Baylor lecturer resumes short film production after COVID-19 delays

Baylor Lecturer Sam Henderson and Alumni Ryan Romine create a film entirely shot on 35mm film in the midst of a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Sam Henderson

By Madison Martin | Reporter

After entering his previous short film, “Con Alma,” in two Oscar-qualifying festivals — Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival and St. Louis International Film Festival — Sam Henderson, Baylor theater and film lecturer, introduces his next project: “BREAK.”

Set in the mid-60s, the film tells the story of an amateur drummer presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a well-established band. When put in the hot seat in the recording studio, though, the main character struggles mentally to perform well and begins to question his capability and talent.

Henderson’s inspiration for this short was a movie entitled “The Last Blackman in San Francisco.” He built his short on the shared theme of longing and loss. Another significant inspiration for the film was famous jazz pianist Bill Evans, specifically the YouTube video called “Bill Evans Gets Ready to Play.” Drawing ideas from the setting in the that video, he used Castellaw Communications Center as the location in which to create his vision for the film. Because the department hasn’t been renovated in decades, it still embodies the structure and layout of buildings that were commonly seen in the 60s. From the flooring to light fixtures, few changes were made to dress the building for Henderson’s film, making it easy to set up the old school atmosphere he envisioned for his storyline.

In March 2020, former President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency, which caused state officials to close several businesses and issue an order for people to stay in their homes. Prior to this, Henderson completed half of the pre-production process and hired a crew to help shoot the film in spring 2020, but he had to stop his work completely when quarantine began. Because of the sudden halt to production, Henderson and his crew took this time to rethink the storyline for the short film.

“The blessing in disguise was, as the next year came around, [in] fall 2020, businesses began opening up, and it looked like we were actually going to be able to make the film in 2021,” Henderson said. “We took a look at the story and our resources, and we decided to rework the vision of the film. Originally, if we had made it in 2020, it would’ve been a very different film. I think what we made this May of 2021 is actually a better version.”

One of the biggest changes for the making of the film was transitioning from a digital camera to 35-mm film — material that is rarely used because of the limited number of retakes the film could have.

Victoria senior Calder Meis, a theatre performance major, played the lead role in “BREAK.” Meis said this was his first time using film instead of a digital camera in his academic career.

“What I think people don’t understand is the gravitas of working with 35-mm film,” Meis said. “A digital camera — you could have as many takes as you wanted. However, we were limited in our scope because there’s only so many yards of film. I think Sam made a really smart choice when [he] decided to use the film because I believe it’s going to bring a lot of authenticity to the storyline and the era he’s trying to portray.”

Henderson gave insight into the theme, which he hopes his audience can understand and relate to. Having dealt with sudden changes to his original plan, Henderson said he created a stronger connection to his message, which centered on outside factors changing one’s original plans but later leading to something better.

“I think the film’s message is that sometimes what we want isn’t really meant for us; it’s meant for somebody else,” Henderson said. “In the end, the most important thing to take away is it’s OK if that’s true. The moment that you lose could be the same moment for someone else who really needed the opportunity more than you did.”