After 2 1/2 long years, the work of 130 Schenectady High School students is hitting the big screen.
Their movie, “Fast Life,” will be played on the Proctors main stage on April 25.
It tells the fictional stories of teenagers facing crises. The goal was to show so many issues that any viewer could relate.
“Urban or suburban, they can identify themselves somewhere inside the movie,” said film director Prince Sprauve. “I think that’s important.”
The movie grew from a music video designed by students at Schenectady High School.
Sprauve ran an after-school club in the music studio, where students would write and record their own songs. With one camera and no experience, they decided to branch out into music videos.
“Then they added a short storyline,” he said. “Then they added too many scenes.”
He told them they had so much material, they were really writing a film.
“And all of a sudden I had 30, 50 kids yelling, ‘Let’s do a movie!’” he said.
He said yes.
He had one camera, one boom microphone, and one field light. To shoot from multiple angles, the students had to do each scene again and again.
It took five to seven hours to film two minutes, he said.
They shot at midnight, when they needed pitch blackness. They shot at 5 a.m. for sunrise shots.
“The kids got used to working like this, but it was hard at first,” he said.
They would call him to say they had no way to get to a shoot. He told them to walk — and not to be late.
“You’re not just letting me down, you’re letting everybody down,” he explained. “And nobody’s getting paid, they’re volunteering their time. You’re wasting my time.”
They learned to be on time, no matter how they had to get there.
Sprauve was paid to run the club, but volunteered hundreds of hours beyond his work schedule to do the movie.
He directed it, and had “a vision” for each scene, but the students developed their own dialogue, trying to sound as real as possible. The only rules: no swearing and no N-word.
“But we still got across powerful scenes,” Sprauve said.
One storyline follows the character Asia, a girl who is desperate for $200 to $300.
“She’s being molested by her father in the movie. She internalizes all her anger and she walks around with a bad attitude,” Sprauve said of the character.
Her friends suggest that she “can sleep around” for the money, so she does. Then she buys a gun.
“She’s going to take matters into her own hands the next time her father comes around,” Sprauve said. “It’s a powerful scene. It shows you how you can push someone to the end. As human beings, when you push us to a certain point, we’re liable to do anything.”
He chose that storyline to illustrate a common problem with teenagers.
“Kids are not talking,” he said. “They hide behind social media. They’re not talking to the right people. And what they’re doing is they’re taking matters into their own hands.”
But before Asia shoots her father, her social worker knocks on the door. She’s doing a surprise visit. In the end, Asia does not shoot.
“The point of her is, to people in that situation, don’t wait,” Sprauve said. “Don’t let it get that far.”
Asia isn’t the main character in the movie. That character is played by Ashante Davis, who went from ninth grade to 12th grade in one year and managed to graduate on time last year.
He credited the movie with keeping him in school when he wanted to quit. He kept working on “Fast Life” after graduation, while also holding down a job to earn money toward his community college tuition.
Sprauve picked at-risk students to work on the movie, in hopes that it would keep them in school. That worked. Most of the 130 students in the movie are doing well, and half of them have graduated. The younger students are now juniors and seniors and are on track to graduate, Sprauve said.
One of the main actors, Amaury Geigal, dropped out of school — but enrolled in the GED program at Washington Irving.
“After a while, the movie wasn’t enough,” Sprauve said sadly.
But he used the movie to give Geigal a reason to get his GED.
“I told him, if you don’t get it, it makes the movie void,” he said. “The whole purpose is the people inside the movie are just as successful as the movie.”
He gave Davis similar encouragement when Davis flagged during his senior year.
“I told him, if you don’t graduate, it puts a shadow on the whole movie,” Sprauve said.
Davis said at times, that thought was all that kept him going.
Sprauve is thrilled that so many of the students stayed in school to work on the movie.
“You give a little bit of love, a little bit of time, that’s the type of stuff that can happen,” he said. “We need to inspire them. I took at-risk kids and gave them purpose. Gave them a reason to come to school when they can’t see the reason for school.”