2024-05-29 1:49 PM

While most 17-year-olds settle for a seat at the theater, Arlington’s young film maker Cal Slater has already amassed a repertoire of film projects, and with some awards in tow.me-and-marsh

Local 17-Year-Old Cal Slater Returns Victorious from the Rosebud Film Festival, and Plots His Artistic Future

While most 17-year-olds settle for a seat at the theater, Arlington’s young film maker Cal Slater has already amassed a repertoire of film projects, and with some awards in tow.


Cal Slater with his animated protagonist, Marsh Brookes. (Photo: Courtesy Cal Slater)

Slater’s latest animated work, “The Woes of Marsh,” faced off against 20 competitors’ videos at the 19th annual Rosebud Film and Video Festival, held on June 27 at Rosslyn’s Spectrum Theatre.

The 9.5-minute long, computer-animated film chronicles a high school teenager’s struggle with imaginary monsters, using his imagination and some help from a magical cat, Artemis.

Slater said the animated adolescent, Marsh Brookes, is part autobiographical, and partially based on his observation of high school bullying.

“I hung out with a lot of geeks and saw bullying, but the main theme, I guess you could say, is I have personal demons I want to get rid of,” he explained.

The award, though, has led to some personal prospects for Slater, who was approached by one of the judges, independent film maker and producer Sydney-Chanele Dawkins.

“I was thoroughly impressed by his work, especially coming from a teenager,” said Dawkins, who has just wrapped up her first feature film, Modern Love is Automatic, and is seeking distributors for her second.

Following the Rosebud awards ceremony, where she handed Slater his glass trophy, Dawkins told him that “if there is anything he’d like to do in the future, I’d like to help.”

“The Woes of Marsh” has been solicited for September’s Alexandria Film Festival, where Dawkins serves as its director. She is also the commissioner of the arts for Alexandria City.



In “The Woes of Marsh,” the animated hero Marsh Brookes fights imaginary demons with different means, including a holy water pump and gun. (Photo: Courtesy Cal Slater)

Dawkins said she finds “a certain charm” in Slater’s use of Flash animation and the script. The two of them will be coordinating in late July to see how to improve “The Woes of Marsh,” with a revised script, fresh animations and possibly a new score.

“Sydney is going to help remake ‘The Woes of Marsh’ and help find and manage the production crew,” said Slater about the project, for which he is currently preparing a portfolio of new concept art and a script.

Slater recently graduated from the Howard Gardner School in Alexandria, after several years at H-B Woodlawn. During his middle and high school years, he suffered from episodes of severe depression, experiences, Slater said, which have helped motivate his artistic outlet.

Creativity, however, has been a long pursuit for the son of an opera singer, his father, who encouraged activity in entertainment at a young age.

Slater appeared as an extra in two major movies, Species II and Enemy of the State. The brief moment of big screen fame has had some consequences for the young animator. “Gene Hackman and Will Smith were behind me,” said Slater, who was six at the time. “My entire scene was to eat ice cream; they gave me bowl after bowl of ice cream. I was getting so nauseous, I said, ‘I don’t want any more ice cream.’ You can hear me in the background.” Slater laughed, “I’ve been getting royalties ever since.”

Since his first breakthrough into the limelight, Slater began his animating career in fourth grade with a series of flipbooks which he would continue to make through middle school, when Slater first came in contact with computer animation software.

Slater’s main conduit of creativity is Flash animation, software giant Adobe’s program which utilizes computer graphics to design cartoons from the whimsical to the dramatic.

“I’ve always loved cartoons, so I started playing around with Flash, making stupid little animations,” said Slater, who enjoyed “creating characters, bringing life to things that don’t have any life, which I suppose is the definition of animation.”

Examples of his Flash work are posted to Slater’s YouTube page, String Studio. The videos range from animated music videos set to music like the Beatles, to other film shorts he’s crafted over the years.

“For certain songs, when I listen to them, I just see a story and I want to animate them,” said Slater.

“The Woes of Marsh” joined the list of Slater’s honored works, which includes a second-place honorable mention at the 2007 Falls Church Film Festival for a 58-second short Slater made with his sister.

“It was a pretty neat video. My sister was whacking a cockroach with a cane as I was playing a video game, but then the cane gets caught around my neck and she pulls my head off,” he said. “The winner was a 12-year-old for his animation; must have been cuter.”

Slater also snagged a “Best Animated Film” at the 16:9 International Film Festival held out of Mumbai, India.

Now, with the chance to work on a new script and direction for “The Woes of Marsh,” Slater said he hopes to pursue his dream of being a director and writer.

If successful, the project will be Slater’s first major collaboration since his first directorial spot behind the camera of a script he wrote in ninth grade, “The Beltharum Emblem.”

Slater had taken a screenwriting class at the nonprofit public access organization, Arlington Independent Media (AIM). He described the experience as “pretty awesome,” as he “got to assemble a cast and crew for the first time to make a movie.”

AIM lent the teenage film maker equipment, and Slater held auditions for the cast of around seven. After filming began, Slater said that difficulties with actors during production led to the project being shelved.

Even so, Slater has continued with fresh material and new directions. He is currently attending classes at the Art Institute of Rosslyn, but does not discount the idea of pursuing jobs as an animator.

Slater does have his eyes set on a goal. “I want to be in the story department at Pixar,” he said. For the young film making virtuoso, it’s more a matter of time than genius.





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