Of Princes was adapted from Schrader’s original concept, a six-part miniseries of ten-minute episodes. But he didn’t have time to implement this idea while balancing school and other extracurricular activities, so he took last fall's Campus MovieFest as a chance to create a proof-of-concept short adapted from the last five minutes of the pilot episode. The filmmakers hope that showing the film at Cannes in May will help them gauge the full series’ potential.
Last November was the first time Campus MovieFest came to UNC, where it was well received. More than thirty groups of students competed, many more than the festival or its local host, the Carolina Film Association, expected.
In the nationwide student film festival, contestants have a week to write, shoot, and edit a short film using equipment provided by the competition. A panel of faculty, students, and staff from the host university select sixteen films for a finale screening, and then the top four movies from each university are sent to a nationwide pool by industry professionals. The winning filmmakers go on to a summer showcase in Atlanta, Georgia, where they have the chance to win a multitude of awards and be selected as one of thirty films to be screened at Cannes.
“Of Princes probably has the best narrative out of all the projects that were submitted,” said Prakash Kadiri, head of the Carolina Film Association. “I think everyone can mutually agree that it was the best film made at Campus MovieFest this year at UNC.”
The short’s narrative follows its power-hungry main character, a student body presidential candidate, through the night of the student elections. The dirty politics and the complexity of the characters embody the gritty authenticity Uninsincerity strives to convey.
“I didn’t want to seem like I was just doing a cliché story about politics. I wanted to explore something that was going on right now in the current political environment,” Schrader says. “The ultimate end goal: everything was for the person who was watching.”
Schrader recalls arguing over tenth-of-a-second cuts, thinking about what a general audience would appreciate most, “to a point that it was almost absurd.” One scene that was originally intended to be two minutes long had to be cut down to around ten seconds of audio voiceover. The producers act in the film, and Schrader made the soundtrack himself, inspired by the minimalist style Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross brought to one of Schrader's favorite film scores, The Social Network.
One particularly striking scene grabbed many viewers’ attention: a fight in a bathroom that was filmed in a single tracking shot. Schrader recalls several people asking him how they pulled it off so realistically.
“That’s my favorite part,” he says. “It forces people into the position of being an active viewer as opposed to a passive viewer. And if everyone were more of the former as opposed to the latter, I think the world would be much better in general.”
In September 2014, at the beginning of Schrader’s second year at UNC, he and Reid discovered their mutual interest in media production. With the money he’d made from restaurant jobs, Schrader invested in everything he’d need to start a media production company, from a professional video camera to a lighting kit. But Of Princes was their first time experimenting with creative media.
“It was a ton of fun, and it really kind of opened my eyes to more creative film,” Reid said. “Originally I was doing more documentary-style film. We were more covering events, so it was really cool to act and write and all this other stuff.”
Sincerity is both the motivation and the goal of the crew’s creative process, but Schrader and Reid felt that calling themselves “sincere” would convey the exact phoniness they wanted to avoid.
“I became sort of obsessed with this idea of what it means to express or create something that is authentic, or that just rings as sincere to anybody,” says Schrader, who has been interested in videography since he was accidentally placed in a film class in high school. Hence “Uninsincerity” was born.
Schrader studies political science and communications at UNC, and he's found that his passion is the intersection of politics and film. He views broadcast media through a skeptical lens.
“You start to see how manipulative a lot of different things broadcast to you on a daily basis are, like how advertisements or campaign advertisements are made,” he says. “What is an authentic form of expression; is that even possible to do anymore?”
With his comfortingly genuine campaign ad for Bradley Opere, he tried to answer his own question. The same holds true for Of Princes.
“It needed to have that you-know-it-when-you-see-it quality of being authentic, so that’s what I went for,” Schrader says. “That was an important point for me and Riley, that we have respect for people watching our stuff in that we don’t cut corners and we don’t misappropriate or misrepresent anything.”