Six months of work boiled down to 23 minutes.
“Reaping Words,” the film that A.J. Clark ’16 wrote, produced, directed and starred in, represents six months of eye-opening work for his THE 498 Senior Seminar. “Over the summer, I knew that I wanted to do a film,” he said. “I spent June and July trying to come up with ideas. It was overwhelming to get this thing off the ground, develop characters, and think about it constantly.”
For the average budding filmmaker, such an undertaking might be all consuming, but for Clark, who is an honorable mention all-conference linebacker on the 12-1 Wabash football team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA DIII playoffs, much of “Reaping Words” was produced in between his gridiron obligations.
The idea to build a screenplay came to him in July. He wrote about 70 percent of the script during football training camp. By the Wittenberg game (Clark references weeks by the opponent faced), the script was completed and following an abbreviated preproduction period – a month of work in a week, Clark says – shooting started in October. The film’s final scene was shot during Monon Bell Week, and he edited in spurts during the Little Giants’ playoff run.
To pull this off, Clark had a dedicated crew of five to assist, but spent much of his time planning shots and editing the script as he went along, essentially leaving only Friday and Saturday nights to rehearse his lines before shooting most Sundays.
He points to the final scene where he and his on-screen mom (played by his real-life mom, Terra McMillian) talk on a bench in the Arboretum. It was shot during Fall Break, so no other students were around. But the schedule had to be kept. Clark lined up the shots, got the cameras and audio rolling, and often ran into position to deliver his lines. Scene ends, reset the cameras, and repeat.
“Wearing so many hats at the same time was pretty difficult,” said the product of Higley, AZ, “especially when trying to act because I was also a director, producer, and writer. If a line doesn’t work, or I have to find this prop, that affected my acting performance.”
While Clark’s original goal for the project was to produce something for his acting portfolio – he’s appeared on the Wabash stage multiple times as well – he never lost sight of the inspiration for the project. The struggle represented in the film mirrors his efforts to get his film made while fulfilling his obligations as a student and teammate.
“That struggle was the inspiration,” he said. “The drive comes from your heart, from your passion, and the idea came from the struggle in trying to establish myself. I want to act and would love to direct.”
Clark says that “Reaping Words” has taught him the value of collaboration.
“I feel good about this project,” he said. “I learned how important other people are in the production. I now appreciate all of the roles like cinematographer, lighting director, props, and producers. I have an idea how massive the effort is in films. The list of credits in a regular movie makes so much more sense.
“If you have a vision, you definitely want to foster it, but it’s good to let others share in that.”