As a senior in high school, Taylor MacDonald was required to write a paper for his Advanced Placement English class.
Instead of writing a paper, MacDonald asked his teacher if he could make a short film.
"I thought, 'Yeah, whatever. It will be kind of a little rinky-dink screwup kind of thing,'" his English teacher, Ben Gerdts, said. "And then he came up with this, and we were all just shocked. It's the only time I've ever given a straight 100 to a student on any kind of a paper/essay project."
The film MacDonald created was called "The Storm" and was based on the short story by McKnight Malmar.
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Fast-forward a year or so, and now MacDonald is a 19-year-old sophomore studying film and television at the Savannah College of Art and Design. A Hilton Head Island native and 2012 graduate of Hilton Head Christian Academy, MacDonald recently wrote, produced and directed a film called "Shadows of Man."
But MacDonald refuses to take all the credit for the 20-minute film, which will be shown Jan. 2 at Park Plaza Cinema on Hilton Head. He said fellow HHCA graduate Amanda McElynn helped him come up with the story. Gerdts and McElynn helped produce the film. Hilton Head Island High School graduate Jean-Luc McMurtry was the assistant director. Another local friend, Chandler Hummel, was production assistant.
The film was shot over five days in the Charleston area and on Hunting Island.
Jamie Costa played the lead role, a man who struggles with the death of his girlfriend, who is played by Kendra Staub.
"I wanted to do something that was more personal and more relatable," MacDonald said. "If you create something that is relatable and can connect with people, then that can really stay with somebody longer than a movie that just scratches the service. It's a big pet peeve of mine ... A lot of movies out today are great, but when you look at it, why are they actually making the movies? Are they making them because of the money, or are they making it to express themselves or to impact people? ... I feel like the art form of film is being lost."
MacDonald also directed a Savannah-based horror short film called "Cleaners."
Gerdts, who is the head of the Humanities Department at HHCA, has been teaching at the school for four years and also taught at the college level for two years. He said when MacDonald was in his class, they enjoyed talking about pop culture and movies.
"He might not have been the best writer in the class or necessarily the best reader," Gerdts said. "But you could kind of see a spark in his eye. And he was super, super engaged."
Gerdts said MacDonald visited his creative writing class and showed them a rough version of the new film. They loved it.
"The first time you see it, you think, 'Wow, that was good, but I don't know what to think. I'm somewhat confused,'" Gerdts said. "And Taylor deliberately wanted that because he wanted it to be one of those films that really rewards multiple viewings."
Gerdts said all of his students wanted to see the film again. MacDonald was pleased with that.
Gerdts said "Shadows of Man" will entertain, but it will also make viewers think.
"I honestly think this is the tip of the iceberg with Taylor," Gerdts said. "I've taught hundreds of seniors, and just in terms of the sheer promise, I would say he is head and shoulders above every single student that I've ever taught. ... I'm super excited to see where he goes in the next couple of years."
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.