It is every aspiring screenwriter’s dream to have his or her screenplay picked up and turned into a movie. For Ryan Koehn, a current student in the M.F.A. Writing for Screen and Television program, that dream became a reality after he drafted his first screenplay at the age of 16.
At Koehn’s 16th birthday party an unlikely collaboration was formed with veteran filmmaker, Richard Zelniker.
“[Zelniker] saw that I was getting a lot of screenwriting books as gifts for my birthday because people knew that I was interested in writing. So, I had this big stack of screenwriting books, and he saw those and came over and asked me if I was interested in writing,” Koehn said of his first encounter with Zelniker, which would ultimately lead to the pair co-writing the film As Night Comes.
After four to six months of emailing back and forth with Zelniker, Koehn finished the first draft of As Night Comes, originally titled Mischief Night, and sent it to Zelniker for feedback and advice.
“He mentored me in a lot of ways, and he sent me a lot of scripts that he had written or that had come across his desk and showed me the ropes a little bit,” Koehn said. “I learned an immense amount of information about screenwriting and movies in general in a very short amount of time, and I was very grateful for that.”
As Night Comes follows the story of Sean Holloway, a troubled teenager, who falls in with a group of high school outcasts called The Mistfits, guided by the group’s charismatic leader, Ricky, played by actor Luke Baines (The Ever After). The movie’s climax takes place on the eve of Halloween when Ricky’s chaotic plan spirals into brutality and violence, which ultimately forces Sean to fight for survival and freedom.
Unlike a lot of teenage angst films that are drafted long after a writer has already graduated from high school, As Night Comes has the unique benefit of having been written by Koehn and Zelniker while Koehn was still experiencing high school first hand.
“I look at [As Night Comes] and it definitely feels just torn out of my life at 16. It’s sort of a time capsule in a lot of ways,” Koehn said. “That world was definitely my world at the time, and it influenced a lot of the way that I thought. I’m just thankful that high school’s also a really good place to tell this kind of story, so it’s not something that may have been dated years later. I definitely see a lot of the things that I was thinking about or doing at that time, as far as peer pressure and the people around me.”
Koehn is not the only member of the Trojan family who worked on the project — Evanne Friedmann, a senior majoring in social sciences (psychology), stars as Sean’s love interest, Sarah.
At the beginning of her sophomore year at USC, Friedmann auditioned and won the role of Sarah in the film.
“Sarah is kind of the more mature version of yourself that you wish you were in high school. I wish I were like Sarah in high school,” Friedmann said. “In high school everyone is so insecure. It was everyone’s first time with everything: with love, first time falling in love, first time kissing somebody, first time drinking and fighting and kind of identifying yourself. I had to put myself in the mindset of, ‘This is the first time I am going through this.’”
Though most of Friedmann’s training as an actor has taken place outside of USC, she brings a lot of what she has learned as both a psychology major and from acting classes both on and off campus to her role.
“[My coursework in psychology is] helpful to an extent,” Friedmann said. “It’s obviously beneficial, but it can be dangerous to focus too much on the intellectual side of acting and not on the doing, which is what [acting] really is.”
To prepare for the role, Friedmann re-watched the movie Thirteen, which deals with similar themes of teen angst and identity, and drew from her own high school experience as well.
The difference between the environment of an acting class and actually being on set is significant, and something that Friedmann notes was a great learning experience and opportunity for her while working on the film.
“You don’t get a lot of rehearsal, and you’re just being thrown into something that you accurately and authentically want to portray. It’s a lot of pressure, but I was really glad to experience that in this film.”
As Night Comes will begin its weeklong theatrical release at Laemmle’s prestigious Music Hall in Beverly Hills on Friday, Nov. 14.