A Rose-Tinted Biographical Film: HTC Max Kaplan's "Hawaii"
As the new semester started, the new MFA Film students kick off their Bootcamp year. This year, the group consists of seven students from four different countries with diverse backgrounds and experiences. One of them is second-year HTC student Max Kaplan. Max is from Dayton, Ohio, and has been making movies since he was 11. Last year, after his first year of film school shifted online, Max took the initiative to make his own short film over the summer of 2020, which has been selected into several festivals and shown in small cinemas in Ohio.
Hawaii (2021) is a short film about two high school sweethearts (Erika Bierman & Stone Taul) during their last summer before college and the bittersweet end of growing up, young dreams, and learning how to say goodbye.
“Hawaii is a sentimental and rose-tinted biographical film” Max explained, “I guess being a filmmaker the only way I know how to process traumatic events is to make a movie about it.” Max finished high school in early 2019 and took a gap year; the entire year he was working on the script of Hawaii, while also working in Video Marketing. When the script was ready to be produced, Covid-19 hit. Max and his producer Savannah Webb dove into industry safety guidelines and decided that they could safely make Hawaii. Despite having some hiccups at the beginning and having to replace people because of quarantine rules, Max and his crew rehearsed and filmed Hawaii in seven days.
When the editing process started, Max learned an important lesson that “sometimes when you write something, the content is there, but it´s not always structured quite right.” He explained that they filmed the story as written it but changed it completely in the editing. “It was interesting to see how switching them around and trying different ways worked best for the narrative. A surprising amount of storytelling happened during post-production.”
After Hawaii was finished Max and his producer Savannah began submitting it to festivals. “We have gotten into more festivals than we have been rejected from. All over the world, in Sweden, we didn´t win but were a finalist. At a film festival in LA, we won best cinematography. And then I think there are a couple of others, one is happening in Columbus this month, that I will try to go to and if we get into the international film festival in Cleveland, I will go to that and bring the crew, as that is something special.”
Most people on Hawaii that collaborated with Max have worked with him before, or they were his friends. This way it was possible to work very efficiently and with a low budget. “My costume designer Maria Wurth; I have been best friends with her since I have been seven years old, and she has worked on a bunch of my sets before. Erica who is like a big actress, one of the biggest actresses I have worked with, I have met her on a Hallmark film, and we were just the only people that were a similar age, so we hung out a lot and a couple of years later I texted her and ask her if she wants to be in this movie. I wrote the character for Stone since he has worked on one of my films before, and my cinematographer Luke and I have been working together since I was 15 or 16.”
“Working with your friends can be fun and rewarding,” but Max also shared that he has lost friendships over films. “You’ve got to learn who can be your friend and collaborator, not everyone can be both.” His biggest takeaway: “Be professional about responsibilities, you can´t micromanage.” Max trusted his producer Savannah, which left him with better focus and time to be able to make creative decisions.
Max hopes to at some point screen Hawaii at the Athena. The film will be available for streaming in May.