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Writer, UMPI students to debut short film

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — It’s not often that college students get the opportunity to talk with award-winning writers and cinematographers, let alone take part in their projects.

But students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle got that chance, and the results of their effort will be on display next week at Presque Isle’s Braden Theater.

The theater will debut “The Proposal,” a short film that had its beginnings in an UMPI course on screenwriting and filmmaking.

“The Proposal” will appear on the big screen for one night only at 5 p.m. on Sept. 21.

The half-hour film was directed by Zoran Popovic, cinematographer for the 2008 film “War, Inc.” It was co-directed by award-winning writer Cathie Pelletier.

Pelletier taught the UMPI screenwriting course in which the film was conceived and gave students in the class a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Popovic and gain an understanding of what it takes to turn a screenplay into a movie.

“The Proposal” is about a young man, played by Jason LeSaldo of Fort Kent, who wants to propose to the girl of his dreams, played by Sara Harvey, originally from Allagash. He invites her to a fancy restaurant, where the waiter is Augusta-based actor Matt Delamater. But things don’t go as planned.

Pelletier, an Allagash native, has written nine novels and had two of them turned into movies. She wrote her first novel, “The Funeral Makers,” in 1986.

Pelletier served as UMPI’s first writer-in-residence in 2008, during which time she taught the screenwriting class at UMPI.

During a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon, Pelletier said she “really enjoyed” working with the UMPI students on the film.

“They were really terrific,” she said. “Even students outside of the class worked with us on this film, so it involved a big slice of UMPI. We worked on the screenplay from September to December. It was 18 pages, and we rewrote all of it. It took us a week to film it.”

Most of the filming was done in the basement of the UMPI president’s house, which was transformed into a fancy restaurant, “Cafe L’Amour,” for the movie. Set design was overseen by Tom Viorikic, who worked with Popovic on a past film project.

During the filming, UMPI students and volunteers performed many jobs, including holding lights, fetching props and assisting the director.

Natalie St. Pierre, now a senior English major at UMPI, said that she enrolled in Pelletier’s class because she thought it would be useful when she enters the work force.

“I loved the class, and I was really excited when I heard we were going to be a part of making the short film,” she said Tuesday. “As part of the class, each of us had to write our own screenplay, and then we all did ‘The Proposal’ as part of a group.”

St. Pierre was an extra for the film, helping with script supervision and filling in other places as needed.

“I had a lot of fun, and I think everyone else did too,” she said. “I learned so much about the ins and outs of screenwriting. It was interesting to see how things went from paper to the screen.”

Pelletier said that writing screenplays for short films is an excellent way for aspiring screenwriters to get started.

“It is a wonderful way for them to put their own voice into a piece,” she said Tuesday. “It’s also a wonderful way for them to learn how a screenplay becomes a film.”

Pelletier said the film also would be shown at a later date in Fort Kent.

The film premiere in Presque Isle will begin with a reception and hors d’oeuvres. The screening will begin around 5:30 p.m. After the film showing, there will be a short question-and-answer session with the filmmakers.

Campus and community members are invited to take part in the event. There are 144 seats in the theater, and tickets are being sold at $10 apiece, first come, first served.

For more information, to purchase a ticket or to reserve a seat, call 768-9452.

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