Woodbury filmmaker goes back to school to make dream come true

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2012 - 10:12 PM

Joe Carlini. is at his hometown high school, working on his first full-length feature film. "My Senior Year" is expected to reach theaters in 2013.

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Director Joe Carlini gave instructions to actors Sam Luskey of Plymouth, left, and Celena Morgan of Woodbury during a recent taping of “My Senior Year” at Woodbury High School. Carlini’s first full-length feature film is expected to make it to theaters next year.

Photo: Tim Harlow, Star Tribune

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Now playing in megaplexes nationwide is a blockbuster movie directed by Woodbury's Joe Carlini.

That's the dream of the budding 24-year-old filmmaker, who already has made a number of short films and has two student awards from the regional Emmys to his credit.

In the meantime, Carlini is concentrating on finishing his first full-length feature film, "My Senior Year," which the 2006 Woodbury High School graduate began shooting earlier this summer at his alma mater. The coming-of-age drama showcases the triumphs and tragedies of a group of high school students as they navigate a tangled web of relationships and find the courage to confront issues such as teen depression and suicide.

The movie is to go into final editing by the end of July and make its way to the screen by 2013, Carlini said.

"It's all coming together," Carlini said during recent taping in one of the school's corridors. "It's all very exciting."

It's expensive too. Carlini said he needs financial help to finish specialty shots and cover general expenses. He will premiere "Second Chance U" at a fundraiser at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.

The documentary is about the Minneapolis Community and Technical College men's basketball team, which gave many at-risk kids a second chance at life and was a junior college powerhouse. The team finished second in the nation in 2009. The program was terminated in 2010.

Paid or not, Woodbury High junior Angie Drehmel could not pass up the chance to possibly be in a feature film. She skipped out on tennis to be one of 40 extras who showed up for a recent taping session. For many, it was their first foray into acting.

"It seemed like something fun to do over the summer and to see how movie production works," said Drehmel, who said the experience might compel her to give the school play a try next year. "Even being an extra, I still got nervous that I might be blocking the camera."

For six hours on a recent Tuesday, Drehmel and the rest of the extras hung around in the background. Cameras rolled and recorded the action as the 10 principal actors repeatedly went through takes of a single scene.

Drehmel's job was to rest against a wall as Dan Quaile, who plays Brad Thompson, becomes enraged and confronts his girlfriend (Samantha Luskey) about seeing another boy.

Putting hope on film

In other scenes, extras fill the gaps as main character Brian Roberts, played by Perry Chicos, tries to fit in at a public high school for his senior year after being schooled at home for his entire academic career. His desire to live the typical teen high school experience is turned upside down when tragedy strikes.

Feeling hopeless and that he is at fault, Roberts has every reason to give up on life. He contemplates suicide. But one of the central themes of "My Senior Year" is that no matter how low one feels, there is a way to overcome life's obstacles.

"The message is that in life you can always overcome something," said Carlini. "There is a way to live on. I want people, especially those in high school, to see that this character had been to hell and back and still was able to survive."

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 24, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It results in approximately 4,400 lives lost each year, the agency said.

That statistic was a stark reality for Carlini. He was a sophomore when a close friend committed suicide. When he was a junior, a friend's brother took his own life. He was touched again in his senior year when another Woodbury High classmate committed suicide. To cope, he sprang into action and started writing the script that eventually became "My Senior Year."

The comic-drama shows "how happy and comic life can be at one time, then tragedy happens and switches that person's world."

The 2006 Woodbury High grad set the script aside and went on to earn film degrees from Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he won several film awards.

Optimistic perfectionist

This summer marked the second take for "My Senior Year." He recruited actors from the Twin Cities theater scene and advertised on Craigslist and through school announcements to find extras.

For the past five weeks, Carlini has put the actors through their paces, shooting scenes over and over to make sure they come out just right.

"I'm a perfectionist; I know what I want," he said. "I like to do stories that I believe in, and I've invested my heart in it."

And he's hoping that with a top-quality movie that he says he is "making for thousands," he will land on big screens across the country.

"That is the ultimate goal," he said. "I think we are that diamond in the rough that hasn't been found."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

  • FUNDRAISER

    What: The premiere of Joe Carlini's documentary, "Second Chance U," is a benefit to defray production costs of Carlini's coming-of-age drama, "My Senior Year."

    When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday

    Where: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE., Minneapolis

    Donate: www.indiegogo.com/projects/166188

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