“Yeet, defeat, repeat.”
That is the motto of Aurora Orientem Productions, a small local film production company founded by junior media study major Rachel Jennetti. The company aims to give young filmmakers the opportunity to work on a professional film set, without the notorious “high-pressure, high-stress environment” the film industry has become synonymous with.
“We want an all-inclusive, all gender and sexuality and race inclusive environment where everybody can feel safe and feel like they’re a part of a team,” Jennetti told The Spectrum in an interview. “I know in the film industry, there’s this stigma… I’ve had people who don’t think I’m the director, or they don’t think people like me [women] have authority on their set, which is completely unfounded. I know that there is a lot of prejudice that goes on in the film industry and I want to combat that.”
Jennetti co-founded her company with Kaytlynn Storms, a junior film production student at SUNY Purchase, after graduating together from Buffalo’s East Aurora High School. The school hosts a program called “Aurora Film Academy,” where seniors can take the last three class periods off to make short films, culminating in a film festival at the end of the year.
It was there that Jennetti and Storms initially met, and where Jennetti discovered her love for writing and directing.
“We were like the rock of [our] year, we were always in the editing room together,” Jennetti said. “She [Storms] was even the actress in the first short film I ever made.”
Jennetti says she’s always been interested in film — she says she “wanted to be maybe an actress, or a lawyer” growing up — but when “Push,” a film she directed, won “Best Short” at her school’s 2018 film festival, Jennetti knew she would become a director.
Jennetti and Storms co-founded Aurora Orientem shortly after graduating from East Aurora High. Jennetti says the experience was “stressful,” but that she was supported by co-founder Storms and her friend Davis Anderson, a 3rd year in the Philosophy/Pre-Law tract at UB.
“I felt like they were my support system, and I hold them very near and dear to my heart because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Jennetti said.
Jennetti says “Aurora Orientem” means ‘eastern lights’ in Latin. The name “was created originally in a moment of panic while registering for our first film festival,” according to the company’s website.
Jennetti says Anderson — one of the team’s writers — suggested the name “Aurora Orientem.” Even though the company is based in the Eastern U.S., “we want to all be stars, we all have lights,” Jennetti said.
“The 2019 [Buffalo] 48 Hour Film Fest was our [company’s] official starting date,” Jennetti said. “We had one person send us a link to the last chance sign-ups for the 48 Hour Film Fest and they were like, ‘You should do this.’”
Aurora Orientem hastily signed up for the contest, but still received a nomination for “Best Special Effects” for their short film, “The Rift.” Although they didn’t win, they were happy to receive any recognition at all.
“It’s actually really good not to win [in your first festival], especially because we were so young,” Jennetti said. “We were much less experienced than the other filmmakers.”
The 2019 Buffalo 48 Hour Film Festival is also where the group got their motto, “Yeet, defeat, repeat.” Jennetti says that one of their editors jokingly suggested that motto but everyone ended up loving it. Jennetti says it plays into Aurora Orientem’s “youthful, playful nature.”
Jennetti says their initial success could be attributed to their smaller team, when compared to most other productions.
“We usually don’t have more than ten people on set, because that feels like a lot… we only need two or three cameras set up,” Jennetti said. “We don’t like to have overwhelming experience [on set], so we try to keep our circle small for each scene we film. It depends on people’s availability as well.”
Jennetti says that she is used to working with teams in order to achieve a goal bigger than herself. When she isn’t working on short films, she’ll work with her fraternity, Alpha Kappa Chi, to practice environmental sustainability. She’ll also do videography work for the UB Bulls football team, as well as video editing for Liaison International, a company that makes centralized application services similar to the Common App service used by many schools, including UB.
Jennetti says she and Storms found Aurora Orientem’s members from around Western New York. Jennetti met some early members at Hilbert College, where she attended until Fall 2019. She also found some members at UB, the Aurora Film Academy and from inquiries made through the Aurora Orientem website.
“We have people as young as 17 and as old as 35 who participate in making films,” Jennetti said. “We’re always bringing on new people who want film experience, and people are always moving onto bigger and better things as well. We love to make movies, and we don’t want a high-pressure, high-stress environment… We want a positive experience for everybody there.”
COVID-19 has negatively impacted the film industry with smaller productions, like Aurora Orientem, finding it difficult to collect funding or resources for filming. Jennetti says she likes to, “encourage people to Vlog and make YouTube videos when they’re not in class or doing stuff for Aurora Orientem just to keep their skills sharp” during such an unpredictable time.
While Jennetti admits she enjoys working from home, she says she prefers to work with a team, which makes the pandemic especially hard for her and her company.
“We like to be together as a team, because I feel like that produces a much more professional looking product,” Jennetti said. “We have different people who have different experiences and people who might share some insights on other positions as well. I feel like having more people on hand will [benefit] the whole product.
“As a collective, as long as we’re all we’re all together, and we’re all creating together, then there’s no way it can possibly go wrong because we had fun doing it.”
While Aurora Orientem has focused entirely on short films in the past, Jennetti says her company is making exciting moves as it looks toward the future.
“Aurora Orientem is excited to announce that we are creating a feature film based on the legend of Icarus and the wax wings,” Jennetti said. “It’s going to be set in modern times. We’re beginning on the script for it, we have concept art already… we’re estimating for a film date of this summer, May or June.”
Jennetti says she expects Western New York — home to large independent studios such as Buffalo Film Works and the upcoming Buffalo Studios — to go through a filmmaking renaissance.
“I think it’s very exciting,” Jennetti said. “The only way that you can really learn how to do film is to be on set… I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that has shot Hallmark movies, so I’ve been an extra on those sets and I know how it feels, even though they are smaller. I feel like that is necessary to being a successful filmmaker, because you learn by example for a lot of things, and I feel like that is something that every film student should take part in.”
And despite Aurora Orientem’s continued success in local film festivals, Jennetti remains humble about her company and achievements.
“I don’t really rank my achievements,” Jennetti said. “I feel like all of our achievements have been fantastic. I will say that last year, I submitted one of our [films]” — “High Road” — “to the Triangle Shorts film festival, and we actually won best overall film. That was probably one of our greatest [awards].”
Her production company not only won the “best overall film” award at the Triangle Shorts Festival in 2020 for “High Road,” but also in 2019, for “The Dance Teacher.”
“I think we should be super proud of placing for the special effects [award] in the [Buffalo] 48-Hour Film Festival, because that is such a big achievement,” Jennetti said. “Especially for a film collective that had three weeks to prepare for a two-day shoot, [in addition to] being first-time filmmakers and being a majority of people around 18 years old.”
Jennetti says she is enthusiastic for Aurora Orientem’s future.
“I hope to see us grow, I want to one day have my own production studio as well,” Jennetti said. “I want to make this feature film that we’re making, and I want to be proud of it. I want to have a huge project that I can proudly say that I made by myself with [Aurora Orientem] as a team.”
“[I want to] see it through all the way, from our initial meeting… all the way to trying to distribute it, successfully or not,” Jennetti said. “I actually documented that, and I’m about to upload it to my YouTube channel relatively soon. I want people to see that process and see that it is possible and inspire others.”
The arts desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org