The last time Kevin Ash and Alex Yonks collaborated on a film it was as teacher and student at Parish Episcopal School as part of the PARISHarts program; now they’re working together as professionals.
“I’ve always known she would go far and I’m positive she will continue to work in the film industry,” said Ash, Upper School Theatre and Film teacher.
Yonks’ journey into screenwriting and movie making started with acting. The experience opened her eyes and soon she began to see the world in a different way: through the written word and the lens of a camera.
“I feel like I’m supposed to tell stories and make films. I enjoy it very much,” said Yonks, Parish Class of ‘12.
Yonks is currently a senior at the prestigious Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange County, CA. Next month, she’ll start filming her senior project, the short story film A Taylor Story. Yonks is the writer and director of the film; Ash, her former teacher, will serve as Executive Producer through his company KLA Productions.
A Taylor Story centers on a 15-year-old girl who is battling cancer. Her chemo has stopped working and she must decide whether or not she will go through an experimental treatment.
“Sure, she has cancer, but that isn't who she is. She’s a compassionate teenager, with two best friends, who goes out on Halloween against her parents' will, for a night to remember. Throughout a series of harmless shenanigans, Taylor is reminded of what it truly feels like to be alive,” noted Yonks on the film's Facebook page.
Yonks calls the movie – which will run 15-20 minutes - a “passion project.” Personal experience highlights some of the central themes in the movie. The main character, Taylor, is battling cancer; Yonks’ mother is a breast cancer survivor. Taylor shares a special bond with horses, as does Yonks’ younger sister, who was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness when she was a teenager.
“I 100 percent believe Pippin [the horse] saved my sister's life and I want to honor her and tell the story through Taylor's eyes,” said an emotional Yonks.
The 21-year-old learned to use those personal highs and lows in her writing while taking Ash’s Script to Screen class at Parish during high school. The course is designed to give students real world experience in writing, directing, producing and editing a film. They’re tasked with writing a full length screen play and developing a short film that’s submitted to the Dallas International Film festival for inclusion.
“Alex actually had her film accepted into the film festival,” said Ash.
Fast forward to present day where Yonks is prepping her senior college film- A Taylor Story - in Los Angeles and Orange County. Filming should last about a week, but Yonks has already spent countless hours on re-writes, production meetings and casting. It's a big job for which she is well prepared thanks to her courses in college and at Parish.
“Parish and Kevin Ash gave me an outlet and space to grow as a filmmaker; to dip my feet into what professionals out of school try to do. I had the passion, drive, and determination to take the bull by the horns but without Parish and Ash specifically, I would not have been able to foster my filmmaking talents like I did,” said Yonks.
Yonks’ hard work and talent have also caught the attention of Hollywood. Three up-and-coming actors have signed on to star in the project. Film goers will most likely recognize them from feature films such as A Dolphin Tale, Blended and When the Game Stands Tall.
Cast Shown left to right: Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Lucy), Emma Fuhrmann (Taylor), Alex Yonks (Director/Writer), Gavin Casalegno (Michael).
A Taylor Story strives to be a “family friendly” movie with a good cause. 10 percent of the money raised to fund the film has already been committed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I feel like it’s important to give back. Making a movie that involves cancer doesn’t make it go away. But raising awareness and money could ultimately help those who are looking for a cure,” said Yonks.
Yonks started an Indiegogo fund to help pay for the project. The goal is to raise $30,000 with half of that money going to St. Judes.
Filming for A Taylor Story is expected to wrap-up by mid-October; post production by spring. The hard work will continue after the film is finished with the premiere and submission to national and international film festivals.
The Script to Screen students at Parish will be showing their own school films about the same time. No doubt Yonks' story will serve as reminder of what could happen if the aspiring filmmakers stick with it.
“Do it. Write. Make films. Go all in,” advised Yonks. “If you really feel passionate about something, whatever it is but especially filmmaking, you have to be willing to dedicate yourself whole heartedly,” she added.
Yonks hopes that “all-in” attitude will lead to more success beyond the classroom. She already has plans to work in the television and film industry once she graduates from college in the spring. It’s no surprise among those who know her.
“It’s very gratifying to see our students succeed; to graduate from Parish and do great things in the world, and I think that this film is not only an example of Alex’s talent and hard work, but it’s also for a great cause,” said Ash.
“It exemplifies a Parish student at their best.”