Be cool guys, but we might have just found the next J.J. Abrams.
Fifth-year video production major Justin Rogers has spent the past year writing, directing and producing his first feature film, sci-fi thriller “The Overlords.” This is a rarity among OU students, as only a handful of student-run features have been released in the past few years.
Rogers, who has been involved with three other student features since his freshman year, said he never thought he would be able to produce his first film while still in school, but changing technologies and a little confidence boost proved otherwise.
“Junior year I was involved with a team that won the 48-hour shootout at the dawn of the DSLR revolution,” he said. “It was a combination of the confidence that we gained from winning the shootout and the advanced technological aspect of the DSLR cameras made me believe that I could make a feature-length film.”
Though AVW Productions is managing the cost of the film’s screening, Rogers financed the entire project himself by taking out extra student loans and using fundraising websites like IndieGoGo for a total cost of about $3,000.
With an adviser’s permission, students are given access to Ohio University’s wide variety of filming equipment and have full control over the production, but time restraints, necessary expenses and commitments to schoolwork make creating a student film no easy feat.
“Trying to direct well while making sure production was still moving forward were definitely the biggest challenges,” Rogers said. “I’ve always struggled with balancing those roles. I didn’t really have time to polish the script, so not only was I doing a lot of rewriting as we were shooting, which makes it difficult to prepare as a director.”
“Overlords” assistant director Gavin McClellan said that though the crew spent about 12 to 14 hours each weekend working on the film, Rogers always pulled through.
“He is a machine,” he said. “He has a job and goes to school while doing post-production on ‘The Overlords’ and working on another project we just finished for AVW Sandbox.”
Rogers, who said he experienced a lot of sleepless nights over the course of the film’s production, is more modest in regards to his success.
“You either sink or swim,” he said. “You either just completely let everything go to hell or you find a way to make it work.”
Rogers said he’s been devoted to film-making since he was a child, citing the work of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick as his biggest inspirations. Though he said he’s always been a sci-fi fan, he appreciates films with a social message, one of the central themes of “The Overlords.”
“I’m becoming more and more interested in social and political themes in movies and exploring those aspects of human nature,” he said. “I was trying to show a diversity of humans, show people of different walks of life, different races, different backgrounds. We see a girl with a psychological disorder, two characters who are dealing with sexual identity and a character who is a drug user.”
“The Overlords” follows three parallel stories of humans who discover that aliens have been controlling the technological advancement of Earth since as long as humans have inhabited it, but Rogers emphasized that this is not an “invasion” movie.
“I wanted the challenge of dealing with separate storylines,” he said. “In a way it was like directing four separate films, and each one has its own distinct feel.”
Though the storylines shine, Rogers contributes much of the film’s success to its visual appearance, which he credits to director of photography Josh Ries, a close friend and integral part of Rogers’ winning 48-hour shootout team.
“Prior to working with him I’ve never been too happy with how my films look visually,” he said. “No matter how bumbling or incoherent I am when I’m explaining something, he finds a way to make it work.”
McClellan agreed, adding that Ries’ work helped bring the film to the next level.
“He was able to get some great aerial shots out of the window of his plane as he flew to California,” he said. “They really gave a sense of production value to the film beyond what we actually had.”
Ries said he found the work to be a fun challenge.
“Justin’s material has always been darker,” he said. “There was a fine line between being to underexposed and being too overexposed and Justin really likes to play on that line a lot.”
Directors must work closely with their visual team because they are responsible for bringing the film to life, and miscommunications can easily bring the whole production crashing down. Luckily, Ries and Rogers said they make a great team.
“It’s really easy to work with Justin because he has a strong vision of what he wants the film to look like, yet he is still open to new ideas,” Ries said. “We understand each other on set and there really wasn’t ever a time where one of us had to explain our reasons behind a decision, we just communicated very easily. We were always prepared to throw the plan aside for better ideas that we would come up with on the fly.”
Ries said he can’t take all of the credit for the film’s success, citing Rogers seemingly endless drive and devotion.
“He never stops moving and is always working on something,” he said. “‘The Overlords’ is entirely his creation and without him I never would have even thought about shooting a feature film. He created an environment where all of us could come together and do the work that we’re all so passionate about.”