Another accomplished film director has decided to make her home in Atlanta, aiming to be closer to the city’s burgeoning movie industry. Her name is Olivia Cambern, and she starts classes at Georgia State this fall.
“When I was living back in Oregon, one of my friends really wanted to be an actress, and she knew that I liked making up stories,” Cambern remembers. “So one day we made up a script together, and as part of my birthday party that year, we decided to make a short film. Since then I’ve been continuing to write stories, and I’ve made four or five short films.”
As a Presidential Scholar majoring in film and video at Georgia State, Cambern will have the resources of both the communication department and the Honors College at her disposal — not to mention an urban setting that has become one of the country’s fastest-growing hot spots for all types of media production.
Exploring the World Through a Lens
Since that first short film she made when she was just 11, Cambern has refined her cinematic “voice” and the style in which she can best express it. She says her single biggest source of inspiration has been “MirrorMask,” a Jim Henson Company film screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and scripted by Neil Gaiman, her favorite author.
“I’ve always been really interested in fantasy, but since I’ve been working on films more, my style is a little bit more like magical realism,” she explains. “Which is actually a style of writing where I use aspects of fantasy to augment a realistic story. So I’ll create characters and situations that are grounded in reality, but then I use fantasy to illustrate what’s happening with the characters’ lives.”
Cambern says the film she’s proudest of is a 10-minute production called “Voices,” which focuses on schizophrenia. The plot, she says, “is more subtle than you’d find with other movies — it’s mostly exploring the main character and her mindset as her illness is progressing, and as she starts to lose track of what’s real and what’s not.
“I really wanted to try and explore that inner conflict of mental illness, and how it’s something that affects you every day, but it comes from your own head and you can’t do anything about it.”
A Cast of Thousands
Cambern created “Voices” with three crew members (including herself), a handful of actors from her high school’s drama department in Cumming, Ga., and a garden-variety DLSR camcorder. She’s excited about what she can accomplish with the resources she’ll have access to at Georgia State.
“Georgia State really wasn’t on my list at all until my mother found it and heard a few good things about the film department,” she says. “We started looking into it more, and I heard about the Presidential Scholarship. So I came down on a Friday before Christmas break and talked to some people from the Honors College, and they convinced me to take a closer look at the school.”
When she did, Cambern — who’d also had the Savannah College of Art and Design and the California Institute of the Arts on her list — found Georgia State to be “one of the best schools I was looking at.” Opportunities such as the Creative Media Industries Institute were a big draw, but the biggest, she says, was Georgia State’s people.
“Immediately when I first went there, everyone was incredibly relaxed and incredibly friendly,” she recalls. “They took the time to talk to me even if I hadn’t arranged an appointment beforehand. The students are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing and were willing to share their lives with me.
“I think the fact that students are able to find internships as early as their freshman year is incredible. And the fact that Georgia State’s in Atlanta, where so many major film companies are now, and the fact that they work to give their students a well-rounded education.”
In the Heart of a Media Powerhouse
Though Cambern and her family made frequent trips into Atlanta when she was in high school, “it wasn’t until recently that I started finding all these different makeup shops and prop shops and costume companies that are down there.” That’s important, she says, because she’s attracted to many sides of the film industry that don’t necessarily show up in headlines or paparazzi photos.
“I’m mostly hoping to be working as a screenwriter or a director, and oddly enough, I’m not that interested in Hollywood at all,” she says. “I’d much rather work in an independent film company. But I’d also like to experiment with special effects or costume making since I have skills in a wide variety of areas.”
That said, it’s hard not to be energized by the increasing star wattage Atlanta has attracted in recent years.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talking about that, how they’ve seen ‘Captain America’ and movies like that being filmed here,” Cambern says. “I just think everything that’s happening in Atlanta is really cool, and I’m really excited about being part of it.”