A film and filmaker are made

By Michelle Cordonnier

October 11, 2012

[caption id="attachment_12692" align="alignnone" width="300"] Student Kiefer Helsel (left) and Andy Tyhurst (middle) rehearse a scene from Josh Cominellis' short film "Skip Distance" as cinematographer and instructor Jason Cantu (on right) controls the camera.[/caption] Missouri Western theater and cinema student Josh Comninellis has turned what began as a scriptwriting class assignment in the spring of 2011 into a working short film, “Skip Distance.” Skip Distance, a suspense drama, was shot last August and is in the post-production process. A late-winter or early-spring release is what all people involved in the production process are hoping for. According to Comninellis, the plot is centered around the family ties of a child whose mother has recently died. The setting of the film is of a diner and a radio station call booth. “The theme of “Skip Distance” is children’s acceptance of family and about accepting family members for who they are,” Comninellis said. “My passion for redemption influenced me to write this short film.” The main character James Carmichael, played by Western student Kiefer Helsel (Romeo in last fall’s theater production of “Romeo and Juliet”), is left with an absentee father (played by Mark Pennington) with whom Carmichael has no relationship with, and a stepfather (played by Western student Andy Tyhurst, who recently played lead role of J.B. in “J.B.”) with whom Carmichael has an unsettling relationship. Comninellis not only wrote the screenplay, but co-directed with his wife Brittany, who is also a student of the theater. Western alumna Mallory Edson was the creative producer, and professional cinematographer and Western adjunct professor Jason Cantu did the filming. Once the script was finished, it was then sent to “Kickstarter,” an arts fundraising platform website that reviews the work of artists and rates the work as being viable. Kickstarter is self-motivated, and they do not give anybody money; it is a platform where the artist or artists raise funds for their own project. Once the work has been approved by Kickstarter, the artist must set a goal and a specific time limit to raise funds for project completion. For Skip Distance, they made their limit $3,600. The catch with Kickstarter is all or nothing—if the artist raise the exact amount of money or higher, they do not get the money for their project. “I believe four weeks is the limit for the Kickstarter platform, while the hype for the project is at a high point,” Edson said. The art or in this case, film, is then placed on the Kickstarter platform so that community members, family members, friends, business owners, and public can donate money to help in the production of the project. The crew was able to raise $3,700 in one month. Edson said many of the crew’s family members from around the country donated money on the Kickstarter platform to help with costs of the film, and they are still accepting donations for post-production costs. Many Western alumni, current students, faculty, St. Joseph business owners, community members, and Cantu contributed to the production. Comninellis is also thankful for the university allowing them to use its film equipment as it helped the process and cut a lot of the costs for the production. “It was a community effort,” Comninellis said. “We had help from the entire community, many students from Missouri Western, Western alumni, a few of Missouri Western’s professors and local businesses contributed time, effort and money.” The film, which took months of preparation, was shot in less than 24 hours and they filmed it on just two separate nights. Western alumna Erin Williams did wardrobe and make-up, and Western student Robin Ussher designed the sets and did prop arrangement. Props came from local stores as well as some Kansas City area shops. Local businesses The Spot Café and Hazels Gourmet Coffee and Tea Co. also contributed to the film’s production. Hazels Coffee contributed chairs for the set. The Spot Café donated their diner as the main location for the set, which Comninellis said was the perfect location he had in mind for the screenplay. Tyhurst also felt that the Spot Café and Western’s Black Box Theater were the perfect locations for the movie filming because the atmosphere matched Comninellis’ vision of the movie set diner perfectly. “The owners of the Spot Café were great, they were very nice, and they even fed the entire crew,” Tyhurst said. “Everybody that I have met in this community has been a great supporter of the arts.” Edson has also said working with Skip distance has been a wonderful learning experience. Edson, who graduated from Western’s theater department last spring, is already working in the film industry. She is currently working on a documentary series. Edson is also looking into graduate programs. Tyhurst will graduate in December 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in theater and cinema. Tyhurst liked working on Skip Distance and said it was a great opportunity. “I learned so much just by watching and observing.” Tyhurst said. “It was neat. It has been a great experience.” The movie poster and storyboards are being designed and created by Western art student Truman Vasko. Comninellis and the film’s crew are planning a late-January or early-spring release of the film. “I am working on editing right now, it is a lengthy process,” Comninellis said. After the premiere, there will be a film festival tour around the Midwest. Everybody involved in the production is hopeful of a possible nationwide tour. Comninellis is not locked in, as to what he will do for a future career, but he knows it definitely involves the film industry and writing. He might continue to write screenplays, or maybe write a book, as he enjoys creative writing. “I have a passion for telling stories,” Comninellis said.