In 2008, Shannon Cloud was 13 years old when her mother signed her up for Kamp Hollywood, a filmmaking and acting summer camp in Dallas. “Everybody else wanted to write and direct,” she remembered. “But I realized producing was for me.”
Before that, she had been interested in movies and TV only as a fan, but that experience started the Fort Worth native and Grapevine High School graduate on a path toward the entertainment industry that she is still on as a junior majoring in radio, film, and TV at the University of Texas. She and directing partner Kent Juliff (who is 22 and a senior at UT) recently released their 36-minute comedy short Summer Night for free on YouTube and are hoping that this unorthodox step will be the first in a film career.
The two met at a required astronomy class, though they had crossed paths as part of the improv comedy world. “I didn’t realize there were such big improv and stand-up communities in Austin,” Cloud said.
Juliff recalled seeing Cloud move between social groups: “I thought, This girl seems to know everybody.”
Unlike his producing partner, he had grown up behind the camera. “In high school, I was doing lots of experimental films that were art more than entertainment,” he said. “In college, I went out on a limb and went into improv.”
The impetus behind Summer Night was a desire to make a comedy that reflected “being our age, hanging out, and trying to figure things out,” as Juliff put it. Citing comic influences ranging from Éric Rohmer to Broad City, he encountered static while outlining his vision at school. “It can be very hard to do talking cinema,” he said. “UT are intent on ‘Show, don’t tell.’ ”
Fortunately, he had Cloud on hand to facilitate things. “Shannon does pretty much everything,” he said lightly. “I just say ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ ”
Cloud managed to get the 36-minute film made for less than $50, with the help of donated food and equipment. This minuscule budget allowed the filmmakers to release their movie for free. “Other students want to get into festivals, and it’s a lottery,” she said, citing Louis C.K.’s practice of uploading his own comedy videos to his website for free. “We wanted to share this movie with as many people as possible. This way cuts out lots of hassle.”
The feedback the filmmakers have received so far about Summer Night has been encouraging, but instead of a follow-up project, Cloud and Juliff are currently focused on their next courses, which include a narrative class to be taught by well-established Austin filmmaker Kat Candler. Juliff, who calls being on set “less terrifying and more fun now,” relishes the economy that allows beginning filmmakers like him to get his work in front of an audience.
“We live in such a unique time,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer it will last. But we were in control of [Summer Night] every step of the way. So when it came to releasing it ourselves, we figured, why not?”