Seven years after the motion picture arts (MPA) major welcomed its first students to the Arts Academy, the program's earliest graduates are now starting to make their mark in the film industry. Among those alumni who are blazing a trail for future Interlochen filmmakers is Chad Engel (IAA 2007-09) who is currently writing and directing his first film, "Ayden and the Stork."
The short film is a modern fairy tale about a young boy who sets out to capture the stork that will soon deliver his newborn sister. "Ayden and the Stork" not only features Engel's storytelling and directing, but his special effects artistry as well, which he has developed since graduating from Interlochen.
"Chad was always a student who had a gift of wonder and the fantastic," remembered Michael Mittelstaedt, director of the MPA program. "When we first met, he showed me short films he'd made with other-worldly creatures. The combination of his sense of story, charming personality and his skilled production coordination always seemed to earn him a dedicated crew and cast. And that is certainly still the case as he continues on in his career."
While the MPA faculty strongly encourage students to attend college after graduating, Engel decided to take a different path, going straight to Los Angeles in search of experience - and he found it. He took a position at Burman Studio, a special effects shop in Burbank, California, and also assisted Kazuhiro Tsuji, a renowned special effects and make-up artist known for his work on the remake of "Planet of the Apes" among other films.
"He is truly entrepreneurial," said Michael Mittelstaedt of his former student. "He is one of a few students I've ever known who could work in the business straight out of Interlochen. He just creates his own opportunities."
With his first large-scale production, Engel did indeed create his own opportunities with an original story that took six months to write and the tenacity to find the resources to make his vision a reality. Engel and his partners sought and received a Panavision New Filmmaker grant, allowing them to shoot on actual film instead of relying on digital cameras. And Engel brought his own special effects experience to make a visually striking film in spite of a relatively meager budget.
Throughout the process, Engel said he has drawn on the skills he learned at Interlochen. "At the Academy, I learned a whole lot about storytelling. I liked making movies before I came to Interlochen but they never had a structure. And I learned how to find people's strengths and to make the most of those strengths through collaboration."
At present, filming is complete for "Ayden and the Stork" but Engel and his collaborators are still trying to fund post-production. Once the 25-minute film is complete, they plan to show it at festivals and hope to find funding for a feature-length version.