Living the dream
It came as quite a shock to Drew Donnay when he realized he could actually pursue his lifelong dream.
"My mom sat me down and kicked me in the head and said, 'Why don't you go for it?' " Donnay recalled. "I thought, 'Wow! I can do that?' "
Donnay had assumed that too many young boys dreamed of moving to Hollywood and making it big in the movie industry - that he never stood a chance.
But he heeded his mother's advice. And now he's living his dream - in Los Angeles, California, where he just produced and co-wrote his first short film, Caleb Couldn't Love.
The son of Mike and Robin Donnay of Alexandria and a 2000 graduate of Jefferson High School, Donnay knew in 6th grade that he wanted to be a screenwriter.
"I saw the movie, Seven, and the ending is remarkable," Donnay explained of his first glimpse of the wonders of movie-making. "After I walked out of the theater, I said, 'I want to do that.' It was amazing that someone could come up with a story like that and create that emotion."
Throughout junior high and high school, Donnay spent a lot of time watching movies and analyzing them. Because the stories are what fascinated him the most, he decided he wanted to be a screenwriter, and practiced his writing skills.
Thinking that his film aspirations weren't realistic, he went to Alexandria Technical College and earned a sales and marketing degree. Then he considered attending the University of Minnesota-Morris.
That's when his mom knocked some sense into him.
So in September 2007 he took a chance. He moved to Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles Film School and then transferred to Video Symphony, where he not only learned about screenwriting, but the technical aspects of film as well. He plans to graduate in April.
While he was at the LA Film School, Donnay made a connection with fellow student, Kieran Thompson.
"He called me at 3 a.m. and said, 'I have this great idea for a movie,' " Donnay recalled.
The two joined forces and worked on an outline for six months. For three more months they wrote the script. Donnay then took on the role of producer, while Thompson would direct.
"It was really overwhelming," Donnay said of his producer duties. "I really didn't know what I was getting into. It was way more work than I expected."
A few of his duties included casting, finding locations, getting permits, working with film commissions, securing police officers for the days of the shoots and raising funds - all while he was attending school.
Finally, they were ready to shoot. Months of work culminated in five long days filming Caleb Couldn't Love at six different locations in Los Angeles.
"We got a taste of what it would be like to do a professional shoot," he said. "We learned an incredible amount. It was very challenging working things out."
The short 12-minute film is about a boy who is told that if he ever falls in love, he will die. It involves both humorous and poignant moments.
Donnay and his partner had 300 copies made, relying heavily on donations from relatives and friends, for which he is most grateful. The film was released before Christmas 2008.
"After I saw the film, I was overcritical," Donnay said of the end result. "But I was happy with the outcome of how the story came out."
When he came home for the holidays, Donnay showed the film to some tough critics - his parents and sister, Mallory. When he heard them "erupt with laughter," he knew it was a success.
"Mom and Dad are always so encouraging," he said of his family's reaction. "They have both been very supportive. I would not be where I am without them."
So far, Donnay has submitted Caleb Couldn't Love to eight film festivals, and hopes to enter it in as many as possible.
Currently, Donnay is in the process of writing another short film, which he will also produce and direct. And he is writing a script for a movie that he wants to film in Minnesota during the winter.
"It's a story I've been wanting to tell for years," he said. "I'm confident it will be something special."
His future plans also include working on feature films as an editor or assistant editor, and working on short films on the side.
"My dream would be to work on my own projects, and have a studio come up to me and say, 'Here's a check, do what you want,' " Donnay mused. "For now that's wishful thinking, maybe someday...that would be my dream."
But he's already proven that sometimes dreams really do come true.
To learn more about Donnay's film, visit the Web site www.calebcouldn'tlove.com. The film is available in Alexandria at Mike's In and Out Oil Change and Mike's Car Wash.