Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Hannah Silverman
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
Cheltenham, PA native Hannah Silverman got her start by submitting writing and directing shorts for her high school’s annual film festival. Now a senior in NYU’s film program, Silverman is in the midst of putting finishing touches on her thesis project and plotting next steps. Made in collaboration with several of her fellow NYU students, It Happens Every Night is an eerie venture into genre filmmaking, following a withdrawn young man whose reasons for isolating himself gradually become terrifyingly clear.
PFS: Where are you from and how did you get into making films?
HS: I’m from Cheltenham. I’ve lived there my whole life, and now I go to school at NYU studying film. I guess I got into film through writing, because I’ve always done a lot creative writing and wrote a lot of stories. Cheltenham High School has a film festival and so I started writing scripts and making these little films for the film festival every year. I guess that’s how I got into and decided I wanted to make film.
PFS: You’re in your last semester at NYU. What’s the experience been like studying film there? I imagine that’s a pretty intense environment.
HS: It’s really cool. The best thing about NYU is kind of the people that you meet here, I think. The classes teach you a lot about the craft and you get trained in the industry, but the best thing that most people get out of it are the people you meet in your classes. Those are the people that you’re going to make films with. I made a lot of really cool connections here.
PFS: Is it a pretty collaborative place?
HS: Yeah, definitely. Everyone I know is kind of making their thesis film right now. I shot mine last semester, so I’m totally booked for all of March and April because every weekend I’m on another person’s set. It’s really fun.
PFS: Have you gotten the chance to dabble in all the different aspects of filmmaking?
HS: You have the opportunity to, for sure. I pretty quickly decided that I didn’t want to be a cameraperson, or work on sound. I’ve mostly been taking writing and directing classes, just because all the technical stuff isn’t as much for me. That’s what’s cool about this school; I have a lot of friends who are studying to be DPs, so it makes it really easy to collaborate.
PFS: So tell me a little more about It Happens Every Night and how you came up with that concept.
HS: That film was kind of a big experiment in a lot of ways. It was very different from a lot of the things I make now, and a lot of things I’ve made before. It has almost no dialogue, and it’s very lighting and costume heavy. A lot of the elements came from me and my friends being like, “We want to experiment with this.” So I have a good friend named Remi Reinlib who does a lot of special effects—costume and makeup—and we thought, “What if we did something that was kind of werewolf-y?” So we designed the look of the monster’s face together. That was kind of a big experiment. There’s also a little sequence in it where text messages pop up onscreen, and we kind of wanted to learn and experiment with that type of visual effect. The whole thing was about saying, “Let’s see if can make this work.”
PFS: Had you done anything in that sort of genre-y vein before?
HS: No. Honestly not at all. The story itself was kind of an experiment and it was something we did over the summer, in-between classes. It was kind of—I don’t know, I think I take myself kind of seriously sometimes when I try to make films and this was just really fun. We wanted it to be spooky and we wanted everyone to have a good time making it.
PFS: I did want to ask about the special effects and the makeup, because even though you were working on a small scale they’re still pretty impressive. How did and your crew get the transformation to look as real as you could get it?
HS: Remi really likes doing special effects. She’s also a filmmaker, but special effects are kind of something she does on the side. I had the idea for the monster movie, and then we worked to figure out what it would take to do the face. We ended up getting this latex face piece that went over the actor’s nose area, and then the rest of the mask is filled in with a lot of makeup, and latex, and silicone. It took at least two hours everyday to put it on him. We got fake hair that comes in braids, and then you have brush it out, and then we kind of figured out how to integrate it into the actor’s face and his own hair. And for the transformation, we really just did his makeup in pieces. We did the basic beginning stuff on his face and then shot part of the transformation and then we started adding the hair and everything else. As we added to his face we kind of tried to make that look like the transformation.
PFS: I imagine editing played a big part in making that look good.
HS: Definitely. The jump cutting helps a lot. We obviously didn’t have the resources to do a CGI transformation in front of your face or anything. So a lot of it is lighting and how it’s shot, and just trying to slice everything together. I also think the music in that scene helped a lot.
PFS: Can you tell me a little more about the music?
HS: The composer, Tucker Hill, is also from Philadelphia. He went to Cheltenham High School with me. He’s a really talented musician and we’ve worked on other projects together too. I sent him this and was just like, “We’ve all been experimenting and having fun with this, do you want to give it a shot and see what you come with?” He did it in a couple of days. I think he sat and watched the movie and kind of played along on the guitar. There were a lot of cues in the score that directly referenced what was happening in the film, which he’s really good at and I think works pretty well.
PFS: Can you tell me about your thesis film?
HS: My thesis is about the end of the world, but through the perspective of these two ten-year-old kids who are both coming to terms with the end of the world, but also experiencing the nature around them during these last moments on Earth. I did it for an experimental filmmaking class. It’s sort of an abstract interpretation of what the end of the world might be like. It has a kind of environmental message, and ultimately a hopeful take on the end of the world. It’s very calm and peaceful. It’s sort of a poetic, abstract take on the end of the world from a child’s perspective.
It Happens Every Night will screen on Friday, March 9 at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.