TU students help turn S.E. Hinton's 'Some of Tim's Stories' into short films
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/18/12 at 4:25 AM
It takes about 20 people and the better part of a Wednesday evening to bring one of Tim's stories to life.
Most of the people crowded into this small office with the Hille Foundation's suite on the seventh floor of the old Oklahoma Natural Gas building downtown are students in the University of Tulsa's Department of Film Studies.
They are manning the boom microphones, adjusting the lights that raise the room's temperature to Oklahoma summer levels, calling out the scene and taking numbers before whacking the clapper board together, and operating the two film cameras aimed at five people acting out this scene of a family gathered for the reading of a will.
"The Will" is one of three short films that have been adapted from S. E. Hinton's 2007 book, "Some of Tim's Stories." The production of the films has been a semester-long project for the students in TU Professor Jeff Van Hanken's course on film narrative.
Overseeing this evening's shoot is director Tim Hunter, who made his professional debut 30 years ago when he directed the film version of Hinton's novel "Tex," the first of Hinton's best-selling books to be turned into a movie.
And, just as she did in "Tex," "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish" - the other locally shot films made from her novels - Hinton has an on-screen role in this short film. She's one of the family members, the peacemaker of an aunt who tries to defuse the confrontation between Tim, played by John Cruncleton, and his stepfather, played by Bob Ball.
Two other short films have already been shot. Van Hanken directed "No White Light," which was shot at Phat Philly's restaurant on South Peoria.
Ed Ornelas, whose credits include directing and editing episodes of TV's "Grey's Anatomy" as well as the feature film "The Legend of Billy Fail," directed the second short film, "The Visit," with a basement room of a TU dorm standing in for the meeting room at a minimum-security prison.
"Ed and I go back to the University of Texas, where we were students," said Van Hanken, who wrote the script for "The Legend of Billy Fail." "And Susie has been friends with Tim ever since he came here to do 'Tex,' so his being able to take part is really to her credit."
Bringing together well-regarded professional directors with TU students and some of the city's best stage actors was a mixture Van Hanken thought was necessary.
"This started about a year ago, when Susie Hinton and Teresa Miller first discussed with me the idea of turning these stories into films," Van Hanken said. "To me, the real challenge of the project was how we were going to do something that would meet the standard set by the material.
"Susie has worked with people like Francis Ford Coppola in adapting her books into films," he said. "Those are major Hollywood films. We were going to be doing something that was a lot more on a grass-roots level, so the production values were going to be different."
For one thing, filming was going to need to be done in the course of a single night. The three stories chosen from the 14 interlinked vignettes that make up "Some of Tim's Stories" are among the briefest in the book (the text of "The Will" fills about two pages).
"We also chose them because they were filmable," Hinton said, during a break in the shooting. "I did the scripts and fleshed things out a little - turned a lot of what had been the main character's thoughts into dialogue, things like that."
"Some of Tim's Stories," which was originally published by the University of Oklahoma Press, has an unusual structure, in that there's no character in the book named Tim. Rather, Tim is the writer of the stories, who has translated the events of his life into fiction.
However, Hinton said, "we got rid of all that right at the start. It's something that you can pick up as you read the book, but to try to get that across in a film would just be too confusing. So the main character is Tim."
The themes of "Some of Tim's Stories" are familiar to Hinton's readers: a young man's struggles to find some purpose, some solid foundation, for his life that has been marred by violence and loss.
What is different about "Some of Tim's Stories" is that the characters are older, the consequences of one's actions can be more dire, and the prose is pared down to its essence.
One element of the project is that the TU students are to handle the various production crew jobs.
"But they do a different job on each of the shoots," Van Hanken said. "One week the person who is the director of photography will be handling the sound, or the gaffer will be the assistant to the director.
"The idea is to give them a real sense of how a film set operates," he said. "Film is the only art form that people think they can do just by pushing a button. But there is so much more, so many thousands of details that go into making a film that you really can't know until you do it for yourself, where you watch the care someone takes in crafting and shooting a scene that may end up on the cutting room floor."
For Hunter, who in the years since "Tex" has become an in-demand director whose credits include episodes of such series as "Mad Men," "Glee" and "American Horror Story," this project is almost - but not exactly - like a vacation.
"Television shows are shot on such a tight schedule," he said. "You may have to shoot seven or eight pages of the script a day. If each of those pages is a separate scene, at a different location that you have to light a certain way - it can get crazy. So to shoot a four-page script in one location, that's a breeze by comparison.
"And the students are doing a good job keeping up with the pace," Hunter said. "We're approaching this like it was a TV episode shoot, and they're doing a good job."
Van Hanken was also adamant about the quality of the talent in front of the cameras.
"So many times when you're making a film in college, you end up casting your friends to be actors," Van Hanken said. "I thought it would be good for the students to work with actors who are capable of knocking a scene out of the park.
"In fact, during the first shoot, the student who was the sound man said to me, 'It's great to hear real acting, even if all I'm doing is recording the sound,' " Van Hanken said. "The film Ed did is really just John and David (Lawrence) at a table. And they were there for hours, going over this scene again and again, and Ed was really impressed with how natural they were."
Because this is a semester-long project, it will likely be early next year before the three short films shot this month will be shown. Van Hanken said the films were described from the beginning as "webisodes," which means they will likely be shown only on the Internet - though exactly when and how is still being worked out.
"What I would love to happen," Van Hanken said, "is for the department to be able to make this a regular format for the Narrative II class, to have great directors to work with our students and local actors to create new works. And it would be great if we could always work with material from writers as good as Susie Hinton."
Hinton would also like to see the project go on and would be happy if "Some of Tim's Stories" were a part of it.
"Maybe they could take one of the longer stories and spread out making that film over the course of the entire semester," she said.
But right now, Hinton has something a bit more pressing on her mind - namely, touching up her makeup and returning to her place on the set of "The Will," to serve as the voice of reason and comfort in the midst of a highly charged moment in one of her character Tim's stories.
Original Print Headline: Short films use Hinton for material
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
A clapper board indicates the start of another take on the set of the short film "The Will" being shot at the 624 Boston Building in Tulsa. TU Professor Jeff Van Hanken is producing a series of short films that will be shown on the Internet, based on S.E. Hinton's book "Some of Tim's Stories." JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Cast members David Lawrence and the author S.E. Hinton chat between takes on the set of the short film "The Will" being shot at the 624 Boston Building in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World