McHenry Taylor graduated from SMU on Dec. 17 with experience few film graduates list on their resumes. He wrote the script and directed a feature-length film, “Elsewhere, TX,” which will debut in May 2017 at SMU.
A film and media arts major, Taylor had written and directed short films for class. But in the summer of 2015 he submitted his “Elsewhere” script to be considered for SMU’s Film and Media Arts department’s summer film production project, a two-year, student-run endeavor. All crew heads working on the film – director, producers, cinematographer, production designer, editor, sound mixer – are current SMU students or recent alumni.The post-apocalyptic western is a cross between Catcher in the Rye, a spaghetti western and a survival film, Taylor says. “I came to SMU knowing I wanted to study film,” Taylor says. “I was determined to take advantage of every opportunity that walked by.”
The summer film project requires that students create a budget, raise money, audition actors and find a location. Filming takes place for two weeks on-location during the summer, with pre-production work completed the year before, and post-production work the year after. “Elsewhere” is in the editing and marketing phase of production.
“The SMU film department is unique in giving students complete control of the 90-minute film,” says Mark Kerins, associate professor of film and media arts, and adviser to the summer film production project. “As mentors and advisers, the faculty tries to protect students from making big mistakes, without hand holding.”
After Taylor submitted his script, he assembled a director/producer team with fellow film majors Trevor Thrall and Natalie Khraish, then applied to direct the film. A committee of film faculty members and Dallas-area film-makers selected Taylor’s script and team, setting in motion script revision, actor auditions, crew head selection and money-raising. As Engaged Learning fellows, Taylor and Khraish also received mentoring and financial support from SMU’s Engaged Learning program.
In June of 2016, Taylor, 15 actors, a crew of 19 students and a high school friend or two descended on the small East Texas town of Nacogdoches for filming. The steamy rural locale set the tone for the story of a gun-slinging stranger and a young boy who navigate the dangers of a post-apocalyptic South, learning much from one another in the process. Co-producer Trevor Thrall, a Nacogdoches native, recruited friends and family to house and feed the crew and actors as well as provide locations for the film. A local television station covered their efforts.
“Making the movie was a thousand trials by fire,” Taylor says. “We worked for 15 straight days in 100-degree heat. The film features a 12-year-old boy who was acting for the first time. Most of our actors were theatre-trained and had never done film before. But in the end, we were a bunch of kids who knew what we wanted to do.”
After Commencement, Taylor will continue to direct “Elsewhere’s” film editing. Then he would like to write and direct sci-fi films.
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