At 10, Pete Schuermann was already playing with a home-movie camera, "shaking the train set apart and making my own version of an earthquake." By his early twenties, he and his brother John had shot Hick Trek: The Moovie. The 8mm sci-fi film may have been, as he describes it, cheap and cheesy (think refrigerator-box spaceship corridors), but it sold, was distributed, and became both a cult classic and the start of his filmmaking career.
"It was one of those movies that for a while there, you'd go to Kmart — they have those bins of DVDs — you would find them in there," he says with a laugh.
With a list of projects on his résumé including the documentary HAZE, the Walt Disney film Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic, and the upcoming feature film CREEP!, Schuermann may have caught a serious film bug with Hick Trek, but he wishes he'd had more support and resources in those early years. So now, at 48, he's helping future generations through the First Take Film Fellowship (firsttakecos.com).
"When I was younger, I was usually the slave ... or somewhat exploited in some way. 'Just do this for me and I'll give you all kinds of work.' It never happened. To me, this [fellowship] is a great way to learn what it's like to truly be in charge. You're given a mechanism to do something."
The mechanism starts with money. Set up as a nonprofit through the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, the fellowship began fundraising earlier this month at the annual Hootenanny for the Arts and will continue through January. "We want to raise a considerable budget for three of the area's best filmmakers, best and brightest upcoming," Schuermann says.
Then, through an application process, three 16- to 24-year-olds will be selected from the community to receive mentorship and professional supervision by a committee of locals, including Schuermann, producer/art director Misti Walker, architect and entrepreneur Doug Comstock and advertising creative director and graphic designer Marco Hernandez. (One more committee member is yet to be added to bring the group to five.) The fellows' goal will be to produce, as a team, a short film that promotes the Pikes Peak region in some fashion.
"We're giving them a theme, but not specifics on how and what they need to do about it," Schuermann says. "There have been local promotional videos in the past, but usually they're agenda-based in some way. So we thought this would be fun to say, 'Hey, let's let the creatives have control.'"
In addition to the theme, they'll have a real-world budget to manage, with real-world deadlines. They'll be required to hire area professionals to provide equipment, crew, actors and publicity. And they'll learn how to outline pre-production, production and post-production phases, how to schedule work flow, and how to market the film. Whatever they do produce will become part of the public domain for the community to use (without tampering) at will.
"If the city says, 'Holy cow, this is amazing,' they can do whatever they want with it," Schuermann says. "That really is kind of the end goal. Let's blow everybody away with this, and show what resources and creativity combined can do."