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Catastrophe doesn’t deter 16-year-old from completing festival entry

Charlie Zeneri directs Charlie Zeneri

In the spring of 2021, Charlie Zeneri made a movie. Titled
Haphephobia, the film was their entry in FunMill Films Fest’s second annual timed film competition. Building off a single opening script page, Zeneri had only a few weeks to conceive, shoot and edit their short film.

The 16-year-old wrote a script, cast their friends, collected props, scouted sets and shot their film. Zeneri spent the better part of a week stitching together scenes, mixing sound, color correcting images and more. Then, as Zeneri was putting the final touches on their creation, the world welcomed them to the plight of many a movie maker.

“I accidentally deleted it,” Zeneri says.”I was maybe a minute away from completing the film.” 

Working on their edit via an online post-production service, Zeneri contacted the company to see if they could retrieve the file - or any of their previous work. 

“I deleted everything besides the final project so I would have enough storage space to export it in the highest quality,” they explain. Nothing could be retrieved.

Haphephobia was gone.

The shoot must go on

Zeneri admits to taking a moment to accept what happened by having a bit of a cry. But they wouldn’t concede defeat. Instead Zeneri decided to use the little time they had left to conceive, cast, shoot and edit an entirely new film, La Coeur

Reshooting an entire film is a massive undertaking on every level. Back to the Future might serve as the best example. Director Robert Zemekis shot six weeks of footage - the better part of the entire film - with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. Watching dailies, Zemekis couldn’t shake the feeling that Stoltz’s performance, while good, wasn’t conveying the lighter tone he was looking for. Convincing his producer, Steven Spielberg, that starting over would be better,
Back to the Future was scrapped, Michael J. Fox was hired, and the film shot all over again.

Zeneri, however, faced a bigger challenge than Zemekis. They were battling diminishing days, a paralyzing ticking clock, and a much smaller cast and crew: Charlie Zeneri alone.

We recently caught up with Zeneri to find out how they tackled this amazing feat - and how they felt about winning the FunMill Fireball award at FunMill Films Fest 2.

Zeneri directs her friend and fellow cast mate during her first shoot.

Midwest Movie Maker:
How did you become interested in filmmaking?

Charlie Zeneri (CZ): It really sprouted from my love for movies and storytelling. I like to use art for self expression, and film seemed to be the perfect deal. I started writing small movie ideas and making short films.

Midwest Movie Maker: How did you hear about FunMill Films Fest and how did you get involved?

CZ: Well it started when my friend Rich Stano invited me to be an actor for a 48 Hour film. I met Jake Cole and a bunch of filmmakers who are my friends now. Jake invited me to work on his film for last year’s fest, Fostered. I played a teen who save’s her sister from our foster mother. This year I decided to try to make my own film.

Midwest Movie Maker: Tell everyone a bit about your initial film. How did that shoot go?

CZ: So the first film, Haphephobia, I made with my four closest friends. I wrote characters that fit the personalities of all of us.

It went really well. To be honest, I favored it a bit more than my second film. It was much more fun to work with my friends. 

My best friend, Bella DePasquale, has worked with me for every film I’ve made. She was in the 48 with me, she was my sister in Fostered, and she was the main character in Haphephobia. I love working with her because she is professional and fun. 

My other friend has worked with me on all of my short films. She is an incredibly talented actress. I actually hope she goes into voice acting. I wish everyone could have seen her performance. It was chilling. 

My two other friends were new to the experience. I put my trust in them and it paid off magnificently. Both really put their all into their performances.

Midwest Movie Maker: What happened then? 

CZ: We had completed filming in a day. I spent a little over two days editing the film. I did the sound mixing, cuts, visual changes, alignment, and so forth. I was putting on the final touch when I accidentally deleted it. I was maybe a minute away from completing the film. 

I had a cry and tried to retrieve anything I could, but to no avail. I deleted everything except the final project to ensure I had enough storage space to export the movie in the highest quality. I’ve learned from this mistake, and I hope it never happens again.

The cast of Haphephobia

Midwest Movie Maker:
You tried to get everyone back together, but it wasn't working. Can you give us an example of why? Cast members with other commitments?

CZ: Honestly, I knew, with the end of the school year coming up, all of my friends would be busy with exams. I didn’t want to intrude, and I didn’t even feel like reshooting, even if I could. I’d lost my work for the first time, and it was devastating emotionally. 

Midwest Movie Maker: What made you decide to shoot the film again, but as the whole cast and crew?

CZ: I had thought about giving up many times. I was mentally and physically exhausted and didn’t want to redo everything. I had put my all into the first film, and I wasn’t sure if I could put my all into another. 

But my mom had sponsored me to enter the festival and paid for all of the costumes and props I had needed for Haphephobia. I didn’t want her effort, my friends' effort, or my effort, to be in vain. 

Midwest Movie Maker: Was there a reason you wrote something brand new?

CZ: During my moping stage, I realized I would need to completely scratch the first film, since I didn’t want anyone to play a role I had made for my friends. I was stubborn about it, so I threw around some ideas. When I figured out what I wanted to do, I stayed up until 3 a.m. one night writing it.

The title of the film is Le Coeur. It’s about a grim reaper escorting a stubborn and whiny kid who committed suicide to the afterlife. It is both a dark comedy and a drama.

Midwest Movie Maker: How much work was it to shoot and edit it all again? Did you sleep at all?

CZ: It took three days to get everything filmed. I had to film in 85 degree weather for five hours wearing a turtleneck, a cape, a heavy coat and jeans. 

I was also filming right next to a road, so there was a lot of pausing for cars and attempting to get lines done in one take. 

I filmed one character each day then spliced it all together. So I was talking to myself and acting with myself for three days, and that was difficult. 

The editing took me a while because I had to align the clips and cut out a lot. Although I was going to bed later than usual, I still made sure to get good sleep, eat three meals and drink water. I have an autoimmune disease, so I value my health greatly. If you’re tired and hungry, you don’t work as well. It’s better to take a break and have higher quality work then to get it all done in one go.

Midwest Movie Maker: Were you surprised to win the FunMill Fireball award? 

CZ: I was very surprised, honestly. I was hoping I would at least get a bit of recognition from submitting a film so I could make friends and talk to people. I was hoping people would just recognize me from the film and ask a few questions. The award was a wonderful surprise and an honor. 

I chose this field to inspire people. It’s my main goal and my entire purpose. Hearing people say they were inspired by not only the film’s content, but the story behind it, was the greatest feeling. 

Midwest Movie Maker: What's your next project?

CZ: I have so many in mind. I’ll probably wait until school is out, then I’ll spin a wheel and do whatever idea it lands on.

Midwest Movie Maker:. Do you hope to continue into filmmaking as a career?

CZ: I’m going to college to be a nurse, but filmmaking is my passion. With film, it’s hard to get on solid ground since you’re success isn’t guaranteed. I will always be making something, whether it turns in to a career is dependent on the audience.

Midwest Movie Maker:. Is there anywhere readers can see your movie? 

CZ: I will be posting Le Coeur on my YouTube channel, MEI Productions.


Melissa said…
What an amazing story of perseverance in the face of challenge!

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