Arts, Features

College students write original Western thriller

Many people only dream of creating a film when they grow up. Local college students agree, with one caveat — why wait?

“And The Neon Gods.” Boston University senior Jonas Hayes wrote the feature film after his freshman year and is now preparing to film. ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University students and their peers are currently preparing to shoot their own film, “And The Neon Gods.”

Jonas Bishop Hayes, a senior at the College of Fine Arts, and Rajiv Awasthi, co-writer and score composer, decided to write the film together during the summer after Hayes’ freshman year of college.

What started as a small idea has now become a developing project, which is now approaching filming.

“And The Neon Gods” is a Western thriller that tells the story of Jude, who will be played by Nicholas Walker. Jude is in a religious cult led by Joshua Goodman’s character, Messiah, who predicts an apocalypse.

The cult plans a series of rituals before traveling across west Texas to try and stop the Messiah’s prophecy. However, the night before they are set to start their journey, Jude sees something troubling, which results in a “psychedelic chase” in the desert.

CFA senior Zoe Garrick is the assistant director and producer of the film. A friend of Hayes, she said the team will begin filming in June at locations they visited in Texas over winter break.

Garrick said the film’s setting may pose challenges for filming.

“We’re planning on shooting in the desert in June, so that’s a hard environment to be in,” Garrick said. “So making sure that we’re working with people who are really flexible and patient and kind, who really want to be there and are interested in the film itself.”

Saskia Martinez, who graduated from CFA last May and serves as the storyboard artist and production designer, said the visuals and idea for the film were influenced by several movies, including 1984’s “Paris, Texas” and 2019’s “Uncut Gems.”

“Both in terms of the desert and the vastness in terms of … the imagery that exists in those movies, and then the intensity and terrifying nature and crazy pacing that exists in the Safdie brothers’ films,” Martinez said, “is a great example of the vibe that we’re going for.”

As production designer, Martinez said she did a lot of research on Indigenous peoples living in the South West, as well as west Texas art.

“We have some characters in the film who are really living in the desert with basically no contact with the outside world,” she said. “I both looked at a past vision, in terms of how Indigenous people lived in that area, and then also looked in terms of a future vision, artists renderings of what a colony on Mars might look like.”

One of the central themes in the script that stood out to Martinez, she said, was the feeling of betrayal when a group or individual you trust betrays you.

“For me reading it, what stuck out to me the most was how easy it is to find a group where you feel a sense of belonging,” she said, “and then have that taken advantage of by someone who doesn’t have good intentions.”

Though the team is well into pre-production, one obstacle the crew has encountered is finding the money to fund the movie, Garrick said.

“I think the most challenging thing so far has been finding people to pitch to who can really commit to investing a larger amount of money,” Garrick said, “even though our film is relatively low budget. It costs a lot of money to pay people and to transport people.”

With shooting taking place in several months, Martinez said she is excited for the next stage of the filming process.

“I think that a lot of the time, you get told as an artist that you have to wait your turn,” she said. “One of the secret blessings of last year was everything getting shut down, gives us an opportunity to reimagine how to make art and it gave us an opportunity to say actually, you know what, … we’re just going to go out and make a movie.”

Jonas Bishop Hayes has previously written for The Daily Free Press. He was not involved in the editing of this article.

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