Zoie Zimpleman (student at MHS) playing Luck in "Tavern in the Woods."
[quote_box_right]IF YOU GO
What: Little Tavern in the Woods premiere
When: April 3, 6 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center
How much: $5/door; MHS students and staff can purchase pre-sale tickets during lunch.
Info: @littletaverninthewoods (Official Instagram Account) [/quote_box_right]Transforming itself from a generic student club to a movie studio, 804 Film Co. is ready to premiere its horror short film Little Tavern in the Woods.

The Maricopa High School students who comprise 804 Film Co. plan a special event April 3 at the Performing Arts Center.

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“We’re calling it ‘the Little Tavern in the Woods experience,’” said the club’s co-president, Kaden Rogers, who also directed and co-wrote the film and assisted in the editing.

They plan to create a creepy “Haunted House” feel to the foyer of the PAC before the audience moves into the theater.

“We’re going to make every single second of it entertaining,” Rogers said. “Once you step out of your car, you’re entertained by us.”

He sums up the plot as “human taxidermy.” The owners of a Wisconsin tavern that has been bypassed by society stew in their anger until they come up with a psychopathic way to get customers back in the tavern.

Only one member of the club is in the cast – Zoie Zimpleman plays the granddaughter of the tavern owners, Desert Wind teacher Joe Szoltysik and Butterfield Elementary teacher Liz Zimpleman. Volunteers Kristi Lawrence and Charlie Rogers play a pair of hikers who come across the tavern.

Many of the students in 804 Film Co. were part of the cast and crew of Kindness Equals Calm, which won the student-film awards at Show Low Film Fest and Copa Shorts Film Fest two years ago. Their success inspired them to form a student club when they advanced to high school.

When they received grant funding, their movie-making took off.

“We re-named, re-chartered and basically restarted,” Kaden Rogers said.

804 Film Co. members (from left) Joseph Abel, Kaden Rogers, Lexie Nordhoff, Bailey Rigby, Jaylene Shavers and Audrey Duguay. Submitted photo

They named the film company after the classroom where it all started. They now have about 14 members. The grants gave them access to new equipment and best practices in sound, lighting and camerawork.

“Wanted it to be more like a movie studio,” Rogers said. “We wanted to function like any production company would function. We wanted it to be more professional in a production sense.”

The result was a student-film-club version of a producer in the person of Lexie Nordhoff, who is co-president.

“Initially, I joined film club because I wanted to be more involved on campus, and I had friends who were part of it,” Nordhoff said. “Though I had little knowledge of the film-making process, I always found interest in areas such as advertisement and business.”

Rogers says he comes to her with creative ideas, and she takes the production reins and tells him what the club can and cannot do. That allows the students to operate more like a business than as a club.

“Months later, as one of the club’s co-presidents, I have discovered and further explored my passion for leadership and helping others,” Nordhoff said.

Kristi Lawrence playing Faith in “Tavern in the Woods.”

The idea for Little Tavern in the Woods came from a short story Szoltysik wrote years ago as a transrealism exercise. He and Rogers brought it to the club members as an idea for a film plot, and everyone had equal say in how it would go forward.

That started in January 2019.

Joseph Abel, secretary of the club, is the director of photography and was the one who had to learn to work with the new equipment. Denver Bryant was primary editor, and Bailey Rigby was assistant director.

(L-R: Denver Bryant, Jaylene Shavers, Brenna Fulton, Lexie Nordhoff, Kaden Rogers, Joseph Abel)

While their previous film production often ran off the cuff, “This one was very mapped out, with shot lists and schedules, because we had a lot more people involved. It was a very big group effort,” Rogers said.

They built a set in the gym of Desert Wind Middle School, thanks to volunteer Steven Hull, and shot during fall break and on weekends. They also shot on location at Lynx Lake.

“Pontowoc Lake” AKA Lynx Lake in Prescott, Cast and crew traveled there for an on-location shoot

When they worried they did not have enough funds to complete the set, they started a GoFundMe account and met their goal within a day as friends and family pooled $650 for supplies.

They would like to get back on the festival circuit and later release it on YouTube for free.

“We don’t really care if we’re making money from it; we just want people to watch it,” Rogers said.

The film starts at 6 p.m. and runs less than an hour. Tickets are $5 at the door.

“Little Tavern In The Woods” set built by volunteer Steve Hull. Submitted photo