ANN ARBOR—A debut film by Hayley Tibbenham, a student at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, was invited to be part of the Short Film Corner at the upcoming 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
In a creative writing course last year, Tibbenham, a West Bloomfield, Michigan native, began writing a scene that would become the beginnings of a short film. After creating one scene for class, her creative writing professor, Jamien Delp, connected her with filmmakers from Interlochen Center for the Arts who advised in the process of creating a short film.
“When I was writing this, I had not taken a single screenwriting class prior, but I was fascinated by filmmaking,” said Tibbenham, a rising senior studying voice performance. “As a person who doesn’t really see themselves represented in a way that is complex or meaningful, in lots of different art forms—and especially in film—I was inspired to turn my scene into a short.”
According to Tibbenham, “Inhuman” is about a a plus-sized woman named Alice who moves to a small town in northern Michigan. She appears to be a jaded, seemingly insecure teenage girl, but her budding romance with Elliot, a sunny high school golden boy, leads to the discovery that she is not some washed-out stereotype—she is actually just a vampire.
“The film asks a lot of questions and leaves people hanging,” she said. “I definitely think it starts a conversation about the assumptions we make in our daily lives, as well as attempts to redefine the genres we think of as ‘feminine.’”
After spending summer 2018 writing the script, Tibbenham sent it to friends and started preparing the short for production last fall. Shooting began in December in various locations on campus, such as Mason Hall and the Art and Architecture Building. Other scenes were shot in Holland, Michigan.
In total, more than two dozen student actors, filmmakers, producers and designers were involved. Students from the musical theatre and voice departments in SMTD took on acting roles, while student filmmakers from the Department of Film, Television, and Media in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts were tapped to produce the short.
Genres Hayley grew up loving helped shaped the film—from John Hughes’ romcoms and soapy television dramas to gothic vampire lore. She cites as inspiration female writers in film and television, including Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Issa Rae.
“I’m inspired by female writers who create interesting, complex, flawed women not typically seen, as well as women who are able to be both in front of and behind the camera,” Tibbenham said.
Not only is Tibbenham the writer and director of the short, but she also plays the lead actress, Alice.
“As I was writing it, I was seeing myself as Alice,” Tibbenham said. “It felt a little bit selfish, but it also felt powerful seeing a part of myself represented on screen.”
While Tibbenham is a voice major, she says her musical background has only helped her experience as a filmmaker.
“Music is a huge part of a film,” she said. “Being able to sit down with my composer, Brad Gurwin, and really be able to communicate with him under a common language we both understood as musicians was super beneficial.”
The Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival May 20-25 was a particular goal for Tibbenham, not only because the date lined up with the end of the film’s editing process, but also because it’s particularly geared toward young, first-time filmmakers.
Tibbenham, who plans to attend the festival, says the invitation will present networking opportunities with notable filmmakers, producers and distributors, as well as provide visibility in the industry.
“It’s really exciting to be invited,” Tibbenham said. “It’s one of the biggest, oldest, most renowned festivals in the world. It’s sort of like a gold standard in the film industry.”
Tibbenham received support through grants from SMTD Excel and Arts at Michigan, and donations through a GoFundMe she set up herself. The biggest factor, though, was finding a community of support through the university.
“A huge part of this was being able to have support from my fellow students,” she said. “If you want to do something at this university, the people and opportunities are there—you just need to take advantage of them. There are so many resources.”
As for her future in filmmaking, Tibbenham hopes to continue combining her love for performing and writing.
“It’s so incredibly exciting and there are so many unique opportunities to be in front of and behind the camera—who knows, maybe I’ll do a musical next,” she said.
Story by Alana Valko.