It’s finally Oscar week — that amusing time of the year where we prepare to be disappointed by the Best Picture winner, reflect on the true winners that the Academy opted to snub (moment of silence for Leo DiCaprio) and, of course, deliberate over the art of film and the institution of cinema.
Here in Ann Arbor, cinema is the bastion of entertainment (seriously, which other city has two movie theaters within 300 feet of each other?), and the University’s Screen Arts and Cultures program burgeons with talent and innovative vision.
The University’s SAC 423, “Practicum for the Screenwriter,” class, taught by Robert Rayher and Jim Burnstein, is the culminating course for the program’s most driven and gifted students. Each semester, the class produces two professional-quality short films.
Last year’s most notable short, “The V Card,” written by 2012 University graduate Rebekka Pesqueira, received several awards at the University’s Lightworks Film Festival in the spring (including Best Director for its duo of 2012 graduate Brandon Verdi and LSA senior Jake Burnstein, son of Jim Burnstein) and also secured a spot at the Traverse City Film Festival last August.
Available for viewing on YouTube, “The V Card” is a 30-minute-long comedy/drama that resembles a more charming, less obscene, college-inspired version of the HBO series “Girls.” The film takes place here on campus and centers on the sexual escapades of four senior girls, two of whom — including the protagonist, Laura, played by Music, Theatre & Dance senior Allison Brown — make a pact to lose their virginity in one week after learning that they’re the remaining virgins of their friend group.
“Laura, my character, is super type-A. She’s a planner,” Brown said. “And it’s funny because I think she’s super similar to the average girl, even at Michigan, if I may be so bold to make that generalization.”
The script, penned by Pesqueira, is genuine and witty (at one point equating the friend group’s remaining two virgins to “shooting an Olsen twin”), and it’s loosely based on the writer’s real-life experiences.
“I guess I had a lot of virgin friends one year, and then in like six months, they all were not virgins,” Pesqueira said. “As soon as someone lost their virginity, it was like a snowball effect and they all lost it, so I thought it made for a funny story.”
“The V Card” is an ode to Ann Arbor and to college life at the University, and was filmed at many notable locations on campus, including — as co-director Verdi recounted — the Big House.
“We had one hour to get that entire sequence (at the Big House) filmed before they kicked us out,” Verdi said. “And it was one of the weirdest, most intense, most amazing experiences of my college career, and I imagine everybody else’s too.”
Verdi and Burnstein conducted a cast and crew of more than 30 University students to create the film and were afforded a number of resources by the University for the filming process, including the use of the Red One MX camera — the same model, according to Verdi, that “The Social Network” was shot on.
As Burnstein recalled, the potential trials of co-directing a film were greatly alleviated by the fact that he and Verdi are close friends.
“We were completely and utterly on the same page the entire time,” Burnstein said. “It was almost like osmosis. We always knew what each other was thinking, and we did everything together and didn’t divide any jobs up.”
Upon graduating, Burnstein plans to join Verdi, who is now working as a production coordinator in Los Angeles, and the two aspire to work together and develop film projects in the future. Brown, who has a background in theater, hopes to move to New York after graduating to pursue an entertainment career. Pesqueira is currently working with Jim Burnstein, her former professor, to refine and expand “The V Card” script into a marketable, feature-length work.