LESSONS IN FILM

How a student script became famous

Story by Emily Ayers Staff Writer

The California State University, Long Beach Film Department took the spotlight when late horror legend Wes Craven chose student Andrew McGivern’s short film Love Lessons for the annual Catalina Film Festival in late September. The Union Weekly recently interviewed  McGivern about his accomplishment. 

UW: First off, I just wanted to say congratulations on your screening at the Catalina Film Festival. That is awesome! 

McGivern: Thank you, Emily. I feel very fortunate to have been recognized and to have had such an incredible time while attending. We were all treated like rock stars. 

UW: So, I watched the trailer, and I want to know more. How would you define the film and its different dynamics?

McGivern: I was actually a little surprised when the festival requested it for the “horror” category. As the writer and director, I had always billed my film as a suspense/thriller. 

While I knew the boiler room location it was set in would help increase the threat of violence to the characters, I didn’t realize just how much horror the look of it might then inspire, despite the fact that the violence that occurs is much more psychological than physical. 

However, Wes Craven was known as a very progressive filmmaker, always expanding the horror genre and clearly he saw something in it.

Love Lessons is the story of a murderous thug who receives a lesson in love after asking his friend to help kill his cheating girlfriend. Despite the obvious implied violence, the movie is actually about love—pure love and loyalty that most would do anything to achieve and maintain. 

Through tension and suspense, the story explores the powerful effects of love on various walks of life—the moral, immoral, and amoral.

UW: What was the inspiration behind this film? Was it something you had thought of creating for a while?

McGivern: Years ago, I read a true story about an elderly couple who, after 70 years of marriage, died at the same time in the hospital—their beds pushed together, holding hands, and surrounded by family and friends. There was so much beauty in  the details of their passing, I knew it was something I’d like to see on screen. 

So, when the time came to write the script for my Film and Electronics Art 336 class, I chose their unbreakable love as its core theme. I wanted to bring the essence of it to life, avoid familiarity and cliché, and throw the audience off by increasing the stakes. 

UW: Who are some of the directors that you looked to for creative inspiration? 

McGivern: Mr. Craven was someone that so many looked up to. He defined the horror genre with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. It’s such an honor to know that he watched and chose my film for his horror awards.

UW: The boiler room in the film is in the historic Lafayette Hotel in downtown Long Beach. What was the process in securing that location? 

McGivern: I had to produce an environment of suspense. After countless hours on the Internet—and more telephone rejections than I can recall—I happened upon a cached page of a Long Beach boiler room. But most of these locations rent for thousands of dollars per day and in FEA 336,  we receive no budget.

After a 15-minute pitch to the hotel, I was told to put my plea, bios of myself and my cast/crew, and the maximum monetary compensation I could offer in an email. Five members of their board would vote on it in a week. I would need a vote of three to gain film authorization.

After many days of stress, my two-page pitch, bios and the offer of a paltry $250 was accepted by the board. We had our location, and it was glorious. 

UW: You also talked about the role social media played in your film’s exposure. How did you do it?

McGivern: The festival staff scouted the trailer after viewing the film’s Facebook page and soon they requested the movie, even waiving the entrance fee. I’d like to note that I did use the Facebook “boost” option after posting my trailer and spent about $50 on sponsored promotion. That helped, and the trailer held their attention long enough for them to request the movie. 

UW: And what does being chosen for the Catalina Film Festival mean for your career? 

McGivern: To be chosen and included was a tremendous honor. Additionally, I’ve met many new contacts. But as far as the effect it will have on my career goes, it’s one step in a long road. It’s a wonderful step, and it moves things forward—but so much more will be required to find success. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share our story. I’d also like to thank my talented CSULB film crew who were invaluable in bringing Love Lessons to life: Zach Zombek, Michael Priestley, Ian Matthews, Brandon Hojo, Christian O’Keefe, Jasmine Sorensen, and Byoung Chan Lee.

The nomination for McGivern sets a strong foundation for not only him, but for the entire film department at CSULB. 

For this reason, UW will be doing a second installment about the department’s support and fostering of talented writers and directors in two-weeks’ time. 

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