Penn grads' indie film wins big award

In "Sleepwalker," the main character lives with an alternate personality

· January 16, 2014, 5:05 pm   ·  Updated January 16, 2014, 10:09 pm

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When the “Awake” self goes to bed, the “Asleep” self opens its eyes and starts its own life. This isn’t about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is about “Sleepwalkers,” a new film produced by graduates of the Class of 2013.

Ben, the main character of the movie, is a “Sleepwalker” with an alternate personality that wakes up every night. Whereas “Awake Ben” lives a monotonous life, “Asleep Ben” lives a life full of excitement with fellow sleepwalkers. However, as “Asleep Ben” falls in love with an “Awake” waitress, the barrier between the two selves begins to break down.

The feature film was produced by Jason Merrin and Rachel Liu, both 2013 Engineering graduates. It recently won Indiewire’s Project of the Month — selected by a public poll on the online resource and community for independent filmmakers’ website. As part of the prize, Sleepwalkers will get consultation with the Tribeca Film Institute to refine its quality and receive assistance in distribution and participation in film festivals.

The film’s post-production was funded through Kickstarter — a funding platform for creative projects. Merrin received $15,551, surpassing the initial goal of $12,000. The movie is currently in post-production, and the expected release date will be in 2015.

Not withstanding such an achievement, filming “Sleepwalkers” was not without its troubles. Ivan Moutinho, a junior in College and a boom operator of Merrin’s production team, said “nothing would go right” during the two and a half weeks of “Sleepwalkers” production.

“The biggest thing was schedule, as we had to move around the time to benefit the actors,” he said, indicating that a lot of the people involved in the production were freelancers often with other jobs or commitments.

Even so, Moutinho added that the production was able to progress because “Jason had a very kind interaction with everybody. He just made everything go so much sooner and built up the morale,” Moutinho said.

Merrin, who led the production team, was a digital media design major with a minor in cinema studies while at Penn.

Professor Nicola M. Gentili, the associate director of the Cinema Studies Program, remembers Merrin as an “incredibly motivated student.”

Mentioning some other short films Merrin submitted for Penn Student Film Festivals in his undergraduate years, professor Gentili emphasized how Merrin is “trying different genres” while at the same time creating “a very well-packaged product.”

“Jason was very technical and precise,” he added, recalling how he constantly worked for perfect script and perfect scene.

Professor Kathy De Marco Van Cleve, senior lecturer in cinema studies and creative writing, was also thrilled with the good news from Merrin. The first draft of “Sleepwalkers” was written in one of De Marco Van Cleve’s classes.

“He is a superb writer,” she said, referring to the Creative Concept Award Merrin received in the 2011 Creative World Awards.

“One of the many great qualities about Jason is that he understands it’s his work,” she added, saying that a lot of beginning writers listen too much to others’ advice that it often hurts their work.

She also saw a great future for Merrin and picked out Christopher Nolan — the British film director known for “Memento,” The Dark Knight trilogy and “Inception” — as a director whose career he would emulate.

“Hollywood would say he’s a talent to watch,” she said.

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