Twitch and Shout
by Marc Homer
It may not be readily apparent that Leah Meyerhoff is an indie filmmaking champion, but underneath a mess of straight black hair and Barbie-pink eyeliner is the creative lifeblood of a devout cineaste. Her voicemail says it all.
"If you know the name of the movie you'd like to see, press one," the recording starts in a classic Mr. Moviefone imitation. A shrill voice creeps in. "Twitch," it says. "Twitch, by Leah Meyerhoff," Mr. Moviefone continues, "is playing at The Pioneer Theatre."
Meyerhoff, A Bay Area native and third-year graduate film student in Tisch, has plenty of success stories to put on her resume: On top of being featured in the popular series "Film School" on IFC, her latest film, the poignant and poetic short "Twitch" rocked the Slamdance Film Festival, earning the jury's second prize for Best Narrative Short.
But while her film was being honored, Meyerhoff was in bed. 'I was sick, so I missed the awards ceremony," she said. Nevertheless, the award has been a great source of confidence. "It was very flattering," she said. "It was a nice payoff for all the effort I was making." Her film was also selected for the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France that same week.
"Getting an award is like icing on a cake," she said. "But just knowing that people in France are seeing a movie I made here is pretty awesome." Topping off the honors, "Twitch" made its debut at the Two Boots Pioneer Theatre during their "Best of Slamdance Festival" run.
"Twitch" explores a teenager's coming of age amid the day-to-day complications of caring for her paralyzed mother. Meyerhoff's own mother, Toni, also a cast member of "Twitch," developed Multiple Sclerosis while Meyerhoff was in utero. Coupled with a divorce when Meyerhoff was seven, her disability increasingly demanded the care and attention of her daughter. But when Meyerhoff began studies at Brown University, the distance between them grew immensely and they didn't see each other for several years.
Casting her mother in this film helped to repair the gap, she said. After having auditioned close to 100 people for the role of the mother, Meyerhoff ultimately could not find anyone more suitable than the real person.
"Twitch," both an engaging and challenging filmmaking experience, had also proved to be a rewarding one, as it allowed her to repair her relationship with her mother, Meyerhoff said.
Those who see "Twitch" will notice that Meyerhoff has cultivated a unique look. Shot on Super16mm film, the scenes seem to be submerged in an alternative world. "I wanted the audience to feel like it's underwater, where it's libeating, weightless and surreal, and to add a sense of buoyancy," she said.
This elevated cinematography and professional film stock were not cheap ventures. The production costs of Leah's 10-minute short reached $5,000 - not especially pricey for a commercial film, but a hefty sum for a college student low on cash. Funded by personal donations, grants and her own savings, Meyerhoff's film demonstrates how inspirational her success story truly is. Now, she is receiving paid offers from people who want her to shoot their films.
She is currently working on a music video for the female punk band Triple Creme, whom she compares to PJ Harvey. She hopes to enter the film in Tisch's Fusion Film Festival if she completes post-production in time.
Although it's "180 degrees away from Twitch," she said working with Triple Creme has spurred an affinity for music videos as a future career path. Eventually she hopes to direct feature films in the syle of one her favorite directors, fervent feminist Catherine Breillat ("Fat Girl") Meyerhoff shot the Triple Creme video on 35mm film for her cinematography class, which allowed her access to NYU's valuable equipment.
"I think if I was not at NYU I would not be making the kind of films that I'm making," Meyerhoff said. "NYU is motivating me to consistently make a lot of films."
Although she feels accomplished as her film school education comes to a close, she is not entirely eager to leave the university. "I have been in school my whole life," she said. "It's a luxury. I don't feel pressured to get out. But in a way I feel excited to be living, not just learning."