Drive' and 'Bronson' while writing 'Speak to Me,' so I think his influence synced in to the film without my realizing it," he wrote.
He also judged high school films for the Arlington International Film Festival through the student-run production company that helped fund his film, Emerson Independent Video, and was impressed with the AIFF entries. "The one thing I would tell anyone who submitted is to watch films you don't think you would like. Pick a random movie on Netflix or go to an indie theater.
"There are so many great movies that get little to no distribution. One piece of wisdom I heard from Linda Reisman, producer of 'Leave No Trace' and "Danish Girl," among others, was 'If you don't go see movies, who do you think will come and see yours?' I think she makes a really good point about supporting the industry and learning something that can help your own filmmaking in the process."
For Nic, where would his like his life to go? "One of my filmmaking friends at Emerson asked, 'If you had all the money in the world, what would you do?' and I very honestly said, 'Make movies.'
"Despite the odds of being successful in this industry, I'm determined to dedicate everything I have to telling the stories I want to tell. I just want to be able to keep making films for the rest of my life. I am working on another project right now, that is filming in late November and Early December, and it is a ton of work, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else."
This news feature was published Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. YourArlington is a financial supporter of the student part of the film festival.
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