Real life inspires Chapman student's film
Taylor is a 15-year-old girl who has a passion for horses, family and friends. She is also battling a chronic illness – cancer.
While on a family horseback ride, her parents tell her that her chemotherapy has stopped working. She must now decide whether to go through with an experimental treatment that has a low success rate or live the rest of her life without treatment.
“A Taylor Story” chronicles this pivotal decision Taylor, played by Emma Fuhrmann, must make in her life. Alex Yonks, a fourth-year film production student at Chapman University, is both the writer and director of the short film. She is producing the film as her senior thesis project, with the help of fellow students.
“For the most part, all the students working on the film are Chapman students,” Yonks said.
The 21-year-old is a student in the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, which is recognized by the Hollywood Reporter as one of the top 10 film schools in America. Housed in the 76,000-square-foot Marion Knott Studios, Dodge College gives its film students access to a wide set of professional, industry standard tools.
A native of Dallas, Yonks became inspired to write the film after her sister Haley’s battles with a chronic, undisclosed illness at age 13. Now 19, Haley shared a special bond with her horse Pippin, who has since died.
“My sister was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and she was very sick when she was 13. She had been horseback riding since she was very little. And she had this special horse,” Yonks said. “I 100 percent believe that the horse saved my sister’s life. They had this really incredible, indescribable bond that is kind of unheard of. They nursed each other back to health. Whenever my sister’s horse was sick, my sister was also sick.
“They were able to slowly ride together again at the same pace, and sometimes the horse is the only thing that the character can relate to. And that’s where that comes from. My sister’s horse passed away a few years ago, so we’re trying to honor her (Pippin) with this story.”
The film features a cast of actors with Hollywood film credits, including Fuhrmann, who starred in the film “Blended” opposite Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The film also stars Cozi Zuehlsdorff, known for her role in the film “Dolphin Tale,” and Gavin Casalegno, who starred in the film “Noah,” alongside Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.
But those expecting a dramatic, sappy film about a teen cancer victim may be surprised. Yonks tries to maintain a fun, positive tone throughout the film. One scene shows Taylor sneaking out with her two best friends on Halloween against her parent’s will.
Yonks says the film is family-friendly and wholesome, but also funny and thought provoking.
“I really feel a responsibility to be a positive influence through my filmmaking, whether that’s through the film’s story or by giving back and donating to charities that are important to me,” she said. She hopes to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through her project.
She did not want to disclose the budget for the film but is financing the film through an $8,000 award she received from the Women of Chapman Endowed Filmmaker Fund and crowdfunding. She also launched two crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo.
The first had a goal of $30,000, with 50 percent of the money going to St. Jude, if she reached her goal. That campaign raised $17,206, which helped fully fund the film but did not meet her fundraising goal for St. Jude.
Now that the film is fully funded, the second crowdfunding campaign, ending earlier this week, was focused on raising money for St. Jude and had a goal of $15,000.
The film is in post-production and will be screened at Chapman’s Folino Theater in March. Yonks hopes to enter the film into film festivals around the country and submit it for Oscar consideration.
“My hopes are really high for this project. I feel like the sky’s the limit with it. I’m not really putting any boundaries on where it will end up,” she said. “I’m really excited for people to see it.”
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