Cinequest 2017 Student Spotlight: Nicole Sim
As the eight minutes of The Plunge unfold, hardly a word is spoken as an innocent flirtation between two swimmers turns into something sinister. Inspired by the hot topic of on-campus sexual assaults, director Nicole Sim made her short while a student at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA, but since then she’s transferred to CSU Long Beach, where she continues to take film classes.
The Plunge will screen as part of Cinquest’s second College Shorts Program. We caught up with Sim to talk about her experience at De Anza and why she thought it was important to tell a story about sexual assault.
What inspired The Plunge?
I was inspired to make this film around the time when there was news circulating around campus regarding assaults, particularly when I had received a campus-wide email about a sexual assault that had happened in a women’s restroom in a building where I often had classes. I realized that assaults had become such a normality in the world we live in and were often disregarded or kept in the dark. I felt that I needed to shed some light onto this issue and to use film as a platform to get the message out regarding the idea of verbal consent.
There are a lot of beautiful scenes in the film that take place underwater. Was that a challenging experience? What tips would you give to first-timers shooting in a pool?
It was incredibly challenging for my actors and director of photography, Ali Adhami. Ali had to multitask swimming, breathing, and making sure that the shot was stable. It didn’t help that we were filming at night in winter, so everyone was basically suffering from mild hypothermia.
A heated pool helps, along with having plug-in heaters and lots of blankets on set. It is also important to note that safety should always be prioritized; we hired lifeguards to watch over us in the event that something might happen. It is also essential to test out your underwater gear to ensure that water does not leak into the camera, to think about how the water acts as another lens that affects the focus and focal length, and to also think about the stability of your shots and ways to overcome issues that may literally come afloat.
Why did you decide not to include dialogue in the short?
I believe that taking out the dialogue from a film really helps to bring out the depth because it forces the visuals to tell the story. In the case of The Plunge, I felt that it was important that the protagonist has no voice because I wanted to highlight the issue of consent. Even though a person does not verbally or physically object to an assault, it does not mean that it is permissible.
As a young director, what was it like shooting an assault scene? What was it like for your actors?
It was incredibly helpful that my actors Nika Nikolay and Spencer Greene were very open-minded with shooting this scene, and having a tight knit crew of peers ultimately made them feel comfortable performing such a scene. We rehearsed beforehand to make sure that they were comfortable with and trusted each other and to decide on what was appropriate to film. I also wanted to make sure that the scene felt believable and honest instead of coming off as awkward and fake, so we decided to break things down into specific movements and to shoot it in close-ups, which helped ease the pressure of performing in a wider frame.
What is the film program like at De Anza? How much support did you have from your professors and classmates on this project?
De Anza College has an incredible film program! The production classes work wonderfully to prepare you for the industry, and the amazing theory classes taught by Professor Susan Tavernetti really aim to develop critical thinking and build you as a filmmaker as you learn to think in-depth about themes, symbolism, aesthetics, and how you can use these tools to add dimension to your films. Professors there are really passionate about teaching film and are always happy to help when students are in need of guidance or a little push to be the best that they can be.
Along with the guidance from my directing professor, Milena Grozeva, my entire crew was made up of my peers at De Anza College, and they have all taught me immensely about how things work in various departments, from camera to lighting and editing. They were my support and teachers on set and have really pulled through in helping me make my film.
How does CSU Long Beach’s film program compare to De Anza?
CSULB has a lot to offer, and they have plenty of classes with more of an in-depth focus, like audio production and color grading. They also offer plenty of internship and work opportunities outside of class, which is great; unfortunately they are not as easily acquired at a community college like De Anza.
However, the curriculum seems to be more relaxed compared to De Anza, and it can be easy to just breeze through the semester without doing much if you don’t motivate yourself to make films or be a part of projects. Checking out equipment can also be tough at CSULB because of its larger film community, which means that the equipment may be more worn and limited than those available at community colleges such as De Anza.
What kind of response have you been getting for the film? Has it kicked off any important conversations?
The Plunge has screened in De Anza’s 37th Annual Student Film & Video Show as well as Tally Shorts Film Festival, and it has resonated with audiences there, along with friends and family. I hope that the film will also resonate with a wider audience once it is released and that more people will be more informed on the topic of consent after seeing the film.
The Plunge screens as part of Cinequest’s 9B College Shorts Program starting on March 8.