As Claire Shorenstein ’03 neared the finish line of KC-101’s 5K race one clear Sunday early this fall, runners and spectators stared. Despite her high-heeled boots and tight black vinyl suit, the former cross-country runner was keeping up with the other competitors.
Shorenstein, it later turned out, was not taking part in the race: the Yale Symphony Orchestra oboist-turned-sexy-villainess was fleeing from the forces of good.
Running in high heels is one of the least dangerous stunts in this year’s YSO Halloween show, directed by Daniel Persitz ’03 and produced by Andrea Spencer ’03.
The annual silent film, accompanied live by the YSO, regularly features superheroes, chase scenes, and even a few pieces of decidedly non-classical music. Though freshmen may be skeptical of spending Halloween at the symphony, the YSO show typically draws an audience of 3,000. This year’s show, bolstered by a $2,500 budget, boasts explosions, wild animals, and an appearance by a certain vinyl-clad villainess students may remember from a past Halloween show.
Making the video
Like the mafia, the YSO keeps details about the film’s production in the family. This year’s show, which stars Shorenstein, William Strom ’05, Emily Porch ’05 and Persitz, has been in the works since June, when scriptwriting began.
Even though the five writers were spread across the country this summer, they were hard at work. Porch, who co-wrote the script with Persitz, Strom, producer Sarah Post ’04, and conductor Mark Seto ’03, said she took advantage of her easy access to e-mail at work to exchange ideas with the other writers. Persitz said the script was mostly finished by the time school started. At that point, filming began.
Porch said she and her fellow actors would spend two to three hours of each Saturday and Sunday in front of the camera.
“Every weekend consistently since the start of school, we’ve been filming,” Porch said. “That has to be your priority for those two months.”
But being a priority does not mean the film is strictly serious business. Strom said the ability his costume gave him to harass people was always good for a laugh. While he was not signing autographs — in character, of course — or hugging friends who were unable to recognize him as the man behind his mask, he said he always liked to watch spectators’ reactions.
“It’s really hilarious to see people’s looks on their faces when I walk past them in my get-up,” Strom said.
The film also affords another unique opportunity — a chance for the Yale administration to show off its humorous side. Administrators from college deans and masters to President Richard Levin himself have had cameo roles in past films, and Levin has acted in the show’s live scene. Levin said he has had “great fun” appearing in the show, and Persitz said he has enjoyed getting to know the administration in a funny way.
“President Levin knows me now,” Persitz said. “He wouldn’t have gotten to know me otherwise.”
Behind the music
The show was not always an elaborate production. YSO members know few details about the show’s history, but Persitz said the first took place 12 years ago. He said YSO may originally have played an entire symphony, rather than pieces of music selected to go with specific scenes in the movie, as they do now. The project developed more fully in the mid-1990s, but most agree that the show has become a bigger production since Persitz took over.
“Dan has definitely brought it to a whole new level,” Shorenstein said.
Last year’s viewers may recall the 2001 film’s shots of Superman — Spencer McClelland ’04 — flying. Persitz shot such scenes using a green screen, a solid green background that can be erased digitally so the footage shot in front of it can be superimposed over another background. Persitz said that YSO was the first to use green screen technology on campus.
But Persitz, who has directed the film for three years, did not set out to direct YSO films — he just happened upon the job. During Persitz’s freshman year, the film’s director was not a YSO member, and problems arose during filmmaking. But though YSO members knew they wanted one of their own in the director’s chair, no one seemed to want the job. Succumbing to peer pressure, Persitz volunteered, not realizing the scope of the task before him.
“It really just took over my life,” Persitz said. “I spent all my moments between September and October that year on it.”
These films have steered the course of Persitz’s life, encouraging him to write and direct his own film last semester, and influencing his decision to apply to film school.
The cast and crew were far from seasoned professionals when they began the endeavor. Persitz said his only prior film experience was working at a television show in high school, while Strom said he appeared in numerous plays, but no films. Porch and Shorenstein said they had not acted before.
But Strom said the YSO film’s humor made the transition from stage to film easier than it might have been for some.
“It’s important that the Halloween show be funny more than it’s important that people be able to suspend disbelief,” Strom said. “We didn’t spend a lot of time with this film doing anything terribly subtle with acting.”
The film’s light tone helps draw an audience that might not otherwise attend a classical music concert, Porch said.
“I think it’s good for classical music in general,” Porch said. “People don’t have to go and sit with their hands in their laps.”
Even though YSO members have to temper their liquor-treating before the show, Strom said he does not mind.
“It doesn’t bother me at all that it’s not going to be the drunken bacchanal that it’s become for everybody else,” Strom said. “There are plenty of other times for drunken bacchanals — It’s satisfying for us when people enjoy it.”