It’s a real trip alright, all the way back to the ’60s. In the original short film “Kill Casual,” written by 17-year-old Hamilton resident Charlie Guarino, and produced and directed by Charlie and 17-year old West Windsor resident Ben Weiner, we hear a Yankees/Cardinals game broadcast on an old tuner car radio, get a brief ride in a vintage Corvair, even see a clip from “The Munsters.” In addition, “Kill Casual,” with its unusual angles, extreme close-ups, salty dialogue, underworld violence and hip soundtrack, gives a cinematic nod to the likes of directors Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.
It’s one of the films that is already being talked about behind-the-scenes at the Trenton Film Society, and will be screened as part of the 2012 Not Quite Legal Film Festival. The juried festival, sponsored by the TFS, features films written, directed, and produced by New Jersey students between the ages of 14 and 21, and will take place Saturday, June 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton.
Now in its fourth year, the festival is gaining a reputation among youth as both an artistic and educational experience. Approximately 15 films from dozens of entries are selected by a panel of jurors for inclusion in the festival. The entries run in a variety of lengths, and include narrative, documentary, and animated films.
“‘Kill Casual’ was created for a Media Arts class project (at Princeton Day School, taught by Jerry Hirniak),” says Ben. “The assignment was to write, direct, and produce a film from a specific time period. ‘Kill Casual’ is set in Trenton, in the 1960s, and you can see some of our influences for the movie, such as films by Alfred Hitchcock. Although the film is serious, we still put in a bit of comic relief, which is really our forte.”
Charlie, who also wrote and performed the score for “Kill Casual,” says when he got the assignment to create a period piece, his mind immediately went to the 1960s.
“The film follows the events of a man who takes on the mob in order to bring to justice those involved in the murder of his brother,” Charlie says. “The plot could run into cliched ‘revenge flick’ territory, a la Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill,’ but we weren’t too concerned about the story or dialogue. Instead, we were focused on achieving a film noir feel, like the classic ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ We attempted to make the period and violence as convincing as possible. As for the music, I was influenced by the jazz soundtracks of films such as Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless.’”
“The filming took place over several days,” Ben explains. “We shot with a Canon XL1 and a Kodak Zi8. Then, the movie took us a month to edit, using software such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects.
“What I learned from this experience is that film-making takes patience, an ability to compromise on my concepts with others, and long hours to develop,” he says. “I learned that there is an incredible amount of detail that goes into a film from the script, pre-production, location scouting, camera work, and editing. We both love filmmaking, and we’d like to continue doing so in college.”
In fact, Charlie says he’d like to study filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts after graduation from PDS. His father, Lou Guarino, who works for Hamilton Township, is musically inclined, plays guitar and writes songs, and his mother Patti, who works at Baths, Etc., in Princeton Junction, is very involved in creative outlets such as photography and painting. Charlie started making short stop-motion animated films around age 10.
For Ben, one inspiration to pursue filmmaking was older sister Jess Weiner, a 2010 graduate of Princeton Day School, who is now studying art history at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“My sister is very interested in photography and analyzing art,” he says. “She started taking classes in high school and has been interested in photography ever since.”
His interest in video and filmmaking began around age 11 when Ben and a friend set up a small television studio in his basement — complete with a make-shift green screen — and recorded a news broadcast. Ben is not shy about technology, and in fact has a passion for all things technological.
“I love computers, cell phones, cameras, video cameras, televisions, computer software, cars, and video games,” he says. “I constantly follow websites to see the next new technology releases. All of this really sparked my interest to go further into technology and try filmmaking.”
His father is Neil Weiner, of Foxhill Capital Partners, LLC, on Roszel Road in Princeton. His mother Laura works at Zoe, the designer fashion boutique on Hulfish Street in Princeton.
One exciting addition to the Not Quite Legal Film Festival sprung from a brand new filmmaking workshop in the area. In April, the TFS launched a program called the Trenton Youth Filmmakers Program, the TFS’ first film education and filmmaking camp, which was held at the Mill Hill Playhouse in April. A collaboration between 4-H of Mercer County, Trenton Teen Leadership Corps, and GetSet, the camp was funded by a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the I Am Trenton Community Foundation.
“The purpose of the Trenton Youth Filmmakers Program is to teach kids in Trenton and surrounding communities about storytelling through film and how to write, direct, film and edit their own work,” says Cynthia Vandenberg, executive director of the TFS. “As part of this year’s Not Quite Legal Film Festival, we will be featuring the five short films that the participants in the Youth Filmmakers Camp made.
“We’ll also have the partners that worked on the program there to talk about how we are designing a comprehensive digital literacy program for Trenton youth that will begin in kindergarten and continue through 12th grade,” she adds. “The goal of this program is to give kids technology skills for the 21st century, media literacy and storytelling skills, as well as the ability to express themselves through film.”
One of the students who participated in the camp was 14-year old Keandre Castro, an 8th grader at Community Middle School in West Windsor. His short film (actually, a public service announcement) is titled “Get Out and Play for an Hour a Day,” and encourages kids to break away from the computer, TV and whatnot, enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
He is probably the youngest participant in the Not Quite Legal Film Festival, but, in fact, has been making films for several years now. “I’ve done a number of (film and video) projects before, and have been to a few film camps, including iD Tech at Princeton University last summer,” Keandre says. “I’ve always liked to draw cartoons, have done a lot of writing, and I’ve even had poems published. I like to put my ideas out there, all over the place.”
Keandre, who moved to Plainsboro from the Virgin Islands about 10 years ago with his parents, Jorge and Leticia Castro, names such directors as J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg as influences. He unabashedly loves action movies and has most recently enjoyed the taut survival drama, “The Grey.”
He says his parents love film and the family watches lots of movies at home or goes out to see them. His father designs and builds home theaters; his mother commutes to New York as a project management consultant for large companies within the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and financial industries.
As youthful as Keandre is, he was the oldest participant at the Young Filmmakers Camp and mentored his younger colleagues.
“I helped the kids learn the software, helped them edit and work on their shot composition,” he says. “I felt a little shy at first, but as I got to know the people, they were so generous and encouraging. We did a number of exercises, learned about writing, looked at certain films — the cast, the directors, and whatnot. We also talked to one director via Skype, who gave us really good advice. It was very cool, a very good experience.”
“Keandre is a wonderful kid,” Vandenberg says. “He’s only 14, but he’s already one heck of a filmmaker.”
2012 Not Quite Legal Film Festival, Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton. Saturday, June 9, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All-day tickets will be sold at the box office on the day of the event. Adults, $10, students, $5.
Sponsored by the Trenton Film Society. 609-396-6966 or www.trentonfilmfestival.org