Making a student film is both risky and almost entirely risk-free. Risky because student films are always in danger of being written off as just that: amateur efforts that may, at best, show sign of promise. Risk-free because, unconstrained by concerns that might affect filmmakers working professionally, student filmmakers are free to experiment.
Over the course of several weekends this past summer, Scott Stephenson, a fourth-year student at Victoria College, conducted one such risky experiment. Aided by a cast and crew of friends, he filmed Curt Kenzie: Professional Memewriter, a comedy that Stephenson wrote himself.
Memewriter tells the story of the rise and fall of its namesake, the star writer at a fictional meme website. Stephenson says he developed the premise in response to “six months where Facebook was memes everyday,” or more specifically, memes Stephenson remembers as “lame Internet humour that wasn’t smart or good,” a “niche, nerd phenomenon” that suddenly became wildly popular. Add a hyper-exaggerated corporate backdrop, and you’ve got the oddball world Memewriter is set in.
Stephenson is tall and lanky with an easy manner. Seated between two of his lead actors, Kieron Higgs and Zachary Gardham, he guides the conversation, but neither Higgs nor Gardham seem to mind. Gardham, a fourth-year film student at York, explains that he and Stephenson are old friends. “We went to high school together, and I think that’s the point [when] we both wanted to start making movies … That’s why I’m here; I’m here to help Scott.”
The two have been working together for years, Stephenson explains. “This is something that we’ve all been doing for a long time now; me and Zach both stayed back from our last year in high school and made a feature length movie, an 80-minute long movie called The Carpenter that’s absolutely terrible. I’m sure I’ll think the same of Memewriter in a couple years, but it taught me a lot and … since then, I’ve just been jumping from project to project.”
Higgs is a more recent addition to the group, but no less a part of it. “I know Scott because we did The Bob together last year, the sketch review at Vic College,” he says. “[Scott] met me through that, looking for actors, and now we’re awesome friends.”
Memewriter isn’t the first time that Higgs has worked with Stephenson and Gardham on a film. Last February, during Reading Week, they made Beer Wizards, working with Motion Victures, a film club at Victoria College.
The three have a clear rapport. Gardham explained that what keeps him working with Stephenson is the “level of consistent comedy in Scott’s projects that … is really, really, funny, and unique and original.”
Memewriter is, in some sense, a very personal work for Stephenson. “I had a weird year in my life,” he says. “And I think that like a lot of that stuff came out in the movie, and I just sort of used memes as a way to channel that.” At the same time, though, he sees himself as “just a kid making movies.”
The movie is a comedy, but Stephenson hopes it does more than just make people laugh. “The ending is meant to jar you … and it just really hammers home a lot of things that I think are wrong with the Internet, about the anonymity of it and how you can make fun of people and honestly destroy peoples’ lives over the Internet.”
At the same time, however, Stephenson hopes to get a chuckle out of his audience with Memewriter’s oddball humour. “I make fun of memes being bad jokes, but I also write a bunch of bad jokes that I want to get a laugh.”
Asked what’s on the horizon, the three are short on details, but long on plans. Regardless of how Memewriter is received when it premiers at Isabel Bader Theatre this Friday, the trio intends to make another movie over Reading Week this year. After all, they’re just kids making movies.