Screams on screens! | Daily News


Screams on screens!

Kasun Rathnasiri,Akash Sk,Shenic Tissera & Stefania Perera
Kasun Rathnasiri,Akash Sk,Shenic Tissera & Stefania Perera

Horror has always been a genre that Hollywood has excelled at. Be it cursed tapes or possessed children, we have seen several films that have given us the chills. Today countless people are attracted to the dark side. A popular art form which engages exceptional creative techniques and complex ideas, horror films has its own inexplicable aura which draws in countless movie fans to the screens.

Growing up in a household where it was the norm to watch 80s and 90s action films during a meal, Akash Sk was inevitably drawn to the reel. The ‘larger than life’ aspect in the film scene appealed to him and was a mode of escapism for him to explore unknown territories.

Joining hands with a group of equally enthusiastic youth: Kasun Rathnasiri, Stefania Perera and Shenic Tissera, whom he had encountered at high school, Akash pursued his passion. Known as the High School Junkies and hailing from Negombo, the team has spent a fruitful three years in short filmmaking. Their previous productions: ‘Star Crossed’ (2015), ‘EIDETIC’ (2016) and ‘The Case’ (2017), have made it to a number of international film festivals in the past. Their latest production ‘The Summoning’ opens a new chapter for the team as it is of a diverse genre from their previous three films. Moving away from action films, the High School Junkies have focused on horror in their 14-minute production.

“It’s funny, but our best ideas have been conceived in the bathroom! It was the same case with ‘The Summoning’. We had wanted to switch genres for a while after our previous films and decided that we would try our hand at horror. Since I was never a horror fan, I decided to start watching horror movies. I lost a lot of sleep at the start but gradually started seeing the appeal in it. What mostly appealed to me was creating a fun story to weave along the fabric of horror. I really wanted to do a story that felt close to heart and something that involved the four core members of the team playing alternate versions of themselves on screen,” Akash explained on how they came across ‘The Summoning’s concept.

Shenic had always been a paranormal magnet. Therefore giving him the lead role was the ideal choice. Anisha Barakathulla, whom the team met in 2017 at the Lanka Comic Con was tapped to play the role of the entity. ‘The Summoning’ relates the tale of four friends who discover a séance table and summon a sinister presence with darker motives against one of the friends.

‘The Summoning’ has been selected to be screened at the San Diego Comic-Con’s International Independent Film Festival (SDCC) which is known as the largest geek and pop culture-related festival in the world. Over 130,000 people are expected to attend the event and ‘The Summoning’ will compete with films from multiple other countries across the world. The film’s US premiere will be held at the Grand Marriott Ballroom on July 19 at 10.30 am.

Produced on a meagre budget and shot over four nights, the film succeeded in securing screenings at multiple festivals since its online release last October. Earlier this year, the film was also presented at the Cyprus Comic-Con and at Mostra Espantomania in Brazil.

The team had gotten the news that their production had been selected for SDCC in the middle of the night via e mail. Akash had to keep his excitement bottle up till morning when he can break the news to his colleagues and parents.

“I was ecstatic to hear the good news! I never thought that I would get such an exposure, specially being an amateur “actress”,” Anisha adds with a smile.

‘EIDETIC’ was the first Sri Lankan film to be screened at SDCC 2017. It also made it to Raindance – UK’s largest independent film festival. The film is an action/thriller that follows a young girl with total recall of her sensory memory as she pursues another man with similar abilities who unbeknownst to her has far deeper connections with her past.

“The feedback we got was mostly amazement at the shoestring budget with which we managed to pull off a 16-minute action/thriller. In countries like the US and UK, it is near impossible to create a movie without a substantial budget – mobile filmmaking has recently started changing that landscape but the advantage of shooting with a crew who are mostly your high school friends and in a country like Sri Lanka is that you get to pull off quite a lot with a little. We’ve always had technical setbacks though and they do show in ‘EIDETIC’ – such as the quality of the sound. Most audiences were quite impressed with the music, action choreography and cinematography,” Akash explained.

The most challenging aspect of any shoot that they have done is scheduling. Getting everyone together has always been the hardest since they all have their own careers and lives apart from filmmaking.

“’The Summoning’ was also the most complex shoot we have done to date. Preproduction took four months – every prop and artwork you see on screen was created specifically for the film. We had chosen our makeup artist Dominique’s house for the shoot and had to postpone for a month since she had fallen ill. I think that although it feels like timing is the most challenging thing to navigate, it’s also the most crucial. During that one month, we saw that everything related to the production evolved in ways that benefited the shoot later on and any other location wouldn’t have contributed to the story as much as Dom’s house did. So most of the time the wait is totally worth it,” he added.

The High School Junkies have mostly been self-taught about the art. As Akash puts it, though he has an MA in film to his name, it was more of a learn-to-do-it-yourself course.

“The internet has been paramount in helping us learn the technical know-hows, with YouTube, sites like being libraries of filmmaking knowledge. Sometimes though, we see a really cool shot in a movie and try to replicate it with the equipment that we have and adapt it to the story that we are trying to tell,” he expressed.

His need to leave a legacy behind had drawn him to the art.

“Films live on long after their creators. They also have the ability to change lives,” he elaborated on the immortality of this powerful art form.

Music is Shenic’s passion and profession. He recalls that he could not help tapping his feet when he heard some catchy beats during his childhood. He got into DJing at 15 years and soon got into producing music.

“However that is not the case with filmmaking. I have always been amused by films and I love watching them! I love asking myself technical questions about movies while watching them. I certainly did not think I will ever be making any, but then the High School Junkies happened and filmmaking stuck too,” he mused. 

Recalling the roots of how she joined the team Stefania said that her contribution was just a favour done for the completion of Akash’s final thesis for the Masters programme. “However during the process of filmmaking we realized how we all had chemistry in working together. We enjoyed what we did. Hence, passion drove us to make more short films and eventually build an amazing production,” she said adding that she is employed as a producer of HSJ.

Kasun had been engaged in photography early on when Akash contacted him to do their first short film.

“Though I had no experience Akash was confident that my photography skills would translate well into cinematography. I only understood it once I saw the final product which made me keep making movies with the crew. I am currently finishing off my engineering degree and I’ve been a dancer for the longest time, with isolation movements coming in handy during camera handling. I think that the best skills are ones the ones that are transferable between different fields,” Kasun noted.

25-year-old Anisha is into innovation. Her encounter with the reel happened by chance when she met the High School Junkies at Sri Lanka Comic Con.

Queried on whose work he admires, Akash says that there are too many to name.

“However, Christopher Nolan has been an all-time favourite along with Steven Soderbergh. Nolan’s films manage to entertain you while making you feel emotions that you never thought a film could make you feel – most of his films are character-driven with heartfelt storylines which is something I really dig. Soderbergh on the other hand is on the cutting edge of filmmaking, daring and stepping into the newest that filmmaking technology offers and has taken independent filmmaking to new heights – it’s his innovation as a filmmaker that mostly appeals to me,” he elaborated.

Akash is a visiting lecturer at Raffles Colombo and at Sri Lanka Foundation. Being a person who looks to handle things the right way, he says that his ambitions are quite lofty.

“I try to keep it grounded though. Everyone wants to do something new – which is totally fine but why not do something properly and let the uniqueness develop from that? It’s always one step at a time with the endgame constantly in mind. I’ve always wanted to create content that could reach mass audiences – not just in Sri Lanka but also internationally, which is one reason we’ve done all our productions in English and our accolades and audiences have mostly been international,” he opined.

Shenic’s music goals are much higher as he dreams of becoming the best music producer in the world.

“That and achieving great heights in the film industry and winning a couple of Oscars with the team of course!” the 22-year-old adds with a smile.

“My purpose is to become a leading lawyer and hopefully join the United Nations at some stage in my career. Additionally, I hope to see High School Junkies become one of the world’s best recognized film productions that can create films to impact peoples’ lives,” Stefania said.

Engineering and filmmaking are Kasun’s passions and he hopes to continue along that path.

“Engineering has definitely helped my filmmaking in ways that I never imagined so I believe that combo works well. My main intention with every single production is to level up on the cinematography and picture quality and give the audience something that hasn’t been done before in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The High School Junkies pointed out that when they started off, there were tons of people including teachers who didn’t think that filmmaking was a good idea.

“There’s always going to be people who don’t see something that isn’t considered normal as a good career option but don’t let that stop you. Don’t end up regretting later on in life having not done something you believed you were capable of. And whatever you do, do it because you want it – not for money, awards or fame – those are byproducts of good work. Keep striving, work smart and always have the end goal in mind,” are their words of wisdom for other youth with potential.

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