ANN ARBOR, MI — Jason Fine mentions top director classics — Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’ and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ — when you ask him about which movies to stick in. her head.
The last film mentioned by the University of Michigan film student is David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” the story (with some creative license) of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s steadily declining relationship. with his college friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin.
Fine’s latest film, “Burn It All Down,” is about a maniacal filmmaker who chooses between his high school best friend and a budding career in Los Angeles.
For Fine, the parallels go beyond the great films that inspire him. The work to put this project together required the same rigor shown by its protagonist, ranging from traveling the world in search of cast and crew to raising $20,000 and more.
It’s hard work, but Fine said he loves it.
“I’m probably going to sink into depression once this comes out, because of how much I enjoy the actual process of what it’s like to make a movie,” he said.
Fine came to UM from Westchester County in New York and was looking to major in sports management. Once he realized he needed to take stats for this, he quickly looked for something else.
He found a screenwriting class at UM’s Film, Television, and Media department, part of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts — a department that includes Hollywood veterans, such as Jim Burnstein (“Renaissance Man”), Nancy Savoca (“If These Walls Could Talk”) and Jane Leahy of AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Burnstein’s classes, as well as the department’s documentary film classes, are “brilliant” and rival film schools in Los Angeles, Fine said. However, he discovered that to learn the ins and outs of making a movie, he had to pirate it himself.
“If you want to learn anything about production or post-production, you have to do it on your own,” he said.
Fine began with a script for “Burn Everything,” exploring themes of how jealousy and sex can destroy a close friendship. His screenplay won third place in UM’s Hopwood Award screenplay category, earning him a few thousand dollars to start thinking about making it into a production.
Fine pushed the budget to $20,000 with a few grants, a few small investments and his remaining Bar Mitzvah money, he said. The next hurdle was finding cast and crew, especially a lead actor who could channel the protagonist’s “lust, desire, and obsession.”
When calls to UM’s music, drama and dance department yielded few results, Fine said he was lucky to find UM junior Caleb White in the short film. another student. The discovery propelled “Burn Everything” through the rest of its production, Fine said.
“It starts and ends with Caleb, the performance he put on, and what he was doing just in pre-production was really special,” he said.
In some ways, white isn’t an obvious choice for the film’s troubled protagonist. When he was 12, the Detroit-area native started the Caleb White Project, a non-profit organization that helps the homeless through youth volunteers. That motivation from an early age is definitely accessible for White’s character in “Burn Everything,” he said, but the other negative aspects of the character were fun to explore, he said.
“Yeah, he’s very foul-driven,” said White, now 19. “Things that I might never say in real life, the character would definitely say to other people. Very bold and cheeky things…which can be fun to play sometimes, and just a different side of the place where you can be.
With the lead in place and a few trusted associates on the team, Fine worked to flesh out the production by calling around the world, he said.
“If they had a movie program, they would hear about us. I probably did at least 200 interviews,” Fine said, adding that there are now 95 crew members working on sound, editing, color and visual effects.
Some members of the writing team come from as far away as South Korea, Lebanon and England. It required many Zoom sessions for virtual collaboration, Fine said, requiring him to be awake at odd hours.
“Time zone differences are killing me,” he said. “I get up very early or very late, but when you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t really matter. You just want to keep pushing until you can’t anymore.
In a few months, “Burning Everything” will be over. That means pitching it to festivals and distributors. Hopefully the hard work pays off, Fine said before quoting a quote from screenwriter William Goldman, another Hollywood great.
“Nobody knows anything,” he said. “We might feel good about it, and it can come out and everyone can just hate it.”
“But from my side, it’s just a really exciting time,” Fine said. “We are thrilled with the number of people I have been able to meet and what the experience has been like.”
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