Making a splash in the youth filmmaking industry with ‘Flounder’

Macrae Sharp

It started when senior Preston Tholan scribbled an idea for a storyline late one night about a year ago. Tholan was living in Great Falls, Va., after growing up in Marin and attending Redwood as a freshman. He called senior and close friend Kim Vela, and they discussed the idea. It quickly developed into a movie plot about a boy named Isaiah who escapes from his destructive home and travels to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

“Flounder,” is a film that features a “thrilling story of a young runaway’s adolescence and turbulent adventures,” according to the movie’s website.

Tholan is the director and screenwriter of “Flounder.” Vela is the producer and acts as “Savannah,” a flirtatious teenage runaway who meets Isaiah in the mountains. In Tholan’s words, Vela “handles all the logistics.”

Director Preston Tholan and producer Kim Vela discuss their plans for their feature-length film,
Director Preston Tholan and producer Kim Vela discuss their plans for their feature-length film, “Flounder.”

“I’ve always been interested in [filmmaking]. As a little kid, I thought it was really cool how you could upload your own stories to Youtube,” Tholan said. “Through high school, I wanted to get more serious with it.”

Other members of the production team include sophomore Jack Green, juniors Sam Slade and Garet Jatsek, and seniors Annie Forsman and Campbell Nolan.

Slade is the Director of Photography and Editor, while Jatsek serves as Assistant Cameraman and Boom Operator. Green and Nolan work as Production Assistants, and Forsman is Assistant Director.

Vela became interested in film in recent years after taking drama courses at Redwood and making short films.

When Tholan told Vela about the idea of the plot for “Flounder,” she was eager to produce the film.

“We talked for hours and hours,” Vela said.  “I was kind of already directing and producing short films of my own, so I immediately leapt on the opportunity.”

Vela said she and Tholan revised the plot continually, collaborating from 3000 miles apart. Tholan said the writing process didn’t happen at all like he expected.

“I think the hardest part for me was creating the characters and creating the actual specific scenarios of these characters meeting. It was [creating] what type of situations they would have. I had never gone that deep into creating these fictional characters,” Tholan said.

Writing the script was a new experience and a challenge for Tholan.

“I started writing the script a year ago, not knowing I was going to be the official writer. But we had auditions, and had actors from all over the state come down and read what I had written at two in the morning on some nights,” Tholan said. “That was incredible to me because I had no idea they were just going to read what I had written, just raw.”

Tholan and Vela began the production process with a very small team, but more peers started to join when he returned to California following his junior year.

As of press time, the crew is close to finishing the production process, and released an official film trailer on Jan. 10.

The students in the film's cast and crew film scenes that can be viewed in the official
The students in the film’s cast and crew film scenes that can be viewed in the official “Flounder” trailer.

“We wanted to get the trailer out to get people excited, and to show our actors that they made the right choice [to act in Flounder],” Vela said. “It’s also to kind of prove to ourselves that this is actually happening, that we actually have to get this done. People gave us money, and people are driving two hours to come film with us. All that stuff is real.”

The crew raised more than $1000 for the film by sharing a link to a crowd funding website, Indiegogo, with friends and family via email. Tholan also said he created a Facebook page to promote the project.

Tholan, Vela, Forsman, and Nolan cast a number of high school students to play teenagers in the film, including Redwood seniors James Cruz, Matt Theriault, McKinley Clemons, Fusion Academy senior Emily Todd, and Tam juniors Andrew LeBuhn and Charlie Lubenow.

Fusion Academy senior emily Todd acts in a lakeside scene in
Fusion Academy senior Emily Todd acts in a lakeside scene in “Flounder.”

Lubenow plays the leading role of “Isaiah,” a young boy who escapes from an abusive home environment and runs away to live in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Theriault has acted in drama productions at Redwood, but this will be the first time he has acted in a film. He plays Skunk, a character whose role is more prominent in the latter half of “Flounder,” and said the experience has been rewarding.

“It’s been completely different being onstage and being in a film, coming from someone who’s predominantly been on stage. I like the role because it’s more of a physical role and there’s a lot of running and action.”

Vela also reached out to a few people with whom she had previously worked in other films. Some even traveled from Brentwood and Sacramento to audition.

“For the adult [actors], we advertised on [Casting Networks San Francisco], which is the acting website that I use to find jobs for myself. So that was really cool to be on the other end,” Vela said.

Actor Robert Matas walks along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in West Marin on the second day of shooting for a scene in
Actor Robert Matas walks along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in West Marin on the second day of shooting for a scene in “Flounder.”

Vela and Tholan both expressed incredible surprise at the amount of progress they’ve made on the film.

“It’s amazing. I knew it was going to be the biggest project I’d done, but I didn’t actually consider it because when you’re in it, you’re not really thinking about what you’re doing,” Vela said. “But then some guy comes in [to audition], you look at his resume and he was in Star Trek. You’re like, ‘Oh wow. Hi, read my script.’”

The crew did, in fact, cast the former “Star Trek” actor Mitch Darnell in “Flounder” as John Hudson, a kind-hearted father figure who Isaiah meets on his journey. Actor Steve Dakota, who played a small role in “Moneyball,” also came out to audition.

The crew is not paying its actors to participate, according to Tholan.

“It actually works out because nobody is driven by the money, but instead [by] the exposure and passion,” Tholan said.

Nolan also said his favorite part about filming “Flounder” was seeing all of the pre-production work come together on the first day of shooting on set last summer.

“It was so awesome seeing our dream, our vision that we had worked so hard on, actually turn into the film,” said Nolan, who became interested in the film industry through making short films.

Nolan said that one of the hardest parts of filming “Flounder” was scheduling the shoots and coordinating schedules with a large group of cast and crew members.The production crew hopes its film will be finalized and released this summer.

Actor and Tam junior Andrew Lebuhn acts in
Tam junior Andrew Lebuhn acts in “Flounder.”

“I’m excited to see the editing process as it comes to a completion,” Nolan said. “We almost feel like we bit off more than we could chew, but it worked out. We’ve been working so hard on it, and it feels like all this time when it finally comes together, it will be really rewarding.”

Tholan also said that directing “Flounder” and writing the script has changed his outlook on his future in the film industry.

“I’ve always been into film, but in terms of fine tuning what I like within the industry, I think I definitely want to improve on my writing,” Tholan said.

Vela plans on following her passion for film in college next year, and said that producing “Flounder” has further cemented her love for moviemaking and acting.

“[With] every film I’ve made, the production quality has gone up,” Vela said. “[Producing “Flounder”] has definitely changed me because I had no idea I could do something like this.”