Professor releases trailer for independent film; several students involved

Calvin film and media professor Geert Heetebrij released the trailer for his independently funded and produced feature length film, “Vronika,” last week. The film is a psychological thriller that follows a stay-at-home day trader who uses a mental visualization technique to manifest a collaborator and improve his trades. After ten years of writing and revision, the film shot last summer with a crew that included a number of current Calvin students and alumni. With post-production nearly wrapped and the trailer released, the film is now being submitted to film festivals in the hopes of finding a distributor. 

Heetebrij, who both wrote and directed the film, has been working on “Vronika” for approximately a decade. “I wrote the initial draft of the screenplay about 10 years ago, and then many rewrites since,” Heetebrij said. While the script is the most important part to get right, raising the funds is the hardest part. But by the end of 2020, the financial backing came together to start pre-production for a Michigan shoot in the summer of 2021.” Heetebrij and his investors founded Wolverine Films and partnered with GRLA, a local production company, in order to fund and produce the feature.

Not many undergraduate students are given the opportunity to work on a feature film, so the fact that I am able to contribute to such a complex production is a tremendous learning opportunity for me.”

Heetebrij, who has taught film production courses at Calvin for seven years, invited several current Calvin students to be a part of the production — a unique opportunity to develop professional experience. Undoubtedly, it was a one-of-a-kind experience,” Christophorous Cedric, a senior at Calvin who worked as the film’s title and credits designer, said. “Not many undergraduate students are given the opportunity to work on a feature film, so the fact that I am able to contribute to such a complex production is a tremendous learning opportunity for me.” 

While Calvin offers a variety of production courses and opportunities, students involved said being on an official production gave them a more realistic perspective of feature film work. “I’d say that it took my courses at Calvin and ramped up the speed and scope of what I was doing,” recent alumni and current masters student Max Israels said. “As an analogy, I’d compare it to going from college to the NBA. You have a lot less time to try and set things up compared to college, and everyone’s job is much more specialized on a large crew compared to college assignments.” 

Adrian Van Stee, a senior who worked as a production assistant and background photographer, said he enjoyed the opportunity to see professionals at work. “It’s very different actually seeing someone set up lights or work on set than it is reading it in a textbook,” Van Stee said. 

For some, the experience served not only as valuable career experience, but also as confirmation of future plans. “In college, you essentially choose a degree hoping that the job will be the right fit for you,” Sydney Klimek, a Calvin student and art production assistant on the film, said. “Working on an actual feature film set allowed me to know that this is the right job for me.” Klimek is currently in an off-campus program, pursuing film full-time in Los Angeles.

As a director, you are a generalist, but you are working with all these experts in their fields: actors, cinematographer, production designer, make-up, etc.”

“Vronika” was not only a learning experience for students, but also the first time Heetebrij has directed a film, a task that requires negotiating a variety of factors. “As a director, you are a generalist, but you are working with all these experts in their fields: actors, cinematographer, production designer, make-up, etc,” Heetebrij said. 

Shooting the film was a major undertaking. “Feature film schedules are demanding: each workday is 12 hours, and that’s six days a week, for three weeks straight. (And three weeks is a short shoot.) You are all under severe time pressure; every day, you have a schedule to keep because if you consistently don’t make that, you’ll run out of cash before the film is shot,” Heetebrij said.

Seeing some of the results of their labor in the trailer that dropped last week was an exciting and satisfying moment for those involved. “It was really exciting to see the “Vronika” trailer released publicly,” Klimek said. “I’m looking forward to the release of the film.” 

Anytime you see something you work on get out in the public is special.”

Israels, who worked as the second assistant camera, said that “Seeing the trailer was really special. Anytime you see something you work on get out in the public is special.” 

For Heetebrij, the trailer drop marks a significant milestone on the way to an official release. “It’s not the end of the journey; now we have to get this film distributed,” Heetebrij  said. “And to get it in front of distributors, the film ideally needs to get into one of the few festivals where distributors shop for films. So, that’s the phase we are in now. Stay tuned.”

 

The film trailer can be found here.