Geoffrey Ciani drew on his Lehigh experiences and connections to make his first film.
From a small office in New Jersey, Geoffrey Ciani '98 sorts through film reels and pores over stills of individual screen captures, carefully examining all of the elements of each shot with a trained eye.
Ciani is living every aspiring filmmaker's dream: He is directing and producing his own independent films and preparing them for distribution through his company, Mushroom Cloud Productions
Ciani began his filmmaking journey by deciding which film would be his primary endeavor. He ultimately settled on an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, Berenice, as his first film. He was initially drawn to the storyline's adaptability; it gave him liberty to loosely base his production on the existing literal text, or to stray as far as he pleased. He also felt it was within reach of his then limited resources. And of course the author's name was an additional factor in attracting potential audiences.
Plus, Ciani says, the plot intrigued him.
"Berenice possesses a unique blend of creepiness, drama, and quirkiness to set the scene for the type of film I'd always wanted to make," he says.
With a cast made up of a combination of professional actors and Ciani's friends, the film most definitely delivers all these qualities. And it also has the elements of a Hollywood picture--romance, drug abuse, murder, and insanity.
During the film's final stages, Ciani decided distributing and promoting it would be an exciting venture, and Mushroom Cloud Productions was born. He teamed up with three longtime friends and opened a workspace in New Jersey, close to where they each reside.
"The four of us pooled all of our money and resources in order to make this movie become a reality. When it was all said and done, our budget was approximately $30,000--an incredibly small amount of money, even by independent movie standards."
Ciani recently unveiled the finished product in a screening of Berenice right here at Lehigh. He says it was a worthwhile experience that allowed him to gauge audience reaction and garner feedback on the film.
"I was extremely pleased with the great turnout," Ciani says. "I spoke to several students before the show who seemed rather enthusiastic about going to see the project, which was great to hear. People sincerely seemed to enjoy it."
Ciani says returning to Lehigh with his accomplishment was rewarding, since he was on the very grounds where his interest in film blossomed. "I learned a great deal at Lehigh, both in and out of the classroom. The experience of having gone there was simply priceless," he says.
Throughout the filming process, he came across a newly discovered tie to campus in Bob Weick '78, a cast member who was also a fellow Lehigh alum, and many of the friends he made at Lehigh, including Scott Arnold '00, Erik Knowles '98, and Seth Deysher '98, showed up to lend a helping hand on the set. Ciani and his crew even returned to Bethlehem to shoot some scenes.
Currently, the staff at Mushroom Cloud Productions focuses mainly on film and video, interactive media, and Web site design. They work heavily with digital techniques, which Ciani says made the filming of Berenice possible.
Up next for Ciani is a film based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, which is still in the pre-production stages. The script has recently been completed, and Ciani is searching for financial backing to make the film materialize.
"Having learned a great deal from the entire Berenice experience, I'm confident that Faust will fulfill this vision with proper financing," Ciani says.
Geoffrey Ciani can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin