Ross School - Senior Projects 2011


Student: Devon T. Leaver

Mentor: Kenneth Kilfara

Domain(s): Media and English




Title: Saving Caroline


Saving Caroline is a short film I wrote, produced, casted, directed, edited, and scored for my senior project. In this narrative piece, a 17-year-old boy purchases a journal at a yard sale only to discover that it has already been written in by a girl with a fantastic imagination. As he reads, he is drawn deeper into her fantasy world, until the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur.



I shot the film on the Canon EOS T2i, which is primarily used as a still camera but can also shoot in HD and slow motion video. The lights used were knock-off ARRI’s (ARRI’s are well known in the business) and a series of light gels. The poster below is an example of one of the still shots I took on set. I used it as my movie poster.









For my senior project I created a 20-minute narrative film entitled Saving Caroline. I came up with the idea sitting on a balcony in India, overlooking a beautiful cinematic view of a field of golden wheat. My friends and I would go up there very night to view the sunset. One night, an imaged popped into my head. It was the image of an odd old man. I decided soon after that I wanted to create a film for my senior project, and that I wanted to incorporate that image into my final product. After getting over my jet lag from the trip back to the U.S., I immediately sat down and wrote the entire script. After doing a few edits, and showing it to my newly assigned mentor, Kenneth Kilfara, I began to produce the film.

            There is always a three-step process when creating a film: Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. For pre-production, I cast the film, scheduled my actors, scouted viable filming locations, and gathered props, costumes and equipment. In terms of supplies I began with the camera, for that is the most essential piece of equipment when making a movie. After much research I decided on using the Canon EOS T2i. This model is quite deceptive, for although it is primarily used as a still camera, it can also be used to shoot in both HD and slow-motion video. I bought and borrowed a series of lenses for the camera to give my shot selection a little more variety, the moved on to lights and lighting accessories. I bought some inexpensive knock offs of ARRI lights (ARRI’s are pretty well known in the business), and they served my purpose perfectly. I also had access to some lighting gels: thin, flexible, translucent, color tinted sheets of plastic that allowed me to perfectly calibrate the color temperature. Next, I focused on sound. Luckily, Ryan Anderson volunteered to help out, coming onto the set with all of the necessary sound equipment and the knowledge to make it work. To record sound we used an external recorder with a boom pole, two lavalier mics and a slate for syncing.

            After accumulating all of the necessary equipment, crewmembers and actors, I began on the production process. I first had to improve my direction style. In the beginning, I was very nervous about directing my actors, and felt uncomfortable imposing my will upon others. Since many of my actors were 20 to 30 years older than me, I felt insecure about the fact that I was a 17 year old basically bossing them around. However, I soon came to the realization that it was my product, and that they were the ones who had agreed to it in the first place.  On the first day, my outside consultant, Andrew Nisinson, gave me a few words of advice. He said, “Focus on the verbs, not the adjectives.” What this meant was that my character has a life, and that he was somewhere before that scene occurred. Telling my actor to “be happy,” or “act sad,” gives them the end result. The goal is to give the actor a road map in order to guide them to the desired end product. I learned, from this experience the importance of being specific. A part of the process that I had some difficulty with was scheduling. I actually changed the schedule numerous times, for shooting took longer than I thought it would. I wanted the filming process to be around 5-7 days. In reality it took 9 days spread out over the course of two months. Through a lot of emails, phone calls and perseverance, I managed to film everything I wanted and left room for experimentation with shot selection. At the end of the production process, I called “That’s a wrap!” and moved on to post production.

            I began syncing the audio. This part was an absolute nightmare. I locked myself in my room for days on end, dragging each audio clip (there were hundreds) to its proper place on every usable clip. After I had finished this stage, I was glad to have moved on. I began the fun creative part: actual editing. I dragged and dropped clips to create a cohesive storyline. When I had my rough edit completed, I recorded voice-overs and audio dubs with my actors. There was a weed whacker in the background of one of my scenes that made the original audio unsalvageable. After the dubs had been finished, I tightened up the rest of the edits and began color correcting. I used Magic Bullet Grinder to convert the clips that I wanted into slow motion where it was appropriate. I used Magic Bullet Looks to color correct. This basically consisted of normalizing skin tones and adding glow filters to create a dreamy atmosphere for the fantasy scenes. I moved back on to the audio after I had finished with the visuals. I had written a score over the summer that just happened to time out perfectly with the footage I had edited. I went up to Garrison New York where I met with an old family friend. He has his own personal recording studio within his attic, and was generous enough to let me use it. It took me approximately two hours to record the entire score.

            After I was finished I burned it to blueray where I kept the audio in stereo instead of surround sound due to some technical difficulties. I also made a few DVD copies for various occasions. I screened the film on two occasions, but the principal screening was at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton.


Works Consulted


Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Burton, Tim. Perf. Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, and Dianne West, 1990. Film.


Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. Dir. Hancock, John D. Perf. Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, and Kevin O’Connor. 1971. Film.


Jolliffe, Genevieve, Jones, Chris. The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. New York: Jolliffe, Genevieve, Jones, Chris, 2004.


Mulholland Dr. Dir. Lynch, David. Perf. Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller. 2001. Film.


The Shining. Dir. Kubrick, Stanley. Perf. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Joe Turkel. 1980. Film.


Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat. Chelsea: Michael Wiese, 2005.


The Twilight Zone. Dir. Serling, Rod. Perf. Rod Serling, Robert McCord, Jay Overholts.1959-1964. Television.


Twin Peaks. Dir. Lynch, David, Frost, Mark. Perf. Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick.1990-1991. Television


Note: All film sources sited were included as inspirational pieces for my own ideas in terms of shot selection, score, atmosphere, and storyline. I used these pieces as a springing board for my own work.




Outside Consultant


Andrew Nisinson: Andrew Nisinson is a USC film school graduate. He is currently based in New York City where he works as an independent filmmaker. He has also worked on several music videos including one for a band called the New Collisions. He helped me to cultivate my direction style and worked for part of the time on site as my cinematographer.


Adam Judd: Adam Judd works as High School Choral Director and Musical Director at the Ross School in East Hampton. He helped me to develop and write variations on the main theme of my soundtrack.