'General Education' producer-screenwriter shares personal journey

Photo Courtesy of Pelican House Productions

While the mind typically conjures images of movies created in exotic locations or large cities, charming indie-flick “General Education” breaks the stereotype as it was shot primarily in small towns in California. However, producer-screenwriter Elliot Feld has strong roots in Arizona. Feld battled the sweltering heat in Los Angeles during a recent phone interview with The State Press.


The State Press: You used to be a student at ASU. What was your experience like?


Elliot Feld: It was good. I started at Arizona State University and I was majoring in theater performance. I was enjoying it and then when the film program came around, I decided that I wanted to really look into other film programs instead. I didn’t want to be one-sided. I went out to California and viewed multiple film schools. I wanted to look outside the box and see more than just ASU. I grew up in Arizona and I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. I wanted to be where the network was, which is obviously Los Angeles. Eventually, I decided on attending Brooks Institute. I liked the faculty and such. I graduated three years later with a bachelor’s degree and feature film production.


SP: “General Education” essentially revolves around high school. How would you describe yourself in high school?


EF: I really enjoyed going to school. Every student has the day when they don’t want to go and would rather go swimming, but for the most part I liked it. I was a fairly attentive student. I spent a lot of time with friends. I was in the band and I played tennis and lacrosse. My high school years were pretty busy and I was usually there most of the day. We’d see movies or stay at home, fool around, play basketball, whatever it may be.


SP: What was it like to work with your best friends?


EF: Working with Kevin (Liang) and Jaz (Kalkat) was amazing. It’s really hard to find a group of friends or people that you can work really well with. There’s a certain checks and balances system in my group that allowed us to accomplish such a feat. I don’t believe I could have done it with any other people. We worked with each other a lot and had so much fun.


SP: Did you encounter any difficulties balancing humor with darker themes?


EF: Yes. There are always difficulties balancing drama with comedy. It’s almost a skill that will never be fully conquered because they’re two different tones. You’re doing two things to the audience, and it’s difficult to do them simultaneously. We had to make sure that the drama wasn’t too dramatic and the comedy wasn’t too slapstick. When Gale (Levi’s mother) is falling apart, we tried to make sure that it felt real but we didn’t want to push it too far. We didn’t want everyone crying over the fact that she was having issues. It was very hard as a screenwriter and it was very hard for Tom (Morris) as a director, especially as a first time director. I feel that he did a very good job.


SP: Are any of the scenes based on personal experiences?


EF: There were a lot of scenes that were reincarnated. For example, tetherball was huge when I was a kid. Everyone was playing it. At some point, someone got hit in the face with the ball. Obviously, we were able to pull from prior experiences to add comic elements to the script. Another example is Emily’s (Levi’s sister) mime show. I never attended a mime show, but when we were all young, we’d go to a talent show or a play, and at some point, it may have been a bit ridiculous or silly, and we did that two times in the film. It’s fun to look back at the times and that even if you don’t necessarily think they’d be all that funny, it’s fun to bring it to the screen. A lot of movies stretch as far as realism and don’t necessarily allow us to relate. We took events that wouldn’t typically be so climatic and shine a light on them.


SP: “General Education” was featured at a few film festivals. How was that?


EF: The film festivals were a lot of fun and finally getting to see the movie play in front of a completely objective audience was extremely exciting and stressful. We loved it. Part of the reason we did was because the audience enjoyed the film so much at every festival.


SP: What would you say is the biggest misconception about indie films?


EF: A lot of people will watch an indie film and think that it’s not that good and that the people behind the camera didn’t put much effort or time into it, but that’s not the truth. It’s extremely hard because a substantial amount of filmmakers are doing it for the first time. That’s why they’re independent. They haven’t made the leap into the studio system yet. For instance, “Juno” was made with a larger budget, but it’s still considered independent. The filmmakers were just as stressed and just as worried and just as tired as some of the bigwigs who make the million dollar movies, if not more so, because the pressure is a little greater. It can be so hard to finish a project that doesn’t look necessarily anything special. The players behind it were working extremely hard.


Reach the reporter at lrogoff@asu.edu


Read The State Press review of "General Education" here.

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