Cedar Crest High School senior Finn Royer loves making movies. 

“I’m hoping to pursue filmmaking, writing,” said Royer about life after high school. “The hard part for me is I don’t really know what the specific part of it I want to do because I love doing everything. I mean, I love acting, cinematography, writing and editing and directing as well.”

Before he decides what role in life he wants to pursue, Royer and 15 of his fellow classmates in the school’s broadcast media program will attend the Student Television Network’s national Convention in Long Beach, California, beginning today. 

Cedar Crest High School broadcast video teacher Cody Hassler said Royer and two of his best friends will participate in an onsite film competition while the other Cedar Crest students will enter other events. 

“The other 13 Cedar Crest students are competing in various film/broadcast contests such as commercial, music video, public service announcement, movie trailer, and public service announcement,” said Hassler. “Those students have also entered daily shows for “CCHS Today” into the Broadcast Excellence awards.”

Royer, with assistance from fellow senior Reed Fretz and junior classmate Logan Balmer, shot one of his most ambitious pictures yet, a 15-minute flick titled “Avarice.” 

Described as, “A tale of greed and innocence as three young boys search for a not-so-forgotten treasure,” the film has been entered to compete against hundreds of other student productions at the convention.

“I think the theme of greed, we never really planned on it happening,” said Royer. “It’s just kind of, as we were filming, I think most of it came out when we were fleshing out our characters. ‘Hey, we’re three just friends, we’re hanging out in the woods, something that we normally do.’ And we’re like, “How can we put Mr. Hassler and Mr. Wuori into this? What can they do?”

The students were aided on the project by Hassler and Jack Wuori, who is a high school English teacher and program advisor. It was decided by the group during pre-production meetings that the adults would be the film’s antagonists.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, they’re crooks and they’re looking for treasure,'” stated Royer. “This is their motivation and then it all just kind of fits together. So I don’t think we ever said, ‘Okay, it’s gonna be a story of greed and conflict and it’s gonna resolve itself a certain way. It just worked out really perfectly and it needed to be very strong thematically, which is really important.”

The three amigos will have the opportunity to gain more acclaim for their talents and the school’s film program since their two shorts are eligible for up to eight different Excellence Awards in their respective categories.

“I feel confident going into it, and confident we’ll come home with some hardware,” said Royer about the 1930s era film recently shot on location in Swatara State Park and at Bordner’s Cabin

In addition to “Avarice” in the drama division, the three friends have entered “The Trebushape of My Life” in the comedy category. (This picture is not currently available to view online.) 

The filmmakers will also vie for awards at the convention’s Crazy 8’s film competition.

“There will be day-to-day film competitions while they are there,” said Hassler. “They will shoot, edit and produce a short film in six to eight hours. They will have three hours of preproduction and production and three hours of post (production). The onsite stuff is difficult.”

It’s a task they relish given the bonds they developed while growing up in Mt. Gretna and their shared passion for film. An added benefit is their skills have been sharpened under the tutelage of Hassler and Wuori. 

When not planning or shooting a film, the filmmaking collaborative likes to grab a bowl of popcorn and study other films as part of their Cinema Enjoyers Club, which meets after school on “as many Fridays as possible.” 

“We stay and watch a classic film or one that’s highly regarded,” said Royer. “This has helped us  strengthen our passion and enjoyment of short films. Being here, the five of us use our combined brain power to come up with ideas.” 

Finn Royer discusses a scene on the set of “Avarice,” a 1930s era crime short film shot on location at Bordner’s Cabin in Swatara State Park. The film is entered in the drama category at the Student Television Network’s national convention. (Provided photo)

The friends’ camaraderie, the respect they have for their teachers and their love of film is evident. 

“We have known each other for so long,” said Royer. “We’re best friends and we love each other. Reed and I have known Mr. Wuori since we had him as a class counselor. We’ve all known each other for so long and we’ve had a good relationship before this (class).”

All five share ideas that develop into concepts. From there, a film script is written, everyone has a role in the movie, and after shooting Royer edits the footage into its final form – all of which comes after generous excursions together for vittles at Jersey’s Mike.

“We have disagreements about what we want to do, but it is not volatile,” said Balmer. “We’re not bound to our own ideas. There will be the best pitch that is the best idea and that is what we will build upon.”  

“We never trash each other – even as bad as Logan’s ideas are,” quips Fretz. “We just roll with our ideas and shape them.” 

A sense of humor and checking their egos at the door were certainly assets while filming “Avarice” a few months ago. 

They shot nearly 40 hours of film and spent weeks before that bouncing ideas off of each other. Early in the development process they thought “Avarice” might develop into a mockumentary-style horror film.

“We thought we could go the comedy route or it could be funny and goofy. And then we decided to go with drama and it was very intense, but we liked what we came up with,” said Wuori. “But yeah, that was a debate for like two weeks.”

“Mr. Wuori and I did the script writing and had a lot of conversations during the month of planning. ‘Why are they doing this? Why would this happen?’” said Royer. “‘What are their  motives?’ And, ‘What are the results of the characters’ actions within them?’ That’s what really drove the themes of the short film.” 

Student filmmakers Reed Fretz, left, and Logan Balmer, in a scene from “Avarice.” (Provided photo)

Hassler and Wuori are impressed by their student’s filmmaking abilities with Hassler adding that Balmer and Fretz could also excel in film studies at college if they so desired. 

“It just shows their versatility too, because coming off of Trebushape, which is documentary humor, and then being able to create a horror film (“What Lies Below”) along with a pretty serious crime drama (“Kireji”) and then a time period piece (“Avarice”), and then win for them,” said Wuori. “It’s just, again, impressive.”

While Royer credits the entire group for their collective efforts, the others are quick to stress his creative genius. Just as comfortable in front of the camera as behind it, Royer, who is a lifetime lover of the artform, has made several award-winning short films.

“What Lies Below” won first-place honors for Division I high schools at STN’s 2023 HorrorFest competition.

“There’s times when he’s filming and it’s like, ‘All right, let’s move on.’ ‘No, we need one more thing,’ and I don’t even know how he realizes at that moment, spatially, that that was something that we were missing,” said Hassler. “And a lot of the kids, or us included, would come back and be like, ‘Oh, we missed a shot.’ Almost every time we come back, we’re like, ‘We have everything.’ So, I mean, that, cinematography-wise, is super impressive.”

Balmer agreed with Hassler. 

“Yeah, I would say one thing about Finn’s cinematography that I think we could probably all agree on is he’ll be spending the time setting up the shot as we’re looking over our lines or helping him adjust the lighting, and he’ll call us over to see if the shot is good,” said Balmer. “And I feel like our reaction every time is, ‘That’s a great shot.’ I’m a big fan, and when he’s the next Quentin Tarantino, I’d like to maybe get a shout-out or something.”

“Finn’s obviously behind the camera probably more than any of us, but also he’s been in our films,” said Fretz. “We can all carry and shoot a camera, but Finn takes care of his vision and directs the project.”

The five-minute, award-winning film “Kireji” is an interesting study of how life can pivot at a moment’s notice. 

The film’s title is a reference to an element in haiku poetry that represents a break between two moods. This movie won a STN’s Excellence Award last fall with the students receiving their hardware late last year.

“I just brought it up and they’re like, ‘Sounds really cool,’ but then as we thought about it later, the break in that short film is where I get hit by the car and that changes everything because the kids are just going on their merry way, having this fun time out at night and then they accidentally hit a guy on the side of the road and everything changes for them,” said Wouri. “We just liked the name but then as we looked into it more the name had meaning.” 

The trio has several more films to shoot, including a video love letter to their classmates and alma mater that they hope to show to the student body before the school year ends. They also have plans to participate in STN’s spring awards competition. 

Finn Royer, right, plans to study filmmaking in college this fall after he graduates from Cedar Crest High School later this spring. (Provided photo)

Royer said he will enter a short film in Dallastown School District’s Spring Shorts Film Festival in May to defend his 2023 title. His short movie “20k” took home an award at that festival last year. 

While Royer continues to produce a few more films at Cedar Crest before the end of the school year, one day in the not-too-distant future he’ll choose the college he plans to attend this fall after graduation. Ithaca College and Penn State’s main campus are in play as are Columbia University and New York University’s prestigious film school. 

“It would shock me to not be watching something of his on a large, large scale at some point,” said Hassler. “And I’ve asked him the question, too, of what he likes the most, and it bounces back and forth.”

“He wanted to bring those two guys in because he likes acting too. He likes being in front of the camera, and so he needs people that he can rely on. He had picked these two guys and they’ve been great. I mean, they’re so supportive of him.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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