The Oscars are still months away, but Park Forest Middle School student Nico Cardenas-Miller is already off to a very auspicious awards season.
Nico’s short horror film, “The Guest,” was accepted into the All-American High School Film Festival and will screen at the AMC Theater in Times Square next weekend.
If you too dream of taking a bite out of the Big Apple, here’s a look at how Nico made it happen.
Timing is everything
What would Hollywood be without a protracted battle of dueling datebooks?
Fortunately, Nico’s English teacher, Maria Stout, helped him find a hole in his schedule.
Stout supplied her students with one class period per week to pursue a passion project. One of her students developed a natural disinfectant and another, a book full of pie recipes.
“These are things I wouldn’t have gotten to see about them,” Stout said.
Pick a genre, any genre
Just for the sake of clarity, Nico was not the student who made his or her own disinfectant.
He did, however, have plenty of experience making his own blood (a combination of chocolate syrup, corn syrup and food dye, if you’re looking to trade recipes).
The young director had already added a zombie movie to his IMDb page in progress and had discovered that he very much enjoyed frightening the pants off audiences.
“If you can make people scared it’s pretty cool because you can make them really into your film,” Nico said.
Trust in the development process
With the Untitled Nico Cardenas-Miller Project having officially received the green light, its director was fairly adamant that his movie should feature some sort of a plot — an engaging one, if they could afford it.
His first script featured a cadre of aliens that crash-landed into a young boy’s house. That idea was eventually discarded for practical reasons — (where was Nico going to get his hands on group of actors old enough to believably play a SWAT team?) — but it eventually yielded something even better.
“Having restrictions can give you other options that you can use to work more creatively,” Nico said.
There will be a second draft
Having narrowed his list of available resources down to his family home (he’s apparently on good terms with the owners), Nico set about drafting the second iteration of his script.
One his biggest influences was director J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” a mystery-infused thriller about a small town with a big monster problem.
The creature in question remains largely unseen throughout the duration of the film — and is all the scarier for it. Nico would take that lesson to heart once the “The Guest” finally went into production.
“I framed it so you can’t always see everything that’s going on to build suspense,” Nico said.
The mundane is terrifying
Anxiety is the stock and trade of the horror genre — and the internet certainly has plenty of that.
Sure, zombies are terrifying, but the odds of running into one in the checkout line at Wegmans are slim. “The Guest” is based largely around Nico’s dearly held belief that there’s nothing more terrifying than when the familiar turns against you.
A computer virus that can upload itself into the human brain surely fits the bill. Once the rogue code is free, it begins terrorizing the house’s only other inhabitant — its host’s younger brother.
Boys will be boys, right?
There’s no rest for the weary
Promoting your film can be just as grueling as the production itself. In Nico’s case, it will be a literal learning experience, with a couple of filmmaking workshops rounding out the whole festival experience.
“I think that’s going to be a lot of fun, so I’m excited,” Nico said.
For his next movie, he’s looking to develop his dramatic hops — possibly something in the realm of a good-old fashioned who-done-it.
“I feel like the next one I can work even harder and get into more and more film festivals,” Nico said.