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Central grads working on feature film
College students seek help with funding for Western
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Mike Santoro, a Forsyth Central High graduate and current film student at Western Carolina University, scouts locations for filming in New Mexico. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

On the Web:
• Visit the official movie page at www.theprospectmovie.com.
• To donate, go to www.kickstarter.com and search "The Prospect."

Two Forsyth Central High School graduates plan to make history together.

Mike Santoro and Chris Read are producing "The Prospect," a film about a family traveling west to California during the 1850s gold rush and the struggles they face.

Now film students at Western Carolina University, Santoro and Read hope to become among the few who have taken on a feature-length film while still in school.

The idea for the project began about two years ago with a 10-page short story, written by Read, a Western-film lover.

The two, along with their friend and classmate Zach Heaton, wanted to develop the story into a short film on location out west, but decided to expand the idea.

"If we're going to be spending the money to go out to New Mexico to shoot it anyway, why not turn it into a feature-length film?" Read said.

The script was expanded to about 90 pages by early 2011 as a first draft, and the process began.

Over their spring break this year, the three drove to New Mexico and traveled diagonally through the state, making connections and scouting locations.

"It's going to work perfect for our story," said Santoro, the film's producer.

The group hopes to shoot the New Mexico scenes in late July and early August, and film the indoor scenes in North Carolina.

Their project has begun to gather support from the community in Cullowhee, N.C., plus family, friends and even complete strangers.

Read said people from New Mexico to New York have offered assistance, time and skills, and made monetary donations.

"To us, that is kind of amazing that people who don't even know us are really interested in the project," he said. "There's people who want to take the risk to get to know us and see what we can do. I think that's what's going to make the film."

The students set up several Web sites to promote the idea, including a page on www.kickstarter.com where people can make donations to get the movie going.

Santoro said the project is a lofty goal for young filmmakers.

"Many film students across the country, you just say the words 'feature film,' and they get scared," he said. "It's definitely a unique experience and unique endeavor for everyone."

Shooting a feature film is no easy feat, but making a period piece increases the challenge, said Jack Sholder, a motion picture professor at WCU.

Sholder, who's directed films such as "The Hidden" and "Nightmare on Elm Street 2," had nearly 40 years of experience in the industry before becoming a professor at the university.

He said the film business requires hopefuls "to take some real initiative," something he said Santoro, Read and Heaton are doing.

"It's pretty ambitious," Sholder said of the script. "They're not making it easy on themselves. They easily could have shot a film about a couple of 20-somethings who live somewhere near where they live as opposed to a period piece set in New Mexico."

He has faith that the students will see the project through and give them an opportunity to showcase "what they can do," provided they put together a quality picture.

Within the rigorous program at WCU, Sholder said the students have taken on leadership roles and shined in competitions, such as taking "best film" at a 48-hour movie challenge in Asheville, N.C.

"They're among our most enterprising students," he said. "They've gone farther than they have to and they've really immersed themselves."

Making "The Prospect" will require a good deal of funding, he said, adding that a Western could perhaps be filmed for about $35,000.

While it's unlikely the film will make any money, Sholder said donors should view the project as a contribution to the arts and some young talent.

For Read and Santoro, money is a necessity to produce the project, but it's not what they hope to get out of it in the end.

"Our greatest compensation is experience, beefing up that resume, beefing up that reel," Santoro said.

Both students also have a background in filmmaking before entering college.

The two met in a video production class as seniors at Forsyth Central High School, where they graduated in 2007.

Their shared interest in film kept them close friends despite attending different colleges after graduating, and Read eventually transferred to WCU.

During their time at Central, the two were the type of students that make a teacher proud, said Nick Crowder, who taught the video production class.

"Some kids, like Mike and Chris, you think really do have what it takes to be professional at what they are doing," he said. "They take it all in."

Crowder, who now teaches engineering at South Forsyth High School, said during the class daily newscast to FCHS, the best student film from the class would be shown on Fridays.

Santoro and Read were often the brains behind the clips, Crowder said, such as many of their breath mint commercials.

"The ones I can remember the best are the ones where I had the ideas and watched them create it," he said. "They were wonderfully creative."

Santoro said he's made about 30 short films since high school, but producing a feature film has been "a dream" of his for about five or six years.

Both he and Read have always taken an interest in film, and plan to pursue a career in the industry.

"There's a lot of joy in it for me," Santoro said. "I can't see myself doing anything else."