Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Teen filmmaker from Mattituck gets national recognition

Oliver Orr, 17, learning his way around a camera during the week long mentor program earlier this month. (Credit: Courtesy Robert Leslie)
Oliver Orr, 17, learning his way around a camera during the week long mentor program earlier this month. (Credit: Courtesy Robert Leslie)

The film opens with a familiar scene: a boy and girl enjoying themselves on a first date. Taking somewhat of an unexpected turn, another woman appears — an ex-girlfriend.

But she wasn’t the boy’s ex-girlfriend.

Directed and edited by Mattituck High School senior Oliver Orr, the film “Precipice” has earned the 17-year-old recognition in cinematic arts by the National YoungArts Foundation, which identifies and supports young artists in all genres through mentorship and scholarship opportunities.

“I watch so many movies, and I always have. I started making my own movies when I was in sixth grade,” said Oliver, sporting a YoungArts Foundation shirt during an interview in the high school’s library last Wednesday. “But ‘Precipice’ was a bigger, much more polished product than I had ever produced.”

Oliver planned, directed, shot and edited the short film over the course of two weeks this past summer, with the help of a 16-member crew that included professional actors from Broadway. It was done as part of an education program with the Manhattan Film Institute.

“We had five hours on the day of the shoot from when the van pulled up ’til it drove away,” he said. “I had planned out to the minute what we were doing that day.”

In all, he had about two hours of footage to use in creating the four-minute finished film.

“You want to have as many choices as possible,” he said.

At that point, though, he hadn’t yet known about the YoungArts competition.

“I had seen it on a list of scholarship opportunities the school’s guidance office gives out,” he said. “I clicked send and forgot about it, essentially.”

Little did he know he had earned himself quite the opportunity — as one of just 170 young artists invited to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Miami in early January. During that trip he was able to learn tips from greats in their field.

“When he showed me the email, I actually asked him, ‘Is this real?’ ” said his mother, Amanda Barney, who teaches English at the high school. “It’s such a big honor for a kid from a small town and a small, public high school. We are so proud of him.”

The meaning behind the film he made, Oliver said, is not so much about the expectations of each gender role, but that “the expected genders are irrelevant.”

“They are lovers first and women second in the scenario,” he said.

Click here to see the movie.

Oliver said he credits the school’s production program with helping to spark his interest in film and giving him the editing skills necessary to produce such work. He said his teacher, John Roslak, emphasized the importance of understanding the editing technology and how best to use it.

“There was no way I could have gone to class here and not have been a good editor,” he said.

Principal Shawn Petretti said, “The beautiful thing about that program is that it has managed to expose students to something that they discover an interest in.

“And when you get someone like Oliver, who really brings a passionate energy into everything he does, he went on and found additional opportunities,” he added, noting that several students have gone on to study broadcast, video and film production after taking part in the program.

Oliver is now one of 60 candidates in the running to be named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, an honor given to a select few of the YoungArts winners. Should he earn one of the 20 available spots, he would earn himself another trip — to Washington D.C. to meet President Obama.

With confidence in his editing skills, Oliver said he used the week-long experience in Miami to sharpen his camera and directing skills, taking tips from notables like actor James Caan of “The Godfather” fame and filmmaker Shari Carpenter, who has worked on many projects with Spike Lee.

“I really don’t care in what capacity, but for the rest of my life I want to be making movies,” Oliver said.

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