Saddleback enters the spotlight at the Newport Beach Film Festival

Crowds gather at the Regency Theatre at the South Coast Plaza for the Newport Beach Film Festival. The Saddleback showcase normally is screened at the Lido Theatre, but was moved due to renovations. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)

Crowds gather at the Regency Theatre at the South Coast Plaza for the Newport Beach Film Festival. The Saddleback showcase normally is screened at the Lido Theatre, but was moved due to renovations. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)

Once a year, Newport Beach is flooded with movie buffs and tourists from all over to see the up and coming directors display their work. From April 21 to the 28, the Newport Beach Film Festival will be showing 350 plus films made by independent film makers from all over the world.

Although the event is not as well known as the Sundance Film Festival held in Utah, NBFF brings a various selection of films from features to documentaries to the Orange County cinema scene. The event prides itself as offering the best of new, local and foreign films, according to the festival’s website.

The NBFF was established in 1999, featuring a countless amount of films with some leading to the big screen. Films such as “Crash,” “(500) Days of Summer,” “Son of Rambow” and “The Illusionist” were just a few of the independent films that made it to theaters.

Not only do seasoned directors enter in the festival, but some college students enter with hopes to advance their career. USC, Chapman and UCLA are some of the four-year universities whose students entered the NBFF.

Saddleback College Cinema Program had their showcase Saturday, April 23, featuring films such as “Dollface,” “The Pact” and “4:20 to Yuma” produced and filmed by Saddleback students.

“The terrific aspect of the NBFF is we get to see how our pictures stack up against the other colleges, public or private,” said Charles Myers, chair of Cinema Television and Radio at Saddleback College. “One thing that we are genuinely proud of is that we are consistently the best public college of two-year and four-year colleges every year and the showcase shows that.”

Saddleback College did not start entering the NBFF until fairly recently. For years, the college held its own showcase, moving around for some time, finally finding its place in Newport.

“For about the past 8 years or so, Newport has invited us in,” Myers said. “Usually we have the largest contiguous for the crowd. We get the biggest screen, the best theatre, and we are very much a staple here in Newport.”

Unfortunately for the film students of Saddleback, the short films and television products are the only unfunded activity on campus, Myers said. 

“Imagine if you wanted to join the football team, [but] you had to pay $3,000,” Myers said. “Any other school, they give some kind of funding like they do with the football team or commission any other program. These guys totally self-fund themselves. I love them for it but it pains me watching them go broke just to see their dreams come true.”

Myers has seen students sell and live in their cars. He keeps an old RV on the side of his house that he has not used in years. He has allowed “broke and homeless” students to move into the RV temporarily.

In the case of self-funding projects, students have taken advantage of online fundraising. Director Sage Griffin, creator of “Dollface,” used Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, to help financially back their project.

“I got $1,200 from Indiegogo for ‘Dollface,’” Griffin said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot but you’d be surprised with how much you can do when the equipment and crews are provided to you [by the school].”

“Dollface,” a film based on self-acceptance, pushing back against the concept of molding to society, starred actor Victoria Elder, an unhappy young girl, stuck in a bad relationship. Things turn around when she is reunited with an old flame at a party, setting the tone for the film.

Saddleback College's film program gathers together, showing off their "Tri Nguyen" t-shirts. Tri Nguyen's family was given a standing ovation during the showcase showing support in the passing of their family member. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)

Saddleback College’s film program gathers together, showing off their “Tri Nguyen” t-shirts. Tri Nguyen’s family was given a standing ovation during the showcase showing support in the passing of their family member. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)

With the passing Saddleback’s CTVR department’s technician Tri Nguyen to cancer this past March, Griffin was especially grateful for his contribution to the department and students.

“Tri was like the backbone of Saddleback,” Griffin said. “You could go to him for any question you had and he’d be willing to answer and help. We all will miss him.”

It was the first year for Saddleback director Steven Talens to enter his films in the showcase. His shorts “The Pact” and “My Flower” made their debut during the festival, receiving loud applause during the credits.

“Dude, it has been unreal,” Talens said. “I’ve been dreaming about this kind of stuff since I was a little kid. It is unreal to see my dreams being realized.”

Talens creates films based on personal experiences, expressing that films should be made close to your heart, putting you on the screen.

“’My Flower’ was inspired by a song I listened to with my girlfriend,” Talens said. “‘The Pact’ was inspired by a hangover I had, waking up to somethings that you don’t know how got there. There’s inspiration anywhere I guess.”

Even with the idea of self-funding each project, Talens has great respect to the Saddleback CTVR department for helping in the creation of his films, specifically his instructor, Charles Myers.

“Saddleback is everything in my short [films],” Talens said. “They wouldn’t get done without the help, especially Charlie. I did film 1 with Charlie, where he basically forces you to go out and get it done, but it is fun.”

Already having received his certificate in the film program at Saddleback College, director Tim Tran brought two films to the event Saturday afternoon. The horror-crime film “Distress” and the pot influenced western “4:20 to Yuma” hit the screen, bringing laughs and gasps to the audience.

“It is tough coming from a low income family and going into film,” Tran said. “But Saddleback makes it possible by being well equipped.”

“I’ve always been into movies,” Tran said. “My dad and I watched a lot of movies growing up. I didn’t think of going into film making before because I didn’t think it was possible. I thought it would take a lot of investment, but the Saddleback film program makes it possible for people from my background.”

Not only are the filmmakers getting their careers started, but individuals behind the scenes are getting their practice in too.

Producer Sohaib Ali produced the film “4:20 to Yuma.” This would be Ali’s second film to produce, but on a much larger scale. Ali goes into detail his involvement in the film as well as his experience producing.

“Producing is managing all the egos, putting the crew together, managing the money,” Ali said. “You get the equipment, fill out the paper work and solve problems more or less. We worked hour and hours on pre-production, but it brought us close as a unit. Everyone who worked on 4:20, I am going to remember forever because of the work they put into the project and everyone left it all out there.”

Co-produced Alexander Potter, who helped in “4:20 to Yuma” and headed “Dollface,” expands on what it means to produce films as he has worked on various films.

“Basically, you are the president of the film,” Potter said. “If someone doesn’t do their job, it all lands on you. You make sure everything gets done, from start to finish.”

With every success, there are bound to be complications along the way. “4:20 to Yuma” was partially filmed in the Calico Ghost Town in Calico, California. The film was nearly shut down by the district due to the location insurance not covered by the county.

Saddleback CTVR Lab technician Scott Greene makes sure that proper paper work is filled out including location, liability and waivers.

Greene went to the district, lobbying on behalf of “4:20 to Yuma” to continue production.

“’4:20 to Yuma,’ for example, was a legal nightmare,” Greene said. “The entity didn’t have anything where people liability could be covered because the county owned Calico and the students didn’t know that. The district wanted to shut down production because the paper work hadn’t gotten back to the district because they wanted to be additionally insured. I went to the district and said ‘There is a lot already invested.’ After talked with the Vice Chancellor of Financial Services, she convinced the board to let the production go on, but this is what we have to do in this industry.”

With films taking a long time to produce, the directors’ gears are already turning in preparation for next year’s festival. Let the imagination fly and films begin.