Grad students tap Routt County for film

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— Remember these names: producers Jason Berman, Richard Rosen, Jason Schuster, Aaron Biller and director Sam Goldberg.

Berman and Rosen are 20 years old. Schuster and Biller are 19. Goldberg is 27. They're in Steamboat right now shooting a 20-minute short film with a $50,000 budget and aspirations to be making films for the rest of their lives.

Most of last week, the crew was on the grounds of Vista Verde Ranch. Tucked in the woods is a log cabin. Horses are kept nearby and mountains rise in all directions. It is the perfect setting for the story of an 18-year-old boy named Donny who escapes from his abusive family to a utopian community.

"Rift" is a dark drama. Not long after it starts, Donny comes home from school only to be beaten badly by his stepfather for no particular reason.

Apparently, it is not the first time.

Donny runs away and finds himself at the cabin in the woods where a small cult/utopian community lives under the leadership of an older man.

"It's a fantasy," Berman said. "But in the end, the fantasy turns against him."

As people have conflicts with Donny, they disappear. Pretty soon, the fantasy has taken over and Donny has to escape from it.

"Donny is confused," said Rosen, who wrote the story. "He is really weak in a sense. He's never stood up for anything in his life."

The movie ends and everything was in Donny's mind. The film leaves him in a catatonic state, which turns out to be the only place he can escape both his mind and his family life.

"People compare it to the Sixth Sense or Fight Club or Beautiful Mind," Berman said. "It's one of those movies where you don't know the difference between what is and isn't reality."

The crew will be shooting "Rift" through June 3 in locations at the Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, downtown at Johnny B Goods Diner, in the alley behind the Smokehouse and along county roads.

The final product will be used as Goldberg's graduate thesis at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.

Berman talked the crew into spending a little extra money and time to shoot in Steamboat instead of staying in Los Angeles.

"I'm not sure if I would have done this project if we couldn't come to Steamboat," Berman said. His family has been coming to Steamboat for 15 years, spending both summer and winter vacations at a second home in the area. "I love it here. I'm going to raise my children here, even if it means that I have to work in Los Angeles and travel back."

Berman has been making connections in Steamboat since he was very young. He has huge green eyes, a striking charisma for someone his age and an enthusiasm that draws people to him.

Berman met local filmmaker L.D. Shoffner on a cruise ship when he was 10 years old and Shoffner was a week away from getting married.

"He let me run the theater while I was on the boat," Berman said. They've been friends ever since and Shoffner volunteered to shoot a "Behind the Scenes" video for "Rift," Berman said.

Goldberg and Berman came to Steamboat in March to scout for places to shoot.

Then Berman returned with a skeleton crew for open auditions, which were held at The Depot May 17. The auditions resulted in local talent being added to the cast. "This 71-year-old woman came into the auditions and told us there were four things she still wanted to do in her life, and one of them as to be an extra in a movie," Berman said. "So, she is going to be an extra in the diner scene."

On May 19, Berman and his crew walked the streets of downtown Steamboat talking people into extra roles in the film.

The full crew arrived last Tuesday with seven professional actors from Los Angeles and more than $100,000 in donated film and equipment.

"The film industry wants to support student filmmakers," Berman said.

"They never know who you will be later in your career and if you will want to use them in your future films."

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