Sarasota Military Academy Capt. Hellen Harvey has run the film program at Sarasota Military Academy for five years, and in that time, has seen students come and go. She’s done her best to teach them the basics of film composition, the nature of the craft, and how to go out and make their best work.
Still, there are some groups that have greater impacts than others. As much as she teaches her students the fundamentals each year, some students arrive with a creativity that she feels the need to recognize.
She felt that with “The Fate of the Oklahoma Riders” a 10-minute short film a group of her students put together for their final grade in spring 2019. The plot concerns a trio of deluded cowboys riding hobby horses who find themselves smack dab in Sarasota.
The short film has an in-your-face opening with a drawn out licking-of-the-lips from Evan Schultz, a number of classic Sarasota locales from downtown to Celery Fields, a musical number and more. Harvey felt the short film had some interesting filmmaking techniques she didn’t always see.
Though her students had graduated and moved on, she went with her gut and submitted the short film to the Sarasota Film Festival. Her intuition paid off – “The Fate of the Oklahoma Riders” won a Comedy Appreciation award at this year’s festival. It was the first year the festival had this category.
Harvey has noticed particularly creative films have come from the students that kept to themselves. She’s particularly proud of the film group’s decision to bring in friends from outside her class to participate, as well as the multiple settings in the film.
“It takes a lot of coordination because teenage kids today, they have jobs, they have commitments and trying to get everybody on board for a film shoot is very difficult,” Harvey said. “So they were incredibly focused and incredibly creative, but they had a lot of fun.”
Beyond being a grade, the short film was an opportunity for the senior students, who had been friends throughout high school, to work together one last time before graduating. The idea of running around with fake horses was in reference to a running joke the group had since freshman year.
“We have had such a long string of inside jokes, and humor that has built up over the course of those four years,” actor Evan George Martin Shultz said. “And when it came to this film, that all kind of just burst out in one big series of ridiculousness.”
Shultz, 19 and now a student at Southern Adventist University, played the main cowboy. He looks fondly at the film for having some great memories, from falling down the hill at Celery Fields to having to explain to a group of yoga moms why he was dancing in a full cowboy costume at a marina dock.
“Knowing that this blew up about a year after it was made, my friends are all so very pleased,” Shultz said. “… It’s a big surprise, and a very funny one.”
Director Heidi Iwansky said her group’s strength was always in comedy, and nothing made her and her friends laugh harder than the idea of delusional cowboys living in a city. The idea that her friend’s fun end-of-the-year project won an award at the Sarasota Film Festival, though, still seems surreal to the Florida Institute of Technology student.
“I'm really glad we were able to stick with that idea instead of some of the others who had come up with, because it's something that we really enjoyed,” Iwansky said. “It brought us closer together. Every day after school, we would come outside and go film for hours ... it’s nice it was the last (movie) because it’s just what we hold on to.”