18 Mar

Photo Courtesy of Matt Hannon
Mike Klimek isn’t just an integrative media major. He’s a juggler. He balances work, school, and extracurricular activities with trying to produce a full-length motion picture that features a cast and crew entirely of volunteers. Not only that, he’s doing it in record time.


Alfred Hitchcock. Martin Scorsese. Francis Ford Coppola. Mike Klimek.

Chances are you’ve heard of the first three. The fourth? Probably not. But that’s about to change.

That’s because Klimek, a junior integrative media major, is not only going down in Wilkes University history – he’s creating it.

With his upcoming film “Gray,” which is a modern-day adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s infamous 1890 short story, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the Wyoming Valley West alumnus will become the first Wilkes undergraduate to direct a full-length motion picture movie.

And by the premiere on May 5, he will have finished the 90-minute film in just over four months.

Why make an hour-and-a-half movie?

“Because I am insane,” Klimek said. “Sometimes my ambition gets the best of me, and I feel like I can take on more than I can handle.

“But every time I do take on something big, it’s never out of my potential to, you know, raise the bar a little.”

A little may be an understatement. He’s taken an atypical approach to a typical class project – and, with it, raised the expectation level of integrative media students.

“Gray,” which is slated to premiere in the ballroom of the Henry Student Center, is an assignment for IM 391. The goal of the class is simple: Enhance your repertoire and your marketability to professional suitors.

“Some of the projects are Web-based, some are motion-based and some are print-based,” said Eric Ruggiero, chair of the integrative media department. “Mike’s project, however, is a nontraditional project because it is so large. It’s a fantastically aggressive project but it’s really great. For him to take on something like this, and have a goal like this, it’s something to tip your hat to.”

The idea for a full-length motion picture came about after Klimek analyzed his portfolio, finding a glaring hole that he felt needed to be filled.

“With my portfolio, I had print pieces, 3-D work, and 3- to 4-minute motion pieces here and there. But I felt like it was missing something,” Klimek said.

Enter a motion piece that was a little longer than his others – 30 times as long to be exact.

In his pursuit to make a movie in the mold of a suspense/drama, it came down to two stories he adored – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide” – whose similar themes portraying the darker side of humanity fascinated the 22-year-old director.

“People love seeing the hero rise up at the end, but that’s not me. I like seeing the hero fall, just because I think it leaves people wanting more,” Klimek said. “When it’s a happy ending, it’s a predictable movie; you know he’s going win. But if you see him lose, or if there’s that question in your mind that you think he might lose, it draws you in more.

“When I read through (“The Picture of Dorian”) Gray, the ideas just started coming to me. So I started pulling a couple of the strings I had.”

One of those strings was King’s College senior Mark Zurek. Zurek, who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in secondary education and mathematics, has a background in film making richer than his age of 22 may imply. He’s been cast in two feature-length films and has written three one-act plays.

But never before has he written a screenplay quite of the magnitude Klimek was asking.

“This is his big thing, his baby,” Zurek said. “The longest screen play I had written prior to this was probably about 12 pages. When he came and asked for a 90-minute screenplay, I told him he was out of his mind. I told him I could probably get 30 pages. But after I got into reading it, I knew I couldn’t get the job done in a half hour.

“I was thrilled that he would trust me with something like that; I just hope I do the story justice.”

Once the script was written, Klimek and Zurek took on the arduous task of casting the movie, a job that required advertising on countless film sites, campuses, Facebook and even Craigslist – which is where the actor who is playing the lead role of Dorian Gray – Jeremy Stegura – was found.

The auditions were originally supposed to last two weeks, but Klimek decided to extend the tryouts one more week so students returning from winter break could have an opportunity to audition.

It’s a good thing he did, as two Wilkes students were cast as leads in the film, and one of the cinematographers is a Wilkes student as well. The cast and crew are made up entirely of volunteers who saw the potential in the idea and jumped at the chance to expand their own portfolios.

On a budget made up of hours in a day rather than dollars and cents, they have all worked together – even traveling in from more than an hour-and-a-half away – to make this ambitious project successful.

“I just want it to work,” says junior pre-med major Peter Nguyen. “When I found out Mike and Mark were making this, I wanted to be in on the project, I wanted to make time for it. There’s no real payoff, I just love movies, and it gives me a deeper appreciation of the industry’s little things.”

The project, however, hasn’t come without its fair share of headaches.

While attempting to construct the 90-minute movie, Klimek has carried a full course load, serves as the design editor for The Beacon student newspaper and works between 30 and 40 hours a week in guest services at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino.

In essence, his weekends consist of shooting the movie during the day, then working at night until 3 a.m., just to wake up early and do it all over again. He’s even shot scenes when he gets off work to capitalize on the little time he and the cast have.

“It’s funny, when people put all the things I do right out in front of me and ask how I do it, I just say ‘I don’t know, I just do it.’ I feel as though if I do anything less, then I’m cheating myself,” Klimek said. “In this field you have to bring something to the table. You don’t want to be like everyone else and just fit the mold. You have to fit the mold, but you also need to change it as well, if that makes sense.”

The biggest headache, according to Klimek, is scheduling. With a vast amount of varying schedules to work with, getting the people required for each scene has proven to be difficult. Take, for instance, a night he was called into work but still needed scenes to be shot. He had to leave work early when he received news that members were threatening to walk off set.

“When I left work, I was fuming; I was so mad,” Klimek said. “I walked up the stairs into the set and looked at my best friend, who was like ‘Hey man, what’s up?’ and I just looked at him, and said ‘Shut up; what is going on right now? What are you guys doing?’ Of course, I didn’t put it that nicely; I was livid. Everyone had a deer-in-the-headlights look.”

Even with the shortcomings, the experience has rewarding – and eye-opening. So much so that he can’t look at a movie he watches in the same way. Instead of amusement, he’s examining every scene and every camera shot, noting the techniques used to give the movie its feel.

“I went to happy hour at Arena (Bar and Grill), and the film “The Fan,” with Robert De Niro, was on,” Klimek said. “I couldn’t hear it, but at one point I was just tuning out my friends and found myself analyzing it, not watching it. I was taking it in for the cinematic adventure. I would ask ‘I wonder how many camera angles they used for each scene?’ So as soon as the scene changed, I counted how many different angles were used.”

The massive undertaking has opened a world of opportunities he is looking to capitalize on – including another movie next semester.

He’s keeping his lips sealed on that project, however.

“My next project?” Klimek asks. “I’m gonna keep that to myself, make people want more. There’s always that demand to do something better, even though what you just did was really good. Most of the time I’m usually thinking about the next thing I’m doing. I don’t take the time for myself to absorb it and be happy, I just look towards what’s next. “

Before he can look toward what’s on deck, he still has to finish the current project. With a few scenes left to film, and a little over a month left until the premiere, time is the enemy. Even so, he’s working vigorously so he can accomplish his ultimate goal of the project: Entertainment.

“If I can make people cringe, I’ll be happy,” Klimek said. “I want people to leave the theater thinking ‘Wow, that was something else.’ But I want people to watch it and be entertained. My buddy Alfred Hitchcock always said that people go to a dark theater to be entertained, they don’t go there to be bored.

“I want to show the world my personality through my work, and I want to entertain people because I think I can. And I feel like movies are the best way to do that.”

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1 Comment

Posted by on March 18, 2011 in March 2011


One response to “GRAY MATTERS (VIDEO)

  1. Jeremy Stegura

    March 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Woo! Glad to be a part of this. Everyone on cast and crew is great, It’s always a fun time when we’re shooting; even when we’re outside in freezing temps for 5 hours and my mouth refuses to move properly anymore, haha! The things we do for film!

    I admire Mike’s work ethic and ambition and perfectionist attitude when it comes to film, it mirrors my own from all film making standpoints; performing directing, editing and overall presentation. He will be going places in the future I’m sure.

    Mark Zurek wrote some great scenes for the film and It’s been awesome being able to be one of the people involved in the performances. Kirstn Cook, Austin Loukas and Elsbeth Denman are all great choices for cast.

    Grats to all involved on what i’m sure will end up being a memorable project.


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