Reservations is the story of Oliver Jenkins, a chef who inherits his grandfather's hotel, but the story of Reservations is about 13 individuals who worked and toiled together to bring about the short film that could.
- 2015 Official Selection - Traverse City Film Festival
- 2015 Official Selection - YES Film Festival
- 2016 Official Selection - Ozark Shorts
My STORY BEHIND THE STORY
In August of 2014, 14 Michigan State University students sat down at large conference tables to begin a year-long collaborative endeavor. Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, only 13 would make the journey, because the final member studied entomology and shouldn't have made it into the class in the first place.
The first weeks were spent sizing each other up to decide what positions we would hold over the first four months of production and making the firm decision to not float on the implications of being "just a student film", pushing ourselves to the boundaries of a true "indie" production.
In these early meetings, we settled on a script about a young man, Oliver Jenkins, who unexpectedly inherits a hotel from a grandfather he never knew, inheriting all the eccentric characters (the "Luckies" - named for the Lucky Star Hotel by which they are employed) and mis-managed problems that came with it. It was my suggestion at this time to make the working title, "You Get What You're Dead Grandpa Leaves You," which as clunky as it is, stuck for the rest of our production.
At this point, my job was to juggle the schedules of 30 individuals to figure out when, between class, work and the occasional home football game, we could make a film. My friend and I drove up and down the stretches of road connecting Mid-Michigan towns between acres of farmland, trying to find a hotel in which to film.
Landing a lot closer to home, the lobby of the Lucky Star Hotel is a dorm located on the older side of campus. The production spent the whole of the fall filming in that room every weekend, nearly being kicked out on more than one occasion. Every weekend I would do my part, hoisting a large podium up and down the stairs out of the backseat of my car to help build something out of nothing on our bare-bone set, to help create a little slice of "movie magic".
Throughout production, we found trial after trial, going consistently over schedule, being kicked out of our main location and losing a full day of filming in the process, losing the slate, fixing the slate, breaking a tool box, agreeing never to speak of some certain blue towels, breaking a lamp. It would seem that the problems of the Luckies paled in comparison to the plights of our own little crew.
But it was our resolve that kept us going, making agreements to keep from betraying even the slightest frustration by banning sighing on-set and so many other checkups here and there to keep a smile on our face even when we'd rather claw another's off.
Going into the spring and post-production, you would think that worst was over, that we'd conquered the quarreling and crisis to float right on up to the premiere. But as with any good narrative, a darker night was yet to come (several, in fact).
Our conference room got a lot smaller and a lot hotter after a winter break. As we watched edit after edit, one-by-one we each broke down, wondering if the film was getting any better, if it could, if was ever any good. We fought over taglines and poster designs. We missed deadlines and missed some more and suddenly we were one month from the premiere.
I had my own short-comings, some I own, some I would rather not, but after a rock-bottom day at the strangely shaped tables and mismatched (no longer rolling) chairs of our small meeting room, the production stopped altogether. At that point, I presented a challenge, that at that moment we had to decide for ourselves as individuals whether or not we were committed to finishing strong. We had to, or we would not make a premiere before the majority of us graduated, leaving our capstone project in an unfinished wreck.
Remember those dark nights I mentioned? Those were the consecutive nights spent in the audio studio working on the final mix. But those nights brought some great things: a trailer that refreshed us to why we loved the story in the first place, an edit that snapped into place and in a final hail-mary email from England that brought the music that elevated our student film to a small indie gem.
The premiere was fast approaching and the final pieces were coming into place. Most important of these pieces was deciding if we should invite the real Oliver Jenkins, an MSU grad student who happened to share the name of our film's protagonist. I digress.
The film is about family. That's the short of it, but in its utopic little worldview, it's about having a family, knowing their flaws, knowing when they'll let you down and when they'll pull it together and smiling through it all no matter what, making jokes and sly comments along the way.
Standing in front of our family and friends, we were asked the question of whose dreams of filmmaking were reaffirmed by this experience and whose were released back into the ether. None of us really answered the question, of that I'm sure. But that doesn't mean we didn't learn or that we couldn't find the truth sitting in front of us.
We all knew who was preparing for a life chasing the dream and who was ready to hang up their (chef) hat, but we had grown as a community, a very small tight-knit group of "Luckies" in our own right.
Instead, I think our group silence harkened back to our pact from deep in the trenches of production. Smile through the grit and don't let a sigh betray what you feel to subtract from the high of the filmmaking process as a whole.
Looking at this film, you might never know the story of some ambitious Michigan State undergrads who gave up days, nights and weekends to make this pleasant story about a man, a hotel and family he never knew he could have. But it is for that struggle and for this little film that came of it, that I am thankful.
For more on Reservations...
More videos on Reservations can be found on Vimeo.
And listen to the story from the producers in this interview from Impact 89 FM.
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