Allegro tells the story of Samuel Reid, a pianist who trades his ethics for success via mysterious pills and later comes to regret it. His struggle was envisioned as a metaphor for Adderall abuse within higher education systems, an issue that many students in high-pressure environments can identify with. For these students, success is not merely a goal to aspire to – it is the only option available, worth sacrificing one’s physical and mental health for.
This was an enjoyable project to work on, but not an easy one to create. Though I knew what kind of story I wanted to tell and how I wished to tell it, I faced a great many obstacles on the road to pulling everything together. Indeed, I could not have done so without the help of my cast and crew members, all of whom put their faith in the project despite its comparatively small scale and budget. It was this faith that enabled me to overcome some of the most common obstacles faced by short filmmakers around the world.
Allegro was created during my time as a graduate student at Loyola Marymount University. While it’s easy to assume that film school provides one with vast stockpiles of equipment and resources, I was actually given very little to work with for this particular project. First semester students must demonstrate an ability to overcome limited means of production before they gain access to better gear, and aside from a tripod, basic zoom-lens camera, and three small lights (with stands, stingers, and sandbags, to be fair) you are left mostly on your own.
Working with Weiyang Li, my DP and primary camera operator, I set out to compensate for the lack of equipment I had available. First, I petitioned to have the default 250-watt lights upgraded to 650-watt models, a request that was fortunately granted. I then picked up two inexpensive white foam cores to bounce light, furnishing clamps and stands to support them. I then secured control over the lighting system in the recital hall and stage where I was shooting. Finally, I secured a nicer camera from a local rental house that offered students a good discount. It was a process that needed to be done quickly and cheaply, two words that are rarely associated with quality films. Nevertheless, I knew that the early effort would pay off during production.
Pulling It Together
My cast and crew worked very hard for little outside of pizza and goodwill. Furniture had to be moved, foam cores needed to be arranged, and passerby had to be controlled – all by a team that never numbered more than five. On the most difficult day of shooting, we were racing a sunset that had been unexpectedly hastened by Daylight Savings. Everyone worked at twice their usual pace to get the necessary coverage while we still had light, and I vividly remember the urgency with which my 1st AC helped my lead actor insert contact lenses for the first time. So much could have gone wrong, but we managed to pull it off in the end. Even before I started editing, I knew that Allegro was going to be the story I’d planned for.
As I continue striving to produce better and better work, I will keep the experience of working on this film fresh in my mind. The two biggest lessons that I took away were: 1) No amount of planning is too much, especially on a low budget, and 2) Every person on set can make or break a film. While these particular bits of wisdom might seem like common sense, I feel that they hold more weight when grounded in personal experience.
Allegro is a film that I am proud of, and I hope very much that its message is received well.
- Written by Ryan Larkin, director of "Allegro"