In 2015, local filmmaker Sam Miller and a few friends had a very creative idea.
Block out a long weekend, fan across central Pennsylvania and see who can make the best movie in 48 hours.
Lights! Camera! Go!
Since then, “vidjam” has turned into an annual event, one that returns this weekend to Harrisburg as the city turns into one big movie set, supervised by increasingly bleary-eyed filmmakers.
But vidjam has become so much more than a two-day filmmaking frenzy. Miller institutionalized the concept under Vidjam (capital “V”), which, today, works to connect filmmakers and other artists to the community through workshops, monthly meetups, filmmaking competitions and a new community series. Though Harrisburg-based, Vidjam’s members include artists from throughout central Pennsylvania.
“Filmmaking has always been something that is really important to me,” Miller said.“I always said I’ll work and then I’ll save up enough money and go to film school. [Vidjam] has kind of nicely subverted that because we’re building our own community of filmmakers and having that experience of working on a film here.”
Miller got the idea of creating an organization after the first vidjam event, where filmmakers have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit their films. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars for registration in larger competitions, Miller said he wanted to create an organization so that filmmakers could put that money toward making their art instead.
“The last two years, we’ve had about 15 teams each year, and the theater sells out,” Miller said. “It’s cool to be able to have people have their films screened.”
Since he was 6 years old, Miller has been behind a camera, he said. In high school, he created short films with his core group of friends after being inspired by works by Kevin Smith and the original “Evil Dead.”
While in college, he joined the Harrisburg Improv Theatre, where he saw an abundance of unused talent.
“There was just all this talent there, and we didn’t have anyone using it outside of improv,” Miller said. “So, that was when I did the first Vidjam. That first Vidjam was like the catalyst for finding our community.”
Start to Grow
After digging deeper into the filmmaking community, Miller met Sammi Melville. After earning her degree in film at Messiah College, Melville moved to Harrisburg in search of more film buffs and project opportunities.
“At the time, I thought, ‘There are so many people who want to be involved in film but don’t because they don’t have the resources or the know-how,’” Melville said.
So Melville started her own filmmaker meetups in 2016 with the hopes of networking and bouncing ideas off other artists.
“I just wanted to meet more people who are interested [in film],” she said. “If we actually get people in the same room then maybe we could start to grow as a community.”
Eventually, she was contacted by Miller, and they decided to adopt the meetups under Vidjam. From there, they also started workshops, each taught by a community member with a different specialty, such as writing, production and lighting.
“We found that the community in this area, they are really excited to work with each other,” she said. “The more people you know the more of a chance you can put together a production.”
Ashleigh Pollart met Sam Miller after she planned the first TEDx Harrisburg event. She was already familiar with the organization since she worked as an actress for her videographer boyfriend for Vidjam’s filmmaking competition.
Since then, in her six months of volunteering, Pollart has created “Vidjam Community Series,” a documentary-style short film series.
“For each series, we want to focus on an ‘issue’ in Harrisburg,” Pollart said. “Something that the typical resident of Harrisburg may not be aware of.”
This year, as its first Community Series, Vidjam decided to focus on homelessness in Harrisburg. Pollart and her team will follow three homeless families and document what their life is like behind the scenes.
“Homelessness would be a very interesting thing to cover in the winter, but also I think there is something to be said about it in the spring and summer and fall,” Pollart said. “People forget about the fact that people are homeless. The media doesn’t cover it, people aren’t collecting as many funds for it. So, I think it’s actually an interesting time to focus on it during the summer months.”
Pollart said they have not started shooting yet, but hope to have the screening in the next four to six weeks at Midtown Cinema. All proceeds from the film will go to Downtown Daily Bread, an organization through Pine Street Presbyterian Church that provides shelter, food and other resources to the homeless.
According to Pollart, Vidjam already has a list of future topics that participants wish to cover through the series.
“We’re trying to highlight issues that have multiple factors because—one—how is it affecting people overall and—two—how is it affecting Harrisburg specifically?” Pollart said. “Issues change. Even from here to Lancaster issues are different.”
Miller said working with Melville and Pollart has been an inspiring process.
“It’s cool to see something you created sort of grow to where other people can have a stake in it and have ideas about where it can go and what it can be,” he said. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to find people who want to help build this community and make their own unique mark on it.”
Vidjam is still on their journey to becoming an official non-profit organization. According to Miller, with more grants and funding, Vidjam will be able to give members more tangible items and ways to show their work. Still, Miller says he and his crew work hard to enforce typical production standards and provide resources for local filmmakers.
“I just want to provide filmmakers with a platform to share their work with the community,” he said. “I also want to give the community a chance to celebrate those filmmakers.”
Melville said that she hopes the organization branches out to include not only writers and filmmakers but a variety of different members of the community.
“In no way is filmmaking just this art in a box,” she said. “It takes so many different resources and assets. It’s a communal thing. I think a lot of people are scared to actually participate because they think, ‘Well, I’ve never done it before. My skills don’t fit into there.’ But, just give them a shot. What do you have to lose?”
The 48-hour vidjam competition begins 7 p.m. today, June 1, but registration is open until Sunday, June 3. The screening will be held on June 7 at 7 p.m. at Midtown Cinema. To watch previous vidjam winners, visit vidjam.org, you can register for the competition here.