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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Khyler Runnels, left, and Matt Jacobs are passionate about filmmaking. The 18-year-olds' latest short film is part of the Hobnobben Film Festival.

Sunday, June 11, 2017 1:00 am

Dreaming behind the camera

High school pair's latest film part of local festival

STEVE WARDEN | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Hobnobben Film Festival

When: Various times Thursday through Sunday

Where: Cinema Center, Arts United Center, Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab


Khyler Runnels and Matt Jacobs have already experienced the perils of being young filmmakers.

In the final scene of “Family Tradition,” the short film the 18-year-olds made that was accepted in the Hobnobben Film Festival that begins Thursday in Fort Wayne, a small shovel cuts into the wet, leaf-covered ground in a desolate area near Carroll High School, where Runnels is a senior.

“I put the shovel in, and a car comes up,” Runnels says. “I guess we were in some preserve, and there was a ranger who comes up.”

The official wanted to know what the two boys were up to; one clutching a shovel, the other with a camera. When they explained they were making a film, weren't harming anything and just wanted to dig about a three-inch hole that could easily be filled, the ranger told them to go ahead, but move out when they were finished. Cool.

“We're about to leave, and another ranger comes up,” Runnels says. “This guy gets out, and he's really mad and says, 'You guys gotta get out of here! You've got to leave!' He's yelling at us, so we get in the car and we try to pull out.

“The whole time it's been raining, and the front tires are kind of in the dirt. I tried pulling out, and it's not going, and I hit the gas again, and we pulled out really fast. And my front bumper gets stuck on a stick, and half of it rips off.”

Jacobs now picks up the story: “We drove out of that area and drive to a different spot. The bumper was hanging down and dragging against the ground. So (Runnels) gets out to check his car and the guy followed us, gets out and says, 'Hey, you can't dig here, either!'

Runnels explains that no one is digging, that he's simply out of the car to inspect his dangling bumper.

“He says, 'OK, I've got your license plate, and I'm going to call the preservation officer and report your license,' ” Runnels says.

In hindsight, Jacobs yearns for one more shot. “After that I thought, man, I had the camera in my arms, and I wish I would've gotten some video of him.”

Until this year, when they enrolled in the same television course at FWCS Career Academy at Anthis, Runnels and Jacobs, who is home-schooled, hadn't known one another. When they quickly discovered they're on the same career path to become filmmakers, a friendship was formed, then a collaborative team that has produced more than a half-dozen short films.

In addition to being accepted by the Hobnobben festival, the five-minute “Family Tradition” was in the state regional competition, and another untitled film about cyberbullying won the state title and will vie for additional honors at a competition in Louisville.

The strict rule for the high school-level competition was that filmmakers had only four days to complete it, from script to finished product.

“When we made 'Family Tradition,' we felt pretty proud of it,” Jacobs says. “It's got flaws because of the time period, but there are a lot of things we really liked about it, especially on a visual level and audio. We felt it was one of the most professional we've done, and it would be a solid one to submit to Hobnobben. It's free for student filmmakers from Indiana, so there was nothing to lose. And if it did get submitted, it would be pretty cool – which it did.”

Runnels says, “Our goal going into (filmmaking) was just to be as professional as possible, but then because of our unprofessionalism, I think there's more interest in the voice. It's different than something you're going to see at a movie. It's something more person(al). It's not made to sell tickets.”

If and when a friend cannot be coerced into acting in one of his films, Runnels doesn't mind being in front of the camera, as he was throughout “Family Tradition.”

“I'm not an actor at all,” Jacobs says. “He's a pretty good actor, and then he can do a lot of the on-camera stuff when we need that. And he does a lot of the good writing. I make little changes, and then I can do a lot of the behind-the-camera stuff. It works pretty well. We can do a little bit of everything. When it comes to directing and overall vision, we always talk through that.”

Says Runnels: “This year was the first time that I've actually found other people with the same interest. When it's just you, it's like, OK, that's a good idea. And then you do it and think, well, that wasn't the best idea; it could've been better.”

Although they both plan on continuing their education at Indiana University in Bloomington this year, Jacobs said he and Runnels will not room together but still collaborate on projects. Even now, they're working on a film about a high school student who shows his films to his classmates, even though many don't completely understand them.

“This is what we're both passionate about,” Jacobs says. “Thinking about it as a career, too, I always noticed that people often, in standard jobs, get old and they retire. Actors, filmmakers, directors almost never do that. They make films and they direct until they die.”