ASU students launch film 'At Dusk'

By

Marshall Terrill

Arizona is one of the most picturesque states to film a movie.

Good luck trying to get one made.

Although Arizona has been the backdrop for such classic flicks as “3:10 to Yuma,” “Psycho,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “Midnight Run,” the film climate is not as friendly as it once was. Neighboring states such as New Mexico and Utah are luring film and television productions to their respective states thanks to friendly tax incentives.

Those roadblocks, however, didn’t stop a group of determined ASU students from making “At Dusk,” a 90-minute feature film shot entirely in the Grand Canyon State.

“We proved that filmmaking doesn’t have to be an abstract Hollywood dream,” said producer Ryan Casey, a 22-year-old psychology major at ASU.

“Arizona is a great place to film, and we’re hoping our movie will showcase the all of the assets our state has to offer. There really isn’t an industry here, and that’s a shame because it doesn’t have to be that way.”

ASU is hosting a launch event for “At Dusk” at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Arizona Science Center’s Irene P. Flinn Theater, 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix. Admission for the event is free. However, attendees are asked to RSVP through this site.

“At Dusk” centers on Claudia, who finds camcorder footage depicting the mysteriously grizzly murder of two hikers while on a camping trip. When the town regent discovers she has the footage, Claudia works alongside a rogue cop to unravel the conspiracy behind a corrupt mining town.

The film was conceived a few years ago by director Vinny Viti and screenwriter Scott Suddarth, high school buddies from New River, Arizona, who took midnight hikes through the desert to stretch their legs after hours of playing video games.

“To make things interesting on these hikes, Scott would tell me scary stories to try and freak me out. When he finished, I’d try to outdo him,” said Viti, who is a 21-year-old film and media production major in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Those stories were eventually woven into a script a few years later, which led to this movie.”

But “At Dusk” isn’t Viti’s first dance with cinema. He has spent the past few years shooting approximately 50 short films with Shane Stevens, a 21-year-old student at Scottsdale Community College who serves as the film’s cinematographer. 

The students raised half of the film’s budget through an indie film crowd-funding site and the rest through wit and grit, according to Casey.

“Funding came through many measures, including family and friends. We also borrowed. ... A lot of favors were asked. Equipment was generously lent to us. It was guerilla filmmaking at its finest,” Casey said.

The shoot was no picnic, either. Filmed over a seven-week period in summer 2014 in the desert and woods of New River, Anthem, Cave Creek and north Phoenix, the 30-member crew had to deal with heat, bugs and dust, often logging in 14-hour days, four days a week.

“Trying to run through the desert terrain in 5-inch heels, the location came with its own set of challenges,” said lead actress Christine Conger, a theater major at the Herberger Institute. “At the same time, it was exciting to be a part of a film that takes advantage of Arizona’s inherently distinctive qualities, such as the desert environment, in a way that’s integral to the story being told.”

The other storyline that should be told, said Casey, is that fellow students and artists should step out of their comfort zones and go for their dreams.

“Life is very short and you only live once. People should take risks and follow their passion,” Casey said. “This production shows anything can be possible and it isn’t as difficult as you might think. It doesn’t take Steven Spielberg money to make a movie.”

“At Dusk” will be submitting to film festivals in February and eventually will be delivered on several different platforms.