A Passion for Film Leads Sadie Schoenberger ’25 to Competition

Sadie Schoenberger '25

“It is the medium of all mediums.”

Sadie Schoenberger ’25 has found her passion and it is film production. After a five-week film course this summer at Northwestern University, Schoenberger came home with an enthusiasm that led to her collaborating with several other students from the course to create a short film for the national Creative Arts Film Invitational competition.

During the course, Schoenberger took classes in production, a lab in technical skills, color grading, and documentary films and met the students who became her collaborators.

All American High School Film Festival
Film Invitational 2023 logo

According to the All American High School Film Festival website which sponsors the competition, “The AAHSFF Film Invitational is the world’s premier, on-site student filmmaking competition — an authentic, real-world production experience for student filmmakers and video production programs — your chance to ‘crew up’ and produce a short film in just 10 weeks. We believe that the best classroom is a film set, and our Film Invitational Competitions provide participants with an unparalleled chance to productively collaborate, improve their craft and test their skills while competing against student teams from around the world.”

The multitalented Schoenberger has developed her leadership and creative skills participating in student government at Poly, working on The Polygon, as a choreographer in the Afternoon of Student Choreography, and as assistant director of the Upper School musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She has also performed with Advanced Concert Choir, danced in the Spring Dance Concert, and has acted in Poly productions since Middle School when she played Mrs. Peacock in Clue: On Stage. But contributing to her growth, she also credits faculty who have acted as mentors including dance teacher Sam Turner, English teacher Sean Mullin, Director Mariko Watt, and Performing Arts faculty member David Higham, who lent the camera and tripod used for the film.

Special Power: Genuine Enthusiasm for Other’s Successes

What makes Schoenberger successful in her creative pursuits? “Sadie Schoenberger praises the artistic, academic, and athletic accomplishments of her peers,” said Mullin, “and that choice to be glad for other people’s feats leads her to forge fellowship with a range of people, free of cliques. I admire Sadie’s loyalty to the students and teachers with whom she works — demonstrated by, for example, mediating sometimes difficult classroom conversations or guiding service initiatives — and I admire her readiness to welcome new friends. The relationships Sadie tends to provide material for the films she writes, directs, and produces – films that include believable adolescent dialogue and camera shots that feature faces full of the condition known as teenage riot.  It’s promising of Sadie to want to enroll in a range of filmmaking courses and bold of her to pursue a career in the risky entertainment industry.”

Sadie Schoenberger '25 on set in locker room
A Storytelling Prompt & Creating a Short Film for Competition

According to AAHSFF,  “Teams will arrive in New York City on October 18 to begin filming and edit a final cut before the final submission deadline” on Friday, October 20, 2023.

In early September, Schoenberger and her team of four received the Invitational Film Festival packet with the rules for the short film and a prompt: “What you don’t know…” Schoenberger’s team decided on “What You Don’t Know about the Right Thing,” which presented a moral dilemma for the main character, Leo, performed by fellow Poly student Jasper Whiteley ’25. The team consisted of students who Schoenberger had met at the Northwestern course and who live in the NYC area including Tess Romero, who was a production student at Northwestern. “It was exciting to collaborate,” Schoenberger said.

After receiving the prompt, Schoenberger and her team brainstormed on what the story might be about. Finally, she wrote a very tight script with six characters that presents a moral dilemma. In the slightly longer than six-minute film, characters find out things they were not aware of and then have to decide how they will react. “I wanted it to raise questions,” Schoenberger said, “and it did.”  “I am very proud of the story.” She added, “There are so many storytellers on campus” and hopes that there will be more opportunities for young filmmakers at Poly.

What You Don’t Know About the Right Thing Credits & Challenges
Sadie Schoenberger '25 on set in locker room

The film was directed by Schoenberger and Tess Romero, written by Schoenberger with story editor Matthew Finkel, and edited by Schoenberger and Romero. Zach Davis served as cinematographer.

Two adults, Moïse Morancy and Angelo Santos, accompanied the students to the Poly campus to assist them with sound and lighting in filming location shots in the locker room and Legacy Gym on October 19.

Schoenberger said the team had a tight schedule from Wednesday to Friday to film and edit What You Don’t Know about the Right Thing.

Whiteley recalls, “Prior to shooting this movie, I had absolutely no experience acting in front of a camera, so it was a lot of learning on the fly and pretending I knew what I was doing. Luckily, the other people working on this film were incredibly talented and kind enough to help me out with my inexperience.”

“The most challenging part of the whole experience was honestly the physical strain put on my body from standing for large periods of time,” Whiteley added. “On our first day of shooting, we started with the film’s last scene. In all these shots my character is on his feet, and when we finished the scene a few hours after starting I could definitely feel it in my ankles.”  

What was the greatest challenge? Schoenberger says that working with the actors “comes very naturally to me,” but coming up with shots was more challenging. The team also needed to “compromise the goal of what we wanted with what we had.” For example, they did not have a stabilizer, so the handheld camera work in the gym was a little jumpy. Schoenberger said they used a Canon camcorder for filming and would have preferred a DSLR.

Watch the Film
Film Screening

Films entered in the competition were screened at AMC Times Square on October 22. After the competition winners are announced, student teams will receive a critique on five aspects of their production: Initial response, character and conflict, story structure and development, the elements of film, and commentary and meaning. Although What You Don’t Know About the Right Thing did not win a prize, Schoenberger is still very excited about filmmaking, what she has learned, and what she hopes to do in the future.

“There are so many opportunities to explore at Poly,” Schoenberger said. She is currently taking a Film & Video class with David Higham.  She also created a trailer about the Upper School musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and her goal this year is to make a documentary about this year’s Upper School musical, The Prom. Schoenberger says she has found herself watching and studying many documentaries and short films over the past year. Speaking of her love for film and the filmmaking process, Schoenberger said, “It is the medium of all mediums” in that it brings together the arts ​​— music, visuals, dance.