As a child, Matthew J. Rosa didn't watch television in the same way as his peers.
"I would analyze every aspect of it. I would recognize edits and the way things were shot, such as camera movements and things like that. What I would want to do, as I got older, I wanted to re-create certain things. I wanted to be able to make people feel emotions," said Rosa, 18, who is now a senior at the Charter-Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point.
Rosa, of Pleasantville, held onto his childhood fascination with filmmaking, so it was not surprising he decided to attend Charter-Tech High School to study film and television. On a recent Friday, Rosa was in Historic Cold Spring Village in Cape May filming a scene for his next short film, "The Story of Oscar Micheaux." Micheaux was the first major African-American feature filmmaker. Rosa volunteered to make a film for the school's Black History Month showcase.
"I have him walking down a dirt road in the Village, narrating how he wants to inspire people and create a great image for African-Americans," said Rosa, who had his fellow Charter-Tech schoolmate, Nahzee Rex-Bright, a theater student, portraying Micheaux.
Even though the chances of making a living as a film or television director are minuscule, every year southern New Jersey students sign up to be a part of their high school's film and television programs at Charter-Tech, Absegami High School in Galloway Township, Vineland High School and Lacey Township High School in Lanoka Harbor. With their youthful enthusiasm driving them to believe in what is possible, these students use their free time to make short films to improve their chosen craft and place them on the Internet and enter their works into film festivals.
Rosa made his first film for a science project as an eighth-grader at William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing. He has directed 10 independent short films and worked on 10 others doing various jobs such as acting, lighting and sound, cinematography and makeup.
"The hardest thing to me is getting the first idea and setting up your first shot. The very beginning of filmmaking is always the hardest. Usually, once I start, I can't stop," Rosa said.
This past Sunday, Smithville resident Jordan Porch spent her first day shooting her newest short film, "Spring Cleaning." It is the story of a high school dropout who's reminiscing about the happy days of her childhood. Porch wrote the story last year because she wanted to experiment with a flashback scene in different colors rather than the scenes taking place in the present.
Porch, 17, had her actress, Sophia Turrano, 18, of Galloway Township, walking into her bedroom and dusting off two trophies and the top of a dresser.
"I wanted her (Porch) to look very sentimental, like she was reflecting on the happier days of her childhood. She did have a little bit of a smile, which I told her to sort of not do that because I wanted her to look more like she felt anguished over her current situation rather than being happy about the past," Porch said. "I think we pretty much accomplished what I wanted so I was pretty happy with the results."
Porch is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Martin Scorsese. Porch finds the hardest part about making independent short films is making other adolescents listen to her direction.
"I think showing up to set prepared from pre-production and looking like you actually know what you are doing is the best way to get them to listen to your authority," said Porch, who added "Spring Cleaning" will be shot over at least five days on weekends over the next couple of weeks.
Porch must have done a pretty good job having people follow her lead on one of her previous short films, "Mundane," because it was selected to be shown during the upcoming 13th annual Garden State Film Festival, which will be held March 19 to 22 in Atlantic City. It is not your typical southern New Jersey high school short film. Porch shot it in last summer in New York City at the New York Film Academy with a British and a New York actor while taking a three-week summer course to learn how to shoot on 16mm film.
"They (Porch's parents) are very supportive of my creative endeavors, and they hope that I succeed in the film business. But even I don't, the skills acquired of leadership and creativity, they think will also help me in other areas of life," she says of her parents.
Thomas Lidke, 16, of Linwood, looks to help the Northfield-based band Indecision with his skills as a director. He's working on a music video and a short documentary on the band.
A junior at Charter-Tech, Lidke has been making short, independent films for the past four years. He finished filming the music video, which is being edited. The video shows the band members playing their instruments at a friend's house in Northfield along with footage of a Linwood pool party. The narrative part of the documentary is being written, Lidke said.
"Personally for me, it's all about telling a story. I like stories told visually and not using words," Lidke said.
The work of Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola didn't influence Lidke to make films. Lidke was inspired by Freddie Wong, 29, a competitive gamer, filmmaker, musician and visual effect artist and Ryan Connolly, a director, presenter and writer for the Internet television show "Film Riot."
Lidke, who has made 28 short films, struggles to find people as devoted as his is when it comes to pulling people together to make a movie.
"In my situation, we are all high-school students. Some people are not motivated enough. I find honestly it's hard to find people my age willing to work as hard as I work," Lidke said. "I taught myself most of what I know about filmmaking, the technical side, but my teacher, Mr. (David Von) Roehm, taught me a lot about the filmmaking world in general."
Lidke was disappointed he wasn't able to attend the Garden State Film Festival last year, but he will try to catch some of the offerings this year.
"Directing is the hardest, but if I direct something, I want to edit it as well because when I direct, I know how I want it to look. Sometimes I can't pronounce what I see artistwise. With editing, I have the capability of showing what I see, and that's the best part to me, honestly," Lidke said.
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Here's where you can watch at least one short movie from the student filmmakers:
To see "CIA Interrogation": youtube.com/watch?v=1D5JdwmA0Og
To see Likdke's other films: youtube.com/user/ThatFilmCrew
To see "Mundane": youtu.be/jA207G6lKAQ
Matthew J. Rosa
To see "Blind Love": youtube.com/watch?v=zMl1WW5WU0Y
To see Rosa's other films: youtube.com/user/TheMattamew