Student filmmaker’s work screened at Cannes
June 1, 2013
By Jennifer Kresse
Bay View native, Humboldt Park School alum, and UWM student Michael Viers (VY-ers) can add 2013 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner to his resume.
In response to the prompting of the film’s producer Gregory Bishop, 21-year-old Viers’ submitted his short horror film From the Darkness Theater. To his astonishment, it was selected. The fictional film is a glimpse into the private life of Uncle Seymour Cadavers, a local television horror show host.
Organized by the Cannes Film Festival, the Short Film Corner was designed to aid emerging filmmakers by providing a stage to showcase film shorts. Bishop attended the 2012 Cannes festival and felt that Viers’ film had a good shot.
Mary Viers said her son Michael has always been artistic and creative, but it wasn’t until junior high or high school that he developed an interest in filmmaking. Viers began making movies in high school (Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory) where he started a film club with some friends.
Viers said watching the special features section of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds DVD made a big impact on him. He said he turned to his mother and said, “This looks fun. I think I can do that.”
Another influence was John Carpenter’s Halloween and seeing it was pivotal. Viers said it is his favorite film, though he is also a fan of Brian De Palma, among others. The horror genre has become his métier. “I guess I want to make something that gives others the same reaction [Halloween] gave me.
Although he was accepted by Columbia College, both the Los Angeles and Chicago schools, and by the Vancouver Film School, Viers said they were too expensive despite scholarships he was offered. Instead he chose UW-Milwaukee and hasn’t looked back. “UWM teaches its students to get a camera and be creative… We’re taught how to explore themes and to tell stories in new and creative ways. Some other film schools may pump out ‘machines’ that can shoot very well, but how are their storytelling abilities? I feel that’s where we UWM students excel: creativity, storytelling prowess, and ingenuity,” he said.
Mary Viers had concerns about her son choosing to major in filmmaking. “At first I was not happy about it… I worried he may be picking a field that would make it difficult to make a living,” she said. “But I know how much of a passion he has for it, so I finally said, ‘If it makes you happy, do it.’”
She watched Viers work on From the Darkness Theater through all its stages and was consulted by her son during production. “Mom was my biggest support structure,” Michael said. “She read most of my scripts, gave me her advice, and watched every cut… She is one of my greatest collaborators. Plus, she used to star in [my films].”
Viers joked that his ultimate goal as a filmmaker is “not to starve,“ and he plans to continue to write and direct, but said that making a living editing films would agreeable. “There [are] options and ways to support oneself through filmmaking. It may not be making huge Hollywood blockbusters, but there’s money to be made,” he said.
When Viers learned he was selected for the short corner at Cannes, he said, “I was in completed disbelief.” His mother hugged him and cried when he told her the news. “I was so proud of him. It was bittersweet. We lost my husband, Michael’s dad, just a year ago and I wish he could be here for this,” she said.
Selection was only half the battle. Viers wanted to attend the festival. “I told him he absolutely had to go. We would find a way to afford it,” Mary Viers said.
Cindy Flechner, who works at Humboldt Park School’s Community Learning Center, collected about $230 from HPS teachers and the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. Viers attended HPS from K4 through Grade 8 and is currently employed in their CLC program. Part of the donation was used to rent a tuxedo.
The generosity of the people at his alma mater touched Viers. “It’s, for lack of a stronger word, amazing,” he said. “I loved [attending HPS] because it had a strong teaching staff and a community I feel other schools lack. You felt special for going to HPS.”
That feeling extends to his south side community. A habitué of the cafes and theaters on Kinnickinnic, Viers’ heart is in Bay View. “We treat each other like a large family. I’ve had so much help from local businesses during my career as a filmmaker. It’s home.”
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