The scene opens with a chilling picture of a wounded man, alone in a bar, handling the now–empty glass that has been set before him. He sets it down and stands to leave, only to walk backwards from his barstool. The waitress in the foreground also walks backwards, as do the passers–by on the streets outside. The events, we realize, are taking place in reverse, played before a haunting a capella score that anticipates our protagonist’s anguish.
No, this isn’t the music video for “Closing Time” by Semisonic or a scene from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s the plot of the music video “Nobody Loves You Like Me,” one of the many projects written, acted, shot, produced and directed by Penn students in Bent Button Productions. Founded three years ago by a group of aspiring student filmmakers, Bent Button is Penn’s only film production club. “[It’s] meant to be a community and resource for filmmakers and would–be filmmakers on campus,” says president and co–founder Jason Merrin, an Engineering senior majoring in Digital Media Design. “We have members interested in all stages of the filmmaking process: writing, producing, acting, directing, editing and more.”
Since its start, Bent Button has devoted itself to the art and instruction of filmmaking. Experienced and inexperienced students alike are encouraged to come to meetings with some sort of idea or vision. Oftentimes, that’s all they have.
“Sometimes our members don’t know how to write a script and need a writer,” says Merrin. “Or they don’t know how to use a camera, or how to direct or find actors.” Club members volunteer to fill the missing slots in the production, thus creating a dynamic approach to the filmmaking process. While each movie’s theme remains unique to its inventor, the end result reflects collaborative effort and camaraderie.
“We try to have at least one movie in each stage of production, which is to say, one in the planning stages, one being filmed and one in post–production, at any given time,” says Merrin. The films usually run under five minutes and reflect a wide array of genres: dramas, documentaries, comedies and even music videos. A number of Bent Button projects can be seen on the group’s Facebook page as well as on YouTube.
Bent Button members are encouraged to submit their finished films to contests and film festivals, especially those happening at Penn and other college campuses. One popular choice is the Ivy Film Festival, the world’s largest student–run film festival, held annually at Brown University. Last year, Bent Button member and College junior Erin Peraza won the festival’s “Seven–Day Screenplay” competition, which requires contestants to create a script that incorporates several themes and elements within just one week. Her screenplay, “Damsel at the Pier,” follows three naive kids from wealthy families (wonder where she got that idea) who find entertainment by creating stories about a mysterious woman.
Two Bent Button films were top–ten finalists at the Penn Student Film Festival, and “Nobody Loves You Like Me” ended up winning the audience choice award. Outside of the college scene, Bent Button members have won numerous awards and achievements for things like animation, screenwriting and filmmaking.
Two–and–a–half minutes is barely enough time to get from Commons to Huntsman, let alone long enough to tell an engaging story through film. But Bent Button Productions, with its talented and diverse staff, has done just that. With a portfolio ranging from comedic sketches to troubling, plot–twisting shorts, is there anything the club hasn’t done?
“No one has made a horror film yet,” Merrin points out, “but nothing’s stopping them.”