Inspiration can strike at any time. For Alex, a Stevenson senior, a moment of brilliance with his dad has morphed into a transformative, award-winning experience. Father and son were in the car having recently watched a documentary film about an incredibly expensive restaurant when they realized they had material to plumb.
“The guy was talking about how great his food was and there was, like, two grapes on a plate,” Alex said. “And he serves it to someone. And I thought that was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. So then we started brainstorming off of that.”
That brainstorming led to a partnership with Stevenson’s apprenticeship program.
“Apprenticeship at Stevenson turns the common assumption about apprenticeship away from a student drinking in what a master teacher does, and asks Master Teachers to follow the impulses and creative directions of their students,” Jerry Pavlon-Blum, Stevenson Director of Program Innovation and External Affairs, said.
Students immersed in the fee-based apprenticeship program spearheaded by Pavlon-Blum step beyond the regular academic program. In the process, they have designed and built furniture, composed music for performances by the New York Philharmonic, and performed at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, The Brick, Tenri Cultural Center, and Barge Music Festival. They have produced work in collaboration with the Alvin Ailey School of Dance and the Martha Graham School of Dance. Students have built robots from scratch, audio engineered recordings for Broadway stars, written award-winning plays, and presided over readings of their screenplays with a Broadway cast.
Stephanie Choriatis, an accomplished film teacher, served as Alex’s Master Teacher for a project that would turn into a ten-minute movie. Choriatis guided Alex during their weekly sessions, cast her friends in the film’s leading roles, and even featured in a supporting role.
The resulting film, “Cultivate,” has been accepted to multiple film festivals, including The Big Apple Film Festival, The Lift Off Film Festival, and the All American High School Film Festival. The film also took first place in an early round of an international festival.
“It feels really good to see your movie on the screen,” Alex said. (Note: we cannot include a link to the film because it is currently circulating various festivals.)
“Cultivate” is laced with personal touches that are emblematic of the young filmmaker’s style. The bare bones drawings that the waiter shows the restaurant reviewer are reminiscent of the sketches that Alex uses to help conduct Community Meeting as Stevenson’s Student Body President. The film reflects Alex’s growing worldview in that it presents socially conscious knowledge in a humorous package. Its premise, which is both silly and thoughtful, calls to mind Alex’s personality.
“Filmmaking happens a lot slower than I want it to happen,” Alex said, explaining what he learned during the process. “There’s a lot more steps before you actually start filming.”
In the meantime, Alex will continue to develop his love of film at Stevenson. He worked with peers on various film projects during a weekly Film Club last year, overseen by Stevenson Film Teacher Brian Gutiérrez, and is currently taking Gutiérrez’s film class. Alex says he has learned how to, “make a coherent scene just through editing,” in Gutiérrez’s class. In addition, the budding filmmaker taught himself how to use Photoshop over the course of his junior year by watching YouTube tutorials when he had finished his classwork.
“Alex is extremely comfortable at using technology to entertain himself and others,” Gutiérrez said. “He uses the professional tools of Adobe Photoshop and Apple Final Cut Pro to make clever memes, hilarious posters, and sketch films from his unique imagination. Alex has a voice and a visual style that comes through all his work. Even at a young age, he is already grasping his artistic identity, which is really remarkable.”
Alex credits his father and uncle for imbuing a love of film in him and his mother for helping him stay on task. Alex says his filmmaking idols are Guillermo Del Toro for his special effects, David Fincher for how he frames a shot, and Adam McKay for his writing.
In his final year at Stevenson, Alex remains busy.
“I want to try to make another movie,” he said, before joking, “maybe get into college, but, you know, we’re working on that.”
In college, expect inspiration to strike Alex again.