Reel World Vermont: NYU Film Students Create A Quarantine Film House
Part One of GIFF’s Student Filmmaker Showcase Series
by GIFF Intern Lauren Malenchini
When Covid-19 sent film students home last Spring, production came to an abrupt and stunning halt. A group of NYU Tisch students from the Film, TV and Acting programs were faced with a choice: sit back and loose a semester of filming, or dig deep, get creative and find a way to make production happen. In what sounds like a great pitch for a reality tv show, on September 1st the cast and crew of Reelhouse VT relocated to Vermont. In a remote cabin, 17 dedicated students isolated together for 3 months to hone the craft they love and resume production safely. In this interview, I spoke with Tess Lamhaouar of NYU, who detailed her experience with Reelhouse VT.
GIFF: What is your background in film?
Tess Lamhaouar: I was born and raised in Greenwich. Growing up, I played sports and didn’t have an interest in film. While applying to college, I researched Tisch Film School at NYU and saw that their application asked for short stories. I had written short stories in high school, so I applied and ended up getting accepted. Now, I’m majoring in Film and Television with a minor in Producing.
GIFF: What is Reelhouse of Vermont?
Tess Lamhaouar: The Reelhouse of Vermont is a group of 17 NYU Tisch students from the Film/TV and Acting programs who relocated to a remote cab in in Vermont to safely produce as much film content as possible during 3 months of the pandemic.
GIFF: What inspired you and your classmates to move to Vermont to film?
Tess Lamhaouar: We came up with the idea of filming in a quarantine house when Covid-19 hit and we were sent home for the semester last spring. All of our production classes were cancelled since we couldn’t meet in person or work on set. Toward the end of that semester I got on a FaceTime call with a few friends and we threw around the idea of living in a house together to produce films. I became the Executive Producer in the filming process along with three other friends, and started organizing, securing equipment, researching houses and reaching out to crew right away. Our goal was to create a place that replicated the experience of filming at school.
GIFF: What was pre-production like?
Tess Lamhaouar: We started looking for houses on the East Coast, to stay close to New York. We had quite a few international students from Hong Kong, London, and Canada as part of the crew, so it was easiest for them to get to New York and drive a short distance. We settled on Vermont because the scenery there is just phenomenal and would look great on film. The real dealbreaker for us in terms of finding a place was the landlord. Most places did not allow a group of 17 college kids to stay for three months, especially during Covid. Luckily, the house we found in Vermont had
a landlord who agreed to work with us. The crew consisted of seven people majoring in Film and TV. The other 10 people were from NYU’s Acting program. From the original planning of production to the final production crew, there were about three cycles of people.
GIFF: What was the production process?
Tess Lamhaouar: Each week, we filmed multiple projects. On the weekdays we were usually filming two projects, while also taking online classes. Weekday projects relied on who had free time to perform certain roles and revolved around people’s class schedules and sharing the camera. Monday through Thursday we shot for about five hours a day. The weekends were spent filming larger projects with all hands on deck. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we would shoot for 12 hours a day. We ended up making 21 films total.
GIFF: What projects did you work on while there?
Tess Lamhaouar: While I was there, I worked on a total of three projects, and I am producing all 21 films that are being created. I worked in a variety of roles including Director, Writer, and Producer as well as Assistant Camera, Assistant Director, Production Design and Gaffer. I wrote and directed three films for myself. The first project is untitled but is about a young couple visiting an Airbnb where they plan to get married, but the bride finds out her fiancé has been having an affair with her best friend. The second project is also untitled and is about a younger sister longing for a relationship with her older sister. The third project is titled The Audition and is about a starving actress put to the test when tempted by a well-known director.
GIFF: What was the biggest challenge you faced during filming?
Tess Lamhaouar: At the beginning of the filming process the producers put together a schedule, and we soon realized how much work it was going to be. After the first few weeks, we got the hang of it but we didn’t have a lot of time to relax.
GIFF: What precautions did the crew have to take?
Tess Lamhaouar: We were all very serious about taking Covid-19 precautions, which is why we chose Vermont since it was one of the states that had very minimal cases. We quarantined at home for two weeks before filming and submitted negative Covid-19 tests. Once we got to the house, we quarantined together for two weeks. We would only go out to get props, coffee and groceries, and always wore masks and abided by CDC guidelines when we were off location. When filming, we were not wearing masks as all of our shoots took place at the location where we were isolating.
GIFF: What are your plans for the films?
Tess Lamhaouar: We plan on submitting the films we made to film festivals. We have two editors currently working on our films. Once finished, we are going to send them out to colorists. It should take about a year before we are ready to start submitting them to film festivals.
GIFF: What’s next?
Tess Lamhaouar: My dream is to direct. This experience allowed me to gain skills as a producer as well. This experience provided me with a range of production skills that will be useful when I step into the real world and industry. The work I did on these films actually inspired me to work toward a minor in producing!
Tess Lamhaouar: Director/Writer/Producer Diana Magnusson: Actor/Director/Writer/Editor
Sean Chow: Director/Cinematographer. Natalie Bond: Actor/Director
Henry Wolf: Director/Editor/Producer El Yza Veta: Sound Design/Editor
Jasper Wolf: Actor/Writer Marlene Lerner: Writer/Director
Devin Lee: Writer/Actor/Director Sam Barnett: Writer/Producer/Director
Laine Philips: Actor/Director Martin Luna: Director/Writer/Cinematographer
Chloe Mutebi: Actor