Elmore steps back in time to hopefully launch future career

Huntington native Stuart Elmore (right) directs actors Neil O’Callaghan (left) and Kristi Alsip during production on “West Park,” a short film, on Thursday, Aug. 29, at West Park Skate Center, in Huntington. The film was shot over the course of four days at the skate center. In addition to Elmore, a student at Columbia College Chicago, the film’s team included Jack Pickard, Paige Grable and Alex Underwood, all of whom are also from Huntington.
Huntington native Stuart Elmore (right) directs actors Neil O’Callaghan (left) and Kristi Alsip during production on “West Park,” a short film, on Thursday, Aug. 29, at West Park Skate Center, in Huntington. The film was shot over the course of four days at the skate center. In addition to Elmore, a student at Columbia College Chicago, the film’s team included Jack Pickard, Paige Grable and Alex Underwood, all of whom are also from Huntington. Photo by Steve Clark.

Stuart Elmore used to work at West Park Skate Center.

From middle school through high school, he was an employee at the venerable Huntington roller rink, which his family owns.

Now 23, Elmore recently turned back the clock and worked at the skate center once more.

Only this time, he wasn’t handing out skates or selling concessions.

This time, he was calling the shots on a short film – one that he hopes will launch his career as a director.

Elmore is a student at Columbia College Chicago. He’s pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema and Television Directing at the school. It’s a two-year degree and he’s halfway through it.

“First year, you’re basically just making two movies a semester and each of those movies are exercising different techniques, styles and different stories, all those things,” he says of the degree.

In the second year, students focus on making one final movie, which is referred to as their thesis project.

“Very, very important film,” states Elmore. “It’s meant to be like my kick-starter in my career.”

As he contemplated what his movie would be about, Elmore says practicality informed his creative process.

“Filmmaking is very, very expensive,” he says. “So, if you make a dialogue conversation happening in a restaurant, well, if you don’t own a restaurant, you have to rent out a restaurant. It’s expensive.”

As Elmore considered what shooting locations were available to him, the skate center sprang to mind.

“Well, my family owns a roller rink,” he says. “Is there a story that could take place in a roller rink?”

After some thought, Elmore believed there was. He started working on a screenplay. And two drafts into the process, he was confident there was a good story to tell.

He was, however, less confident in his ability to tell the best-possible version of that story.

“When I got to the second draft, I soon discovered that I was dangerously close to the film,” confesses Elmore. “It was a subject matter that was very close to my heart.”

Elmore shares he was so close to the material that he found himself reluctant to present a version of the skate center in the script that didn’t closely resemble the real one. So, in the best interests of the story, he decided to recruit another writer to the project – one who could view it with less-sentimental eyes.

Elmore reached out to Jack Pickard, a former Huntington North High School classmate living in Chicago. Pickard had graduated from Columbia with a degree in screenwriting and Elmore was interested in seeing him deliver a take on the script.

“Jack is like the best-possible person I could have found,” says Elmore enthusiastically. “Because, for one, he is a very talented writer … Secondly, he is familiar with the story and the context, but not married to it. He’s from Huntington.”

Pickard went on to write the next five drafts of the script. With Elmore providing feedback along the way, their collaboration yielded a screenplay that Elmore was ultimately pleased with.

The film, titled “West Park,” centers on a middle-aged brother and sister who stop by the skate center on the way to their father’s funeral. Estranged from one another, the film explores the siblings’ relationship, as well as their relationship with their father, who owned the skate center. Portions of the film take place in present day, while others are set in the 1980s, during the siblings’ youth at the skate center.

The writing process, says Elmore, ended up overlapping with the movie’s pre-production phase. Commencing early this year, that phase saw Elmore and his department heads meticulously plan the film’s four-day shoot, which was set for Labor Day weekend. The majority of that planning occurred in Chicago, but some trips were made to Huntington so Elmore’s department heads could get acquainted with the skate center.

“We had a lot of planning,” says Elmore, “to make sure these four days were going to go as smoothly as possible.”

After more than half a year of pre-production, Elmore says the moment he finally arrived on set, ready to start production, was sweet.

“It was very magical,” he shares. “Very, very magical. Like, eight months – no joke – of pre-production. To think we only shot for four days, that is completely like the film industry, where people think pre-production, production and post-production are three equal bits, it’s not.”

The film’s shoot, which ran from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, went off without a hitch, says Elmore. He was working with a crew of 30 people, the majority of which were fellow Columbia students. Of those students, two were fellow Huntington natives, Paige Grable and Alex Underwood.

Huntington residents got to help out with the shoot on its final day, says Elmore, as the production needed 30 to 40 extras on set for skating scenes. While having such a large number of people on set made for an animated atmosphere, Elmore remarks it was a good experience, as the Huntington extras all exhibited great professionalism.

“I was very pleased and happy with how great the results were when we started adding those extras in the scenes,” he says proudly.

With the film now shot, the post-production process has commenced. Given when he scheduled the film’s shoot, Elmore says he’ll be able to take his time during this phase and really fuss over the details.

“Some students – not all, but some, if not most students in their second year – generally film around December or January,” he says of his Columbia peers. “So, I made the conscious choice to bump that up early to Labor Day weekend.

“And the reason being is because I wanted to take a lot of extra time in the post-production stage.”

Elmore’s deadline to have post-production wrapped up is March 2020. That’s when he’ll screen the film for professors and members of the school’s cinema and television board.

Beyond screening the film for an academic audience, Elmore intends to submit it to film festivals.

He also likes the idea of holding a screening in Huntington.

“Just as the smallest little bit of gratitude towards the town,” he says, “because so many people in the town really helped out.”
Ultimately, the experience of shooting the film was a positive one, says Elmore. And the fact that it occurred at a place with so much personal significance to him made it that much more special.

“It was just crazy to see my childhood home,” he muses, “basically, the rink, be turned into a film set … It was very surreal.”