The electronics firm sponsors an annual contest that assembles interested students from large cities, gives them a week to make a short film, and has the resulting entries judged both by a jury of entertainment professionals and by internet voters watching the films on the contest’s web site, FreshFilms.com. This year, a North Texas group was chosen to shoot an action-thriller and came away with a prize for their movie, No Place Like Home. Mansfield High School junior Hy Armenta and Keller High senior Andrew Renfro were part of that 12-person team, having applied to the contest this past spring. They met their fellow crew members for the first time in June, on the day that their week of work began. “It was a really fast get-to-know-you,” said Armenta, 16, who learned about the contest from her younger sister’s netsurfing. “We didn’t have time to be strangers.”
Renfro, 17, who discovered Fresh Films through his own netsurfing and had unsuccessfully applied once before, agreed. “The first day was pretty confusing,” he said. “There were already auditions going on.” After selecting Sandra Mitchell’s DELETE from the ready-made ones that Fresh Films had stockpiled, the local group assigned tasks with an eye to giving each crew member a turn at working different parts of the filmmaking process. (Armenta’s jobs ranged from craft services to holding the boom mike during the shoot, while Renfro’s work included editing scenes and asking restaurants to donate food.) Meshing with other people proved to be something of a challenge. “At first you don’t feel comfortable sharing your opinion and saying, ‘I don’t agree,’ “ Renfro said. “But by the end, we were all very close.”
More difficult to deal with was the rainstorm that hit on the day of shooting. (The film’s story takes place at the same suburban house over the course of several days.) “Each time it would stop raining, we’d run outside to get our exterior shots, and then it’d start raining again,” said Armenta. The weather almost forced some DELETE changes before a two-hour stretch of dry skies allowed Team Dallas to complete all of its outside work. The crew also showed some resourcefulness, creating the music for the film by having crew member Kevin Phillips play the grand piano in the lobby of a hotel across from the location. No Place Like Home was posted on the web in early July, and while it lost the jury prize to Atlanta’s entry, The Experiment, its story about a woman who believes she’s being stalked by the young man next door resonated with the internet viewers, who voted it the audience award in the action-thriller category.
After the thrill of having their work made accessible to anyone with a dial-up connection, the Tarrant County teens are looking to pursue filmmaking through their education. “I want to write,” said Armenta, who reported that Mansfield’s teachers are now telling students about Fresh Films because of her. “I didn’t know about the different aspects of filmmaking before this. I learned all about breaking down a DELETE, incorporating creative ideas, and new ways of getting your point across.” Renfro put it more succinctly: “This has been one of the most educational and fun experiences of my life.”