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Some people do not belong in the place where they were born. Often they stay, unable to muster the wherewithal to change their fate. But for some, passion drives them to seek their true home. Starry Night is the story of Dawn, a teen girl struggling to escape the small town where she was raised to pursue her love for astronomy. This short film sets her wonder at the universe against insidious ignorance and the beautifully bleak landscapes of eastern Washington State.

Both timeless and topical elements interweave this story. The topic of women in science, or rather the lack thereof, is a current issue both politically and socially. Many can relate to the struggles of a woman trapped by circumstance, but determined to escape, build a better life, and impact the world in a positive way.

The feature film is currently in development. Ten pages of the screenplay have been shot with the principal cast at the University of Washington. An additional sequence from the completed short film, comprising four pages shared by the screenplays, will be used in the feature. In total ten pages of narrative and numerous unit B shots have been completed.

The Sloan Foundation

Each year the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards grants to promising writer/directors at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts based on the submission of an original screenplay. The goal of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation film school program is to influence the next generation of filmmakers to create more realistic and dramatic stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers through visual media. The original short film script for Starry Night won a production grant in 2013, and a feature version of Starry Night is currently a finalist for the Sloan Feature Film Award. The Sloan Foundation takes a direct interest in the success of the film and serves as a partner for the project.

The Story

Dawn is an intelligent young girl with a passion for astronomy. She lives with her conservative religious mother just outside the small town of Electric City, Washington, a town in the shadow of the Grand Coulee Dam. She has just graduated from high school. Her only connection for her intellectual passions is her boyfriend Isaac and his parents, who are resident engineers at the dam. She and Isaac spend summer nights in the hills with his amateur telescope.

She musters the initiative to take a late SAT test without her family’s consent, but as the summer draws to a close, Isaac and his family prepare to leave town to take him to college. For him, college is a given, but for Dawn it is a long shot. Her family is unsupportive, seeing college as unaffordable and dangerous, something for the “intellectually elite”.

Her world is further upset by the news that Isaac’s parents are moving away to travel the world, taking her one intellectual bastion with them. It seems she is faced with a dreary life living paycheck to paycheck as a waitress in a tiny town. She reconnects with her brother Clayton, who has been wrestling with his own demons, having joined the army to facilitate his own escape. He understands her circumstance better than anyone else, and comes to understand Dawn’s goals and extends the help she needs to begin her journey out.

 

The Short

The short was shot in August of 2014. Playing the role of Dawn, Paige Hiskey led a cast from Los Angeles and Seattle. The small crew consisted mostly of NYU Tisch students and alumni.

The role of Dawn’s home was filled by a vacant house on a farm complex outside of Connell, Washington, once occupied by Zane Grey. The observatory scenes were filmed on location at Goldendale Observatory State Park in Goldendale, Washington. It was captured on a Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT using a set of Cooke S4minis and vintage Nikon SLR lenses.

As of spring 2015 short is currently in post-production. 

The ideas and motifs that compose Starry Night have been swirling around my life for a long time. I developed a deep passion for astronomy and science at a very early age, and it has come to serve as my philosophy for understanding the universe both practically and spiritually. During the summers, my family would drive through eastern Washington. With its endless scablands, rolling wheat fields, and scenic vistas atop basalt columns, it is the polar opposite of what one expects to find in the Evergreen State. I was struck by the vastness of the landscapes, and fascinated by the melancholic romance that permeates the land. The dusty, lonely feel was palpable, especially in small towns. The night was full of stars, with the Milky Way ambling lazily across the sky. Starry Night came about in my sophomore year script writing class at New York University, combining the love of the cosmos with the images of eastern Washington in a character: a young woman, trying to escape the small town to pursue her passion.
— Paxton Farrar