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TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Local students Gabe Lehrburger, Ian Mathes, Austin Fitzpatrick and Connor Fitzpatrick won first place June 8 at the International Youth Silent Film Festival for their noir 'Shades of Red.'The first question that comes to mind after watching “Shades of Red,” the silent noir film that took first place in the International Youth Silent Film Festival June 8, is “Which Hollywood producer made this?”


While the three-minute film is jam-packed with the type of high-octane action one might expect out of Quentin Terrentino, it’s actually the work of a group of local students exploding with talent.

Connor Fitzpatrick and Ian Mathes — recent West Linn High School graduates — as well as Art Institute of Portland sophomore Austin Fitzpatrick and Portland State University sophomore Gabe Lehrburger, joined forces to create the project, spending hundreds of hours perfecting the award-winning film. While the movie itself is just three minutes in length, more than 50 hours of filming and double the amount of time spent in postproduction went into the visual effect-filled work of art.

The project started as a WLHS film class requirement for Mathes and Killeen, but morphed into a creation of passion for everyone involved. Mathes had helped both Austin and Connor Fitzpatrick work on their project “Bounty Boys,” which won the IYSFF Northwest Region last year, and asked if the pair would help him and his group at WLHS for this year’s festival.

“Connor and Austin have worked together a lot, since forever, because they’re brothers, but they did the silent film festival last year and won the Northwest region, so this is just the next thing,” Mathes said. “For my film class one of the projects is to submit a silent film to the festival, and so this year I decided to do it, and figured it would be a pretty good idea to work with them.”

The IYSFF requires each film to be three minutes in length and set to one of 10 songs composed by Nathan Avakian to fit into a different film genre. After some discussion the student filmakers, who call themselves The Wogos, picked their category — noir.

“We listened to the music for noir repeatedly and with the idea in mind of fitting a story to it,” said Austin Fitzpatrick, the director of “Shades of Red.” “We nailed down the actual story in about a day and got to work as soon as possible.”

“It was just a matter of listening to the tracks they had provided and we thought ‘Well, our other ideas aren’t working out,’” Mathes said. “’Why don’t we just do a regular noir with a little twist?’”VIDEO STILL - While 'Shades of Red' has no dialogue, the film was carefully crafted to fit in with the moody 'noir' music it uses as a soundtrack.

Next up was preproduction, including writing the actual story and getting a storyboard in the works. A plot and list of characters was agreed upon and things quickly took shape. The story is simple enough — a detective’s significant other goes missing, leading him to track her down before coming to realize she wasn’t kidnapped and in fact had left on her own — but required a great deal of complexity considering everything had to fit into a three-minute timeframe without any dialogue.

“We tried to have a three-act structure, and make it very twisty and turny,” Lehrburger said. “It really easily could have been a 15-minute film on its own without changing any of the story — just allowing dialogue and things to not be so thrown at you. One of the things people say is that you can’t blink during it because otherwise you’ll miss a big part of the story.”

“Just because we had to fit so much into so little time we kind of went off what other, older silent films have done, like Charlie Chapman, going with that fast speed,” Austin said.

From there Austin, who also stars as the movie’s protagonist, asked some of his friends, including Lehrburger, if they would help out as actors. The crew spent three consecutive days, essentially without sleep, shooting in the Fitzpatricks’ living room and driveway with a green screen. In fact, the only thing about the actual finished film that is real and not computer generated is the actors and props themselves. That’s why Austin, the director and resident film expert of the bunch, enlisted the help of his fellow project members to crank out the postproduction duties in about a week’s time. He had originally planned for some of his college classmates to help as well, but some last-minute issues required Connor and Lehrburger to step up to the plate.

“The whole thing is really one big visual effect, so postproduction is the biggest part,” Austin said. “We had to rush that, and we were supposed to have a team help, so I ended up having to get Connor and Gabe to help out. They had to learn some stuff on the fly, but they did a great job and things turned out pretty well.”

While much of the film’s success hinges on the elaborate and mind-boggling special effects that drive the silent saga, The Wogos also focused on perfectly linking actions in the film, like punches or gunshots, to the music.VIDEO STILL - Austin Fitzpatrick is the film's director and protagonist.

“One thing that not every filmmaker at the festival has done, but we’ve done, is trying to match the specific notes and beats of the music with the action so that it’s almost like a dance,” Connor said. “It’s very choreographed.”

“I think there were more obstacles with the track being made ahead of time and then trying to fit the story to it,” Lehrburger said. “The film would fit but then trying to really get the puzzle piece of each scene and action to perfectly fit the music so that it was in sync was really challenging.”

Matching the actions in the film to the music was especially crucial come the actual day of the festival where the movie was screened and judged, because as an added twist the music was played live. The added stressor didn’t compare to the anxiety that hung over the groups’ heads in the days leading up to the film’s submission, however. With so much work and such high expectations “Shades of Red” was almost abandoned before it was ever finished.

“I was getting everything done quickly and it just wasn’t turning out how I wanted it to at all,” Austin said. “I almost felt like giving up until I just decided, ‘If I’m going to do this I should do it in a way that makes it look good, or is at least satisfying.’ I wanted it at least close to what I wanted, and I did, so I’m very glad that it turned out the way it did.”

Because of the frequent praise the film has received, the group said it plans to enter “Shades of Red” into more film festivals, and hopes to work on other projects together in the future. And if this project was as “rushed” as the collection of young filmmakers say it is, there’s no telling how impressive their next project will turn out.

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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