Behind the Scenes with MVG: Student Filmmaker Shares Insight, Inspiration

Behind the Scenes with MVG: Student Filmmaker Shares Insight, Inspiration

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“He knows everything [about movies],” Annie Cooperstone ’13 said when asked about Matthew Van Gessel ’11.

There is really no other way to put it— Van Gessel, an involved member of Staples Players, is also an encyclopedia of cinematic knowledge.

He has seen dozens of movies and can recall the techniques used in just about all of them.

From scriptwriting techniques to the significance of camera angles, Van Gessel certainly has a unique expertise, a quality many high schoolers lack.

His career as a filmmaker began in elementary school, when he filmed Legos with his family’s camcorder.

His love for storytelling has only grown since then, and he has now produced five movies using a Canon HD mini camcorder.

Van Gessel’s most recent film, which he made during Thanksgiving break, is called “The Supermen,” which was his own retelling of the story of Leopold and Loeb, two men who murdered a 14-year-old boy in an attempt to commit the “perfect crime.”

The seemingly twisted story was retold through Van Gessel’s eyes with the intention of spending as little amount of money as possible, without sacrificing quality.

“It was a fun film to make,” Van Gessel said. “I tried my best not to spend any extra money: I used my friends as actors, I did not make any sets, and I only spent 15 dollars on white shoe polish to grease an actor’s hair and on corn syrup and dye to make blood.”

The featured actors in this film were Glenn Leo ’11, Max Samuels ’11, Solomon Sloat ’12, and Cooperstone.

Van Gessel and the actors used improvisation to capture the drama behind the film, a choice made by Van Gessel himself.

“I really liked the fact that [Van Gessel] kind of let us explore the characters through improvisation,” Cooperstone said. “It made things a lot more intense and also a lot more real in various aspects of the movie.”

It’s that intense, real feeling from movies that Van Gessel enjoys the most from both a viewer’s and director’s standpoint. That feeling can come from not only special effects, but also from the quality of writing.

“The best kinds of plays in terms of writing, is when people are talking about something, but it’s not what they are talking about,” Van Gessel said.

It’s a concept that is not initially easy to grab hold of, but Van Gessel assures that it is part of the effort of making the audience active.

He feels that the lack of this concept is a major flaw in many movies, and an important component to filmmaking.

Van Gessel is unique because once he finds a flaw in a movie or play, he feels an urgency to do something about it.

In the summer of 2009, Van Gessel was part of a theatrical production of “Hamlet,” which he feels did not adequately represent the Shakespeare play.

“The play was just not right. I felt inclined to reproduce the play in the form of a short film— except through my own vision of [Hamlet],” said Van Gessel.

This perfectionist attitude towards film and plays is something he admires in certain professional directors.

Besides drawing from historical figures for inspiration, Van Gessel also admires Stanley Kubrick, a director who is well-known for is his perfectionist attitude. Van Gessel finds his work revolutionary and inspiring.

Not only does he find inspiration in several playwrights’ attitudes, but also in their techniques, some of which he has applied to his own movies.

“Something that I tried with ‘The Supermen’ was using music as a contrast to the emotions in the play,” Van Gessel said. “The juxtaposition of music and emotion adds depth to the movie.”

Although Van Gessel is a skilled director, he does not plan on pursuing this in college because his interest right now is primarily acting.

Regardless, he is not nearly done with movies yet.

“Unlike acting, which requires learning,” Van Gessel said, “filmmaking takes a vision—and I’ll always have that.”