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Student short film ‘Cedar Mountain’ is ‘Euphoria’ for summer camp counselors

The cast and crew of “Cedar Mountain” prepare to film a scene. Fourth-year theater student Isaiah Bowes, who co-wrote and co-directed the short film, said the project’s team took inspiration from the HBO series “Euphoria” when developing its visuals. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

By Maya Vibhakar

April 28, 2024 12:37 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Kayla Louie is the director of photography for the film “Cedar Mountain.” In fact, she is a co-director of photography.

This post was updated May 12 at 8:20 p.m.

In the short film “Cedar Mountain,” it’s all about summer camp and self-expression.

The film, which is being produced by a team of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television students, is a coming-of-age story that follows a group of college students who work as camp counselors for the summer. Isaiah Bowes, a fourth-year theater student who co-wrote and co-directed “Cedar Mountain” for his senior capstone project, said he wanted to develop a narrative centered around the space for self-discovery that students find during summer camp. As a former camp counselor himself, Bowes said he wanted to base the short film on his own experiences working in the mountains a few summers ago.

“I had an absolutely amazing and very transformational time where I was able to come into my own identity and become comfortable with who I am,” Bowes said. “That’s what this piece is about – the joys of being up a mountain where you’re away from everything … and who you can become when you’re given that freedom.”

[Related: ‘Riley’: A UCLA alumnus’ love letter to community and queer youth]

Bowes also stars in “Cedar Mountain,” playing a camp counselor named Marco, who Bowes described as “Mr. Cedar Mountain himself.” He said Marco, a confident returning counselor who practically runs the camp, guides the main character, Noah, through his journey of personal growth as he adjusts to life in the mountains. Javeon Shannon, a third-year theater student who stars as Noah, said he was drawn to the role due to his own experiences as a transfer student, relating to the feelings of both apprehension and eagerness while entering a new environment.

“(Noah’s) kind of fresh, kind of scared, kind of excited about everything,” Shannon said. “He’s very much living life for the first time in the film.”

Along with exploring sexuality, partying and complicated relationships in a manner reminiscent of the series “Euphoria,” “Cedar Mountain” also takes inspiration from the HBO program when it comes to the short film’s visuals, Bowes said. With glitter integrated into the characters’ looks, Bowes said the short film takes on the purple and blue undertones that have drawn audiences to the aesthetic of the Emmy-winning drama.

(Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)
Actors and crew members smile behind the scenes of filming the student short film “Cedar Mountain.” The production follows a group of camp counselors who experience a life-changing summer. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

The short film also tackles the complexities of life on the mountain, juxtaposing the clean, idealistic personas of the counselors during the day with the partying culture and experimentation that comes out at night, Bowes said. While self-discovery is the theme at the forefront of “Cedar Mountain,” he also said the story showcases how a lack of restraint and rules can transform a person, even after leaving that environment.

“I also want the audience to see this as a cautionary tale,” Bowes said. “What happens when you don’t tell yourself, ‘No’? What are the consequences of indulging in everything offered to you, and … what happens when you’re not in that space anymore?”

In the lead up to filming “Cedar Mountain,” Kayla Louie, a fourth-year theater student and the project’s co-writer, co-director and co-director of photography, said the process has been chaotic but a success thus far. Since much of the team had limited film experience prior to this, Louie said they are learning the intricacies of the process through trial and error but have come together over their passion for the project to keep production moving, with filming beginning this past week.

“Most of us are theater majors breaking into the film production sphere, and we’re doing it with so much love,” Louie said. “The last week has been where everyone’s locked in. … All the pieces are falling into place.”

Since “Cedar Mountain” is on a tight budget, Bowes said the team utilized their connections and community for support, with friends lending them camera equipment and drones for free, while Bowes’ fraternity allowed him to use their house to film interior shots of the summer camp cabins. He also said the short film relies on crowdfunding through the “Cedar Mountain” GoFundMe, emphasizing how meaningful it is to the team that there are contributors willing to value their story and give them a space to create it.

[Related: Student-created short film centers on humanizing the Syrian refugee crisis]

Ultimately, the ongoing experience working on the short film has been such a success that the team has formed Mirrorball Productions, a student film company. Bowes said the film company aims to give anyone with an original idea – TFT student or not – the opportunity to learn more about film production and bring their story to the screen.

“We wanted to make a film, but we weren’t even given a place to do (that) in the School of Theater, Film and Television,” he said. “So we got together, and we created something that … is going to be the legacy of ‘Cedar Mountain,’ which is Mirrorball Productions.”

Once “Cedar Mountain” eventually reaches audiences, Louie said she wants viewers to take in the story and feel a sense of nostalgia for their own life-changing summer. Although summer camp in the mountains may not be a shared experience for everyone, she said she hopes audiences can remember what those months of summer were like for them.

“Everyone has that one summer where everything changed,” Louie said. “There’s beauty in the fact that it happened, we grew from it, we learned from it, and we had to (decide for) ourselves who we were going to be coming out of that summer.”

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