Professor of film studies Evan Lieberman looked no farther than his workplace when selecting the set for his latest project, “Kathy T,” a coming-of-age film about sex and college students.
The film, which Lieberman described as autobiographical, follows a college virgin in his efforts to have sex for the first time.
“Some events are almost taken verbatim from real events that happened to me,” Lieberman said. “I don’t consider myself a true adult.”
The writer and director recruited his students to help with the project, offering extra credit to those who starred as extras in the independent film, which production company Cinema Concepts hopes will be released in the spring.
On Saturday, the first day of a tightly packed, 12-day filming schedule, production crews bustled into Thomson Residential Hall, lugging clunky sound equipment into the stairwell and parking their movie van by the curb for most of the daylong shoot.
Crew members set up quickly in the hall, running electrical wires through doorways and planting a standing set light outside the building. As residents of the first-floor hallway poked their heads out of door frames, inspecting the moviemaking, crew members with heavy headsets and microphones called for retakes and prop changes.
On Sunday, Lieberman and his crew took over the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house to film a party scene. They outfitted Emory students who volunteered as extras with fake fraternity and sorority T-shirts.
Filmmakers said the Pike house was booked in advance of the administration’s recent decision to expel fraternity members from their house for misconduct.
Lieberman was jovial on the set, joking around with students as he instructed them.
He carefully guided two female Emory students through a scene in which their characters gesture flirtatiously at the film’s protagonist and giggle.
Lieberman steered the students through a couple of walk throughs of the shot before any actual filming began.
“It’s extremely important to me to use students in my work,” he said.
But those in Lieberman’s class were not the only ones who played an integral role in the filming.
Students around campus where the crew was filming had to accomodate the crew in its needs for space, second assistant director Tony Hollie said.
Hollie said the crew asked students to leave their rooms or be quiet to create the atmosphere needed.
“It is impossible for us to be completely absent from the daily goings-on here,” he said.
Lieberman got permission from the University to film on campus.
College senior Starr Turner, one of Lieberman’s students and a volunteer production assistant on set, said she sees the project as a foot in the door to the moviemaking business.
“I want to be part of the film industry,” Turner said. “This is great experience.”
A “teen ‘Annie Hall’”
In the film, a college freshman named Alex (Trent Gill, “Little Black Book”), set on a mission to get sexual experience, comes across the phrase “Kathy T gives good hoover” graffitied on a table in the school library.
So, he sets off to find Kathy T (Mary Elise, “Pop Star”) and succeeds.
Kathy leads a double life: Krispy Kreme sorority girl by day, gothic punk partier by night. Despite her allure, Alex soon realizes that the elusive Kathy isn’t what he was looking for.
Lieberman said his own college girlfriend, also named Kathy, does not know about the film.
The movie is about sex, Lieberman said, but also about learning life lessons.
“In the end, he loses his virginity, but it’s anticlimactic,” Lieberman said.
The theme, Lieberman said, is that “ultimately, friendship is more important than sex.”
“Sex isn’t the most important thing in the world,” he said. “But when you’re an 18-year-old guy, it’s all you think about.”
Music is another key theme in the film, Lieberman said. Along the way, Alex winds up joining a punk band he finds his niche.
“Music is an important way for people to know who they are,” Lierberman said. “That doesn’t change much through different generations.”
The film features cameos from American Idol runner-up Diana DiGarmo and Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker.
Producer Kim Turner, who works with Cinema Concepts, said the film reminds her of “a teen ‘Annie Hall’.” She said she worked with Lieberman on a film 10 years ago and was excited when he came to her with the new script.
“I just fell in love with it because it reminded me so much of college,” she said.
What makes it different, said Lieberman’s publicist, Elena Cizmaric, is that the script is “smart.”
“It’s edgy, not fluffy like most teen movies coming out now,” Cizmaric said.
Ups and downs of filming on campus
For Lieberman and his cast and crew, filming on campus brought in both the good and the bad.
Lieberman said he could see students learning as they worked. One student, he said, “became a filmmaker in one day.”
“I am a teacher above all — teaching is my great passion,” Lieberman said. “Nothing compares to that, except playing bass guitar in a rock band.”
Like college, the filming was not all easy, Hollie said.
While filming in Thomson, he said, a resident adviser got “fiesty.”
“We were doing our best to provide the least amount of interference,” Hollie said. “But [the RAs] expressed their frustration to us.”
Cizmaric said the ringing of the Cox Hall bell tower also interrupted filming.
“We started, then the bell would chime and we would have to start over again,” Cizmaric said.
Despite the technical difficulties, Cizmaric said the students were very accommodating during filming.
“One student [on the third floor] let us use her bathroom as long as we needed it,” Cizmaric said.
While some students made the process easier, Atlanta talents made the film unique, said Kim Turner.
“People don’t realize the talent pool we have here in Atlanta,” she said.
According to Lieberman, almost everyone on the set was once his student.
“It’s really important not just to have students on set but to give [my ex-students] jobs when I can,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman said he hopes to enter the film in various festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival.