What is it Like to Direct a Feature at Age 16? Evan Hara on Making His Sci-Fi Film The Boundary

There are so many things you have to learn before jumping into something as big as a feature film, and it’s about a thousand times harder to do so while balancing grades, applying to colleges and trying to have a social life in high school.

My name is Evan Hara and I am a 16-year-old moviemaker.

I’m not sure I knew what I was signing up for when I decided that I wanted to be a director. When I was little, I constantly played with my Dad’s camcorder, making videos about my Hot Wheels and Legos. As I grew up, I began to realize that this could be a great career for me.

I signed up for acting classes at the Young Actor’s Studio in Dallas, and migrated over to a film program called Teen Producers. In this class, I learned everything I needed to create a video: editing, working cameras, lighting, cinematography, marketing, directing. I soaked up all this information like a sponge and quickly became fluent in filmmaking. Every video I saw, I looked for techniques and potential ideas for upcoming videos that I wanted to make. My goal in this industry was to become the youngest and the best.

Teenaged moviemaker Colton Tapp on set

I worked all the time before and after school, watching YouTube tutorials, trying to learn how to better my skills. One day, I had an idea. I wanted to start getting recognized, so I began contacting local talent, offering them videos, photos and headshots. One fellow teenager named Alex Lee (who rose to fame as internet sensation #alexfromtarget) responded. He happened to live in my area. This sparked “The Fearless Five,” my first film. Alex starred in the film; we shot for four days on the weekend. We planned, we cast, we executed and we edited. Being in school made things extremely hard because we had shot the film the week before finals week. The stress was high, but I just kept telling myself, “This is my future.” Later, after the film was edited, we rented out a space at the Angelika Theater in The Shops at Legacy here in Plano and hosted a big screening. About 100 people showed up, giving us a small profit, and the film was a success!

At this point, I realized that you can learn everything there is to learn about the craft, but you won’t get any better unless you get out there and execute something. You can plan for every possible problem and still run into an issue. There will be times on set where everything will go south and it will seem like you’ve failed. Some people will quit at this point, and some people will pursue through it. The key to getting through this is staying calm. When something goes wrong, smile, laugh it off, then figure out how to bounce back from it. I have now realized that when the director gets sad or upset, the entire cast and crew gets sad and upset, making it a terrible atmosphere to work in. One big piece of advice to first-time directors is to stay calm and smile. Your positivity will quickly rub off on the rest of the cast and crew.

Soon after “The Fearless Five,” I wanted to get into the festival circuit to garner more experience for my resume. I knew I had to do something great if I wanted to compete with some of the best filmmakers in the nation, so I started to think big. That same day, I saw Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, and got inspiration for my newest film, The Boundary. I’ve been watching space documentaries all my life and thought that a sci-fi film would be right up my alley.

The next day, I pitched an idea to my film teacher, Brad Corn at Young Actor’s Studio: “Let’s make a feature film.” Without hesitation, he said yes. He almost didn’t let me finish my sentence! I told him my idea for the premise, and we worked back and forth for about three months before we got a working script. It was about 32 pages long and the film was expected to be 40 minutes. We were fairly close; the finished version ended up being 45 minutes.

We made a casting call on actorsaccess.com for local talent in Texas. Many responded, but I soon figured out that casting shouldn’t be done on only one platform. We branched out to different casting websites where we ended up finding some of our main actors. Speaking to agents was something that took me a while to figure out. This kind of stuff isn’t taught in high school.

Colton Tapp plays Miles Cooper in The Boundary

We had found the perfect lead actor. His name was Colton Tapp, a Texas local who works in L.A. He has appeared in Three Days in August, Solar Eclipse: Depth of Darkness and, coming soon, Expulsion. His audition tape blew me away and I knew I had to find a way to contact him. I spoke to his agent, but I suspected that they were hesitant to get back to me after discovering my age.

The next weekend, I attended the Texas State UIL Film Competition, where my short film “Modeling a Dream” took second place. I also happened to run into the one and only Colton Tapp, and was able to speak to him more about the project. He loved it and got back to me accepting the offer. Now we were ready to get shooting.

As I was planning, I thought it would be cool to have a well-known scientist or astrophysicist play a cameo in the film, so I reached out to scientists like Michio Kaku and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I had waited a couple of months and hadn’t gotten a response. No biggie.

After lots of work making call sheets and planning locations, we filmed over my spring break and finished the first half of the film. Right after that first week of planning, I found myself drained of motivation. I questioned whether filmmaking was the right fit for me. I’ve since learned, after many shoots, that it’s normal to feel that way after working hard. Do not give up after that first wave of doubt, because it is just a false alarm. You’re not supposed to love working so much that you’d sacrifice your health for it. If you work hard at something, you’re supposed to take a break and hate it for a bit.

This phase also occurred because I was spending all my nights and weekends building a giant wooden box in my backyard for the film. We’d run into a little problem when it came to making the spaceship scenes: We had no spaceship. Ultimately, it ended up being cheaper to just build one than renting a set. Despite me having no experience in set design and building, four months later, we had a 20 x 14-foot spaceship set next to my pool. Now I’m glad to say I am a professional at building big wooden boxes in people’s backyards.

The spaceship set built for The Boundary

Then, one day, I woke up to a message on my computer from Neil deGrasse Tyson. I thought it was just spam at first, until I realized the message was from the man himself. I nearly fell out of my chair while reading it. It had been three months since I emailed him, but he still took the time to get back to me! He said he would love to play a cameo. I quickly Skyped him and recorded his part, then immediately told the cast and crew. I remember texting Colton nonchalantly, saying, “Hey man, I’ll send you over the new call sheet soon. Also, Neil deGrasse Tyson is in the film. Talk soon.” He responded faster than I’d ever seen him: “Did you say Neil deGrasse Tyson?!”

After The Boundary was completed, it was premiered at the same Angelika Theater and five different news companies wrote about the event. We also had live coverage on news channel CW33! The whole film was a great success and now we are playing the festival circuit.

The Boundary really taught me how to network. Soon after shooting the feature, I worked with Colton and actor Matthew Roy, who played a supporting role in the film, on another short horror film I was hired to direct. These people I work with have really become my family and I am so grateful for the opportunities that film has given me.

Before you get out there and start making great films, remember one thing: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle MM

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