After writing last week about Maine Mayhem, the year-ending festival of short films from Southern Maine Community College students, it’s nice to check in on Maine Mayhem filmmakers past. Enter Robbie Moore.
The 2019 SMCC graduate and Belgrade native’s first short film, “Begin Again,” premiered, as most Maine Mayhem films do, at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema, alongside those of his fellow Communications and New Media students. The film is a deeply personal story of, as the filmmaker explains, “a relationship, a friend, and getting away from toxic individuals.”
That’s a lot to put up there on the big screen, but, as Moore says, that’s the name of his moviemaking game. “It’s terrifying, putting yourself out there,” he said, “seeing it screened at the Nick, in front of two full crowds of people I didn’t know. It’s really getting out of your own comfort zone.”
Still, the payoff proved worth it, as Moore relates how several paying customers approached him after the screening to tell him “Begin Again” had reached them – even though the hours leading up to his big screen premiere were a little tense. “The directors all had a big group chat before the screening – and I felt like I wanted to vomit,” confessed Moore.
Fair enough. But, by necessity, Maine filmmakers have plenty of courage – and perseverance – as part of their makeup. Moore’s planned follow-up was a film called “Magnum Opus,” which, appropriately enough, involved a lot of ambitious plans, locations and casting. And then COVID hit.
While Moore had been putting his education to work as a freelance editor, the scuttling of his sophomore film was a crusher. Or would have been, if not for Moore’s determination to keep plugging away, in spite of it all. (That description may just be the Maine filmmaking motto.)
Moore’s latest short film is “3:46 am,” which he said was in its final day of post-production when we spoke on the phone. Born from Moore’s own struggles with depression (as well as that suffered by many creative types after two tough years), the film centers on a young woman (Emily Eberhart) who finds herself awakened at the exact same early hour every day, only to discover that she can’t move – and that something is lurking in the darkness of her room. The film also features supporting turns from always-compelling Maine acting fixtures Jenny Anastasoff and Daniel Noel.
Moore, who claims indie horror auteur Mike Flanagan (“Gerald’s Game,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Midnight Mass”) as his decidedly worthy inspiration, says of the unnerving yet very personal story, “The current genre of ‘elevated horror’ is perfect for tackling a lot of issues. The metaphorical imagery in films like ‘The Babadook’ or ‘Hereditary’ take ideas like grief and put them in a bottle full of lightning.” Speaking of Flanagan’s moody and evocative body of work, Moore said, “it’s inspiring in how it centers around the drama and the characters first,” adding, “The horror aspects are just the icing on the cake.”
For Moore, the predicament of “3:46 am’s” unfortunate protagonist is a potent metaphor for depression. And if, as he hints, the film has something of “a bleak ending,” Moore still intends his film to connect with audiences as much as “Begin Again” did that night at the Nick. “I want people to watch the film and relate to it,” said Moore, “to see themselves and decide, ‘I can’t make the same mistakes that she makes.’”
As for COVID and its attendant irritations (and dangers), Moore took his SMCC training to heart in filming “3:46 am,” his cast and crew working according to the strict and responsible on-set filming protocols that all Maine moviemakers have internalized at this point. “We filmed over a single weekend, in my apartment. Four actors, and a crew of 13 people, all masking and social distancing. We were a well-oiled machine.”
As Maine Mayhem founder Corey Norman stressed in the run-up to this year’s Maine Mayhem, a greater awareness of cast and crew safety might just be the one positive outcome of two years of project-derailing lockdown. For young Maine filmmakers like Robbie Moore, that’s just another hurdle in the life of a low-budget indie filmmaker to overcome, as he plans for “3:46 am” to hit the festival circuit, with a possible Portland preview, should any local venues in search of Maine-made original programming be on the lookout. (That’s a hint to our fine Portland venues, in case I wasn’t being clear.)
As Moore puts it in reference to both his own filmmaking journey and the dilemma depicted in his newest film, “It doesn’t have all the answers.” Still, pointing to his own ability to conquer his fear in first bringing his work to Maine audiences, “I didn’t think it would ever happen, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
Maine Classic Car Museum displays designs from the ’50s by Biddeford artist