When Rob Richert returned home this summer from graduate school at Columbia, he went right back to his alma mater, Berkeley High School.
He wasn’t there to greet old teachers or to reminisce about his times wandering the halls. Instead he was on a mission: to recruit talent for a 30-minute film he planned to shoot over the summer.
Starting in mid June, Richert and his sister would head down to Berkeley High right around lunchtime. They would wander through Civic Center Park or dip into various drama classes looking for people who might be good for the film. Richert then would ask if they wanted to audition.
Richert’s brazenness paid off, for he found five Berkeley High students to star in No One But Lydia, a black comedy about high school. And while he got his cast, the experience may even have been richer for the students in the movie: they got exposure to a professional film set.
“It seemed important to me to have a cast that involved Berkeley High students,” said Richert. “The story was deeply rooted in a culture I identified as Berkeley.”
The film, which Richert wrote and directed as part of his master’s program in film at Columbia University, tells the story of a high school student who has been dumped by his girlfriend. He hatches a scheme to break into her house, take something, and then tell her she left it at his home. The protagonist hopes his ex-girlfriend will finally call him back to retrieve the object and that the conversation will rekindle the relationship. Of course, nothing works out as expected.
“It was fun to do, said Arif Lopes, 17, a senior in Academic Choice program at Berkeley High. Richert had spotted Lopes in a drama class and ultimately cast him as the lead. “Rob was great. He knows how to give direction very well. He is always pushing to get the best out of you. He will do 20 takes to get one short scene.”
Richert, who has made one other short film, adapted the movie to fit the talent he met. Jeremy Friedman, who is in the International Baccalaureate program, came in to audition. Friedman has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and Richert didn’t think he could physically do what is required by some of the main characters. But Richert was so struck by Friedman’s acting talent and earnestness that he couldn’t forget him. So he wrote in a new role, that of the lead’s little brother, and cast Friedman.
“He was a nice and flexible director,” said Friedman.
Jonathan Ruchlis, 17, who was the film’s set editor and who will be a freshman at UCLA this fall, said working of the film gave him precious professional experience, something that is not easy for a teenager to obtain.
“I had never done anything like this before,” he said. “It was much more professional that anything I had worked on before. It was a good experience.”
Richert took a circuitous route to film making. He graduated from Berkeley High in 1999 and from UC Berkeley in 2004. He only took one film class at Cal, majoring instead in philosophy, and fondly remembers June Jordan’s class “Poetry for the People.” But Richert and his friends used to fool around doing animation projects, which he always enjoyed.
“I just fell deeply in love with the craft of storytelling and finding shots that had meaning,” he said.
Most of the film was shot inside a house at Acton and Bancroft, although there are a few scenes on Grizzly Peak. There are no shots of Berkeley High because the action takes place during summer, said Richert.
Richert thought the film would take six days to shoot, but it took nine and he still needs to film some more. He won’t complete all the shooting until the end of 2011 because the only adult actor in the film, Daniel Zacapa, is in Hawaii for a role.
The Berkeley Film Foundation donated $5,000 to the film.