Lights, camera, action!

Hoboken teacher partners with students to produce feature film

Hoboken High School teacher Doug MacAulay has always had a collective approach to his projects. He plans to shoot “In My Own Mind,” a film that has been in the works since 2010, with current and former students.
MacAulay said during one of the group’s weekly Monday meetings that he is not an expert, and can always use help. “I’m not the guru of all things movies,” he said. “The great thing about this project is who we have working on it and the great ideas they bring to the table.”
MacAulay, 44, a media teacher at Hoboken High School, has assembled a team of some of his most gifted students.
The project team consists of former Hudson County Schools of Technology (known better as “High Tech”) students John Cole and Dylan Irizarry, former Hoboken High School student Paul Keim, and current Hoboken High School students (and class of 2016 members) Baltazar Gonzalez, Bryant Vega, Arturo Liranzo, and William Ithier III.
With production set to begin in July 2016, MacAulay and the team are currently working to raise money for the project’s budget of $230,000. The money would help the team pay for location use, permits, truck rentals, equipment rentals, and give some wages to the crew (who will work eight to 10 hour days).
The film will be shot throughout Hudson County and Hoboken.

“I want them to see it and think ‘Wow, they did a nice job.’ ” – John Cole
In addition to asking people to donate via the film’s GoFundMe page, the team will hold various upcoming fundraisers. On Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, Johnny Rockets in Hoboken will donate 20 percent of their total receipts toward the project.
“It’s a good story and we want to show not just the audience and investors, but ourselves that we could accomplish professional production,” said 29-year-old Cole, who is currently studying broadcasting at William Paterson University and serves as the film’s director of videography.
“It’s 2015, at some point this thing could be disseminated to the entire world to see and I want them to see it and think ‘Wow, they did a nice job,’ ” he added.

From script to screen

MacAulay, who is originally from Perth Amboy, completed the first draft of the screenplay in 2010 at the urging of Hector Gil, a student at the time and aspiring actor. Gil was, in fact, an inspiration for part of the plot.
The film’s follows the life of Sam Rodriguez – a young man with a positive outlook on life. Despite having to hold down two jobs (as a security guard at a gallery and a bookstore clerk), he also has artistic aspirations as a writer and painter. During a shift at the bookstore, Sam encounters a father and son who will have a major impact on his life.
The story delves into various themes including love, having to face a life-threatening illness, and what it means to be a man.
“I knew [Hector] very well, and I knew some of the things of his backstory that I could incorporate into the background of the character,” said MacAulay. “So if he was going to be the star in this, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for him.”
Once the first draft of the play was completed, Hector suddenly decided he wanted to pursue boxing instead of acting.
“He said it wasn’t for him, and that was fine, it happens. Regardless, it was a good exercise in writing a feature film,” said MacAulay.
Still, the newly aspiring boxer inspired much of the film’s main character. Like Hector, Sam is Hispanic American and has a complex relationship with the father figures in his life. There are some differences. Hector wasn’t always able to connect with his father, but the character of Sam never knew his.
“I try not to write based on culture. I try not to write another story hidden in [stereotypes],” MacAulay said. “Sam is a Hispanic American, but nowhere in the story is there anything that says he’s Hispanic.”
Another major inspiration for the film, MacAulay said, is John Lennon. Sam is very similar to Lennon in the sense that they have a “great artistic need” that needs to be satisfied. Lennon’s first book, a collection of short poems, stories, and line drawings, was notably the first solo project by a Beatle. The title of the film pays homage to the Lennon title, which was “In His Own Right.”
One of the conflicts in the film is a character diagnosed with sickle cell anemia (a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body, leading to higher chances of blood clots).
MacAulay chose sickle cell anemia in order to shed light on a condition that is often “pushed to the side” and “rarely discussed” in the mainstream media.

Five years in the making

The screenplay languished on MacAulay’s computer until 2012 when a Hoboken High School senior seemed willing and able to step into Sam’s shoes as the lead. The new schedule to shoot was the summer of 2013. Then, Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, putting the project on hold once again.
“I didn’t think it was ethically or morally the right thing to ask our friends and neighbors for money for our project when so many had lost so much during the storm,” MacAulay said.
Finally, this past spring, MacAulay’s advanced Media Production 2 class asked that instead of a short film, they make a full-length feature.
“I told them the story of ‘In My Own Mind’ and after a couple signed up, we’re making it happen,” said MacAulay,

Modest man

Modest as he may be, MacAulay has his own history with filmmaking, which began in the 1990s.
He began working in film and digital video for FIAhaus Picture Co. in New Brunswick. He had aspirations to be involved in film as early as 4. The desire only grew with his age
At one point, he was a freelancer for Paramount Pictures, but “after 11 years and having a chance to be with some professionals and seeing that it wasn’t like theatre, I decided to become a teacher.”
MacAulay said he wasn’t happy with the “self-indulgence” of the film industry that he saw. He started teaching at High Tech in 2001, where he met Cole as well as the film’s Assistant Director, 24-year-old Dylan Irizarry. Later, when he began teaching at Hoboken High School in 2008, he met the film’s sound engineer, Paul Keim, 22, who was then a sophomore.
In the past, MacAulay and his students have produced short digital videos, commercials, music videos and current event videos.
In 2004, he and his students Ingrid Uribe and Jerri Siro were recognized at the NJ Young Film and Video Makers Festival, which is part of New Jersey’s Black Maria. In 2010, his Hoboken Media Production class won a Telly award for a music video.

New kids on the scene

Irizarry, who graduated from NJCU, said he’s looking forward to working on a large-scale project.
“When Doug contacted me and sent the script, I realized this was a good opportunity for me to do something big, because I was mostly just doing small videos for people,” said Irizarry.
Similarly Keim, a student from the School of Visual Arts in New York who will handle the film’s sound, said he yearns for the chance to be on set.
“I just like working on set. I’ve got two acting gigs going on, and honestly, I just like getting out of the house,” he said, laughing.
Today, some low-budget films veer into “found footage” territory, meaning the viewer sees the film unfold from a first-person perspective as if someone is recording with a handheld camera. However, the team feels their film is suited for a “big screen” look.
“I think we’re going for more of a traditional style,” said Cole. “[Found footage] really wouldn’t work with this film. It’s our first project together and we want it to look like the real deal.”
Soon, the team will begin scouting for locations and holding casting calls.

Raising funds and distribution

MacAulay said he hopes to have at least a third of the funds for the film raised by March. MacAulay knows the realities of trying to complete a creative project.
“There are times you realize there may not be anything particularly marketable about this particular story and have to say it was great shot, but the audience wasn’t there,” said MacAulay.
Still the group is optimistic about entering film festivals to find a distributor and various film markets around the world. They want to use social media to help promote the movie.
In addition to a Gofund me page, the team also set up a Creative District listing. For information on “In My Own Mind” visit and to help MacAulay and his team reach their financing goal visit

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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