It's about midnight, and I'm greeted with the abrasive jarring sound of a moving cart rolling over brick in the lobby of Sansom West. When I turn around, I'm not surprised to see Wharton junior Taylor Hamilton barreling towards me insisting that we talk. Over the past few weeks, Hamilton and co-director/co-writer/partner-in-crime ColllllAled Ordu have been carrying all types of props and supplies in and out of Sansom at bewitching hours of the night. Taylor suggests we speak in his room which is a beautiful disaster, congested with camera equipment, hundreds of actor resumes, fake guns and everything else necessary for putting together a student-produced action film. The lanky Hamilton holds up a giant baby doll as he excitedly tells me how a makeup artist is going to turn it into a decomposing child. Hamilton's animation is at once refreshing, scary and endearing. Most of all, it arouses curiosity about their project, The Underground.
The reason for the madness is a film inspired by true events put together by Hamilton, Wharton junior Lance Jones and Ordu. The film chronicles the kidnapping and subsequent hostage of a young boy in an underground cellar. After the boy's father attempts to rescue his child and is instead lured into the killer's trap, the boy sees his opportunity to escape. The project was born when Hamilton's play submission was rejected by the campus performance arts collective, African-American Arts Alliance (4A). Ordu was inspired by a cop documentary and after merging ideas with Hamilton and bringing Jones on as producer, The Underground started production early this year.
Reading more like the latest multi-million dollar studio action opus than a limited budget student film, The Underground is an enticing anomaly. Ordu and Hamilton hit up friends and family for money, and exhausted personal funds and favors to fund the project. Producer Lance Jones walks through the story and noting the real cop consultants and weapons-expert they have hired. Considering it is a film financed by three college students, the New York-based actors, the expansive warehouse used for the shoot, and the $6,000 cameras are fairly impressive. However, they are not as compelling as the ambition of the film's supporters. As actor Frank Bennett asserts Hamilton, Ordu and Jones "seem to be very much breathing the project."
The cast and crew agree the success of the production is due to the approach of the directors. Robert Berlin who plays lead cop Nick Cooke says, "I think they're handling themselves well. I like the way they are treating us. They're letting us do our work and we're letting them do their work. That's a collaboration." That mutual exchange is evident during filming as Ordu listens patiently to suggestions from a lead actor in the midst of shooting a climactic chase scene. Script supervisor Tenea Nelson notes this is the most organized project helmed by first time directors that she has participated in.
The project is especially interesting because it brings together two very distinct personalities. Hamilton is loud, urgent, visibly passionate with an intensity he struggles to contain on the set. Ordu conversely is calm, flexible and comparatively soft-spoken and even tempered. When the sound guy abruptly leaves production, Hamilton is clearly irritated while Ordu doesn't appear to be affected at all.
As actor Bruce Ross notes "Aled and Taylor are such different personalities...they sort of balance each other out." Ordu explains that their artistic backgrounds compliment each other as "I've worked on smaller [movie sets] so I got a lot more interpersonal interaction which is why I was able to bring in a lot of friends...who do [professional] crew. Taylor's worked on big movie sets...so his larger scale experience and my smaller scale, sort of mom-and-pop experience...goes [together] really good." After the exhaustive project Hamilton, Jones and Ordu have plans to just edit, "take a breath" and perhaps enter the finished product in some film festivals. For now, Ordu would like to shout out the T.Mobile sidekick, Hamilton would like to shout out his girlfriend Java, and Jones would like to shout out The Underground for an experience he wouldn't change for the world.