A cast and crew of college students produced a horror film called misfire with a budget of less than $500. The film, which deals with real-life issues such as depression, substance abuse and abusive relationships, took over a year to make.
Filming took place from April to August and after a month of editing, the film was released on September 22, 2022 on YouTube and FilmFreeway.
Julia Polisoto, an acting major at Point Park, stars in the project as Heather, who is in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend.
Polisoto heard that Ryan Lucht, the film’s director, was looking for an actress for the lead role, and Jonah Hartman, who plays Dave, a character who struggles with alcohol abuse, suggested her to Lucht.
“The actual audition that we had one day, he set up a Zoom audition, but it ended up not even being an audition,” Polisoto said. “I think I read a scene. And then we just went back and forth about the characters… and what they meant to us.”
Polisoto grew up in Buffalo, New York and has always had an interest in musical theatre. She acted in several middle and high school productions and also performed at the Academy of Theater Arts in Buffalo. She appeared in several productions including Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleepy Companion.
She eventually found Point Park in middle school and wanted to attend university when she was in the 6th grade. She chose drama over musical theater because she applied too late for the screen reading.
Polisoto, who is now a junior, has acted in many productions, but starring in a horror film was new territory.
“Growing up, I was always scared of horror movies,” Polisoto said. “I honestly never really saw them unless I was like a big group of people, but I always thought it would be so interesting to act in one because it’s not normal life.”
misfire was the first horror film she worked on and she is fascinated by the genre. She classified horror films as “terrifying,” but she enjoyed her time doing something she’d never done before.
Lucht asked Polisoto to see the film Taxi driver. This should help her adjust to acting in a horror movie.
Hartman, a Junior Point Park acting major, has appeared in the horror genre before, but only once. His last appearance in one was with Lucht as director in the short film, the missing, while he was still in high school at Franklin Regional.
This isn’t the first time Lucht and Hartman have worked together. They first appeared in the 8th grade in the same musical. The two are back on the same set. This time, they bring down topics like self-harm, suicide, mental health, alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, and body dysphoria.
“We want these themes to be explored from the start, in a sense that it’s entertaining to watch but also, when you watch it, you really absorb it,” Hartman said. “You can see that all of these people are struggling, and it kind of reflects real life.”
All four main characters struggle with their own issues and Polisoto called the film a “Warning”.
“Obviously, not connecting with your friends and yourself and your own mental health is a dramatized worst-case scenario, but it shows we all have to take care of each other,” Polisoto said. “In that scenario, everyone was so in their own world that they couldn’t care for each other at all.”
Lucht, who is a student at Cleveland State University, wanted to create overly dramatic scenarios for the film, but he wanted to make sure the film’s message about the importance of mental health came across.
One element of the film that the producers focused on was ensuring that any prop gun used looked real.
“I had to make sure the gun, the main prop of the film, looked like a gun because it bothers me every time you watch a movie and it’s clearly like a cap gun or painted black,” Lucht said. “The gun had to have weight, it had to look real, it had to convey a sense of danger. And so I searched the internet for a BB gun.”
Hartman said that he loves working with Lucht and that he loved the way he brought voice and power to the gun.
“It’s a big temptation for Jim, who is played by Vish, and I think as you go through the movie you see it and it hits and seduces that character,” Hartman said. “If it could have a voice it would be very quiet, whispering and a bit like a siren trying to trick it into doing all those things.”
The gun plays a major role in the two-hour film. The production of the film faced some difficulties due to the actors’ busy schedules.
“My schedule and Tim playing Alex were the only two schedules that matched,” Hartman said. “The scenes where I’m with Tim, I’m with him personally, but every time I’m in a scene with Julia or Vish, they were never personal.”
Despite the planning difficulties, Lucht made sure he got the scenes he could get with Tim Quinn, who is a student at Mercyhurst, and Hartman on set at the same time.
“He could do it,” Hartman said. “He got the camera angles right, he got everything right. I was very impressed with how it all turned out.”
misfire was shot entirely on an iPhone in cinema mode. That made it easier because Lucht didn’t have to lug around expensive cameras. All he needed was an external microphone and LED lights.
“I’ve just gotten better at it, but I always thought creating on iPhones was actually even more of a challenge because you only have one camera and one thing,” Lucht said. “The cinema mode was really great. The recordings turned out beautifully.”
The film has racked up 4,000 views this week and Lucht is excited about the future of his directing career.
Polisoto is grateful she had the opportunity to be in this film and glad that Point Park gave her a forum to act.
“Growing up, I never really took acting classes, so there were just so many jargons I needed to learn,” Polisoto said. “There were a lot of techniques I still needed to learn and Point Park laid such a great foundation in the first two years.”
Calvin Cich, a Point Park musical theater major who enjoyed watching misfire, grew up with Polisoto and performed with her at the Academy of Theater Arts in Buffalo. Cich is happy that Point Park offers them an opportunity to pursue their dreams in both acting and theatre.
“There are so many people who are on Broadway and on the career path right now that came right out of Point Park,” Cich said. “I think you’ll get the education and skills you need for theater and acting here.”
Cich added that the professors at Point Park share their experiences and give them the tools they need to succeed. One professor he mentioned was Phillip Winters, who appears on the Pittsburgh theater scene for companies such as the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
“With everything these people give you, they know what’s going on,” Cich said. “You know what’s going on in New York. You know what’s going on in LA. They know what’s going on and give you the best tools to be successful in these environments.”
Will Cobb, a senior musical theater major, makes an appearance in Sondheim on Sondheim for the Conservatory Theater Company. He said the students he studies with, including those who are at it misfire, helped him as an actor.
“Everyone had such a great sense of who they were as a performer and seemed so settled in themselves,” said Cobb. “They were so unique and that’s what I want out of a program. Anywhere that could help me find that path for myself, not just as a musical theater artist, but as a performer.”
April Daras, chair of theater and acting and directing professor at Point Park, said she loves it when students thrive.
“It’s so exciting to see our students succeed, do what they love, and understand that there will be ups and downs, but that persistence and the joy of it every day,” Daras said. “It’s like nothing else. It is very exciting and a privilege.”