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Student filmmaker enjoys successes, wins scholarships

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published April 6, 2015

 Royal Oak High School senior Evan Gulock is enjoying a number of recognitions for his films.

Royal Oak High School senior Evan Gulock is enjoying a number of recognitions for his films.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — There are some givens when Evan Gulock steps behind the lens.

He will approach his latest film with the maturity of an old soul, the final project likely will receive an award, and his Royal Oak High School film teacher and mentor, Mike Conrad, will cheer Gulock on while giving sage advice.

“It’s a relationship I never expected to have with a student,” Conrad said. “There is a great sense of pride watching him do his work. Some of it I can’t take any credit for. Some of it I would like to say I helped nurture, but when you see an Evan project, you know it’s an Evan project.”

Humble beginnings

Conrad began mentoring Gulock, 18, when the high school senior began taking film classes at the school.

“I was warned about him four years ago from the middle school teacher saying, ‘Hey, keep your eyes on Evan Gulock because he’s doing really great things,’” Conrad said. “In eighth grade.”

So when Gulock ended up in Conrad’s class in 10th grade, the teacher thought, “Hey let’s see what this kid can do.”

Conrad tells the story that on the second day of the class, Gulock asked Conrad to sign a competition form for a statewide contest for which Gulock made a film on his own time. Gulock won second place.

“So before he even entered my class, he was doing it. Sometimes it just comes to you,” Conrad said.

“My philosophy has always been you have to just keep making stuff, because every now and then you just might make something good,” Gulock said. “Don’t worry so much about the quality of it the entire time you’re doing it.
“Have fun with it and see what you can do, and the more you stretch and the more you kind of play around with your possibilities, the more you start working out the kinks and the more you start finding your voice.”

Conrad’s advice to Gulock often reaches into time management, schedule making and other topics with which a young adult tackling a film career needs help.

When it comes to filmmaking, the teacher helps push Gulock beyond his comfort zone, as evidenced in one of Gulock’s short films, “Paper Planes.”

Soaring high

“That was kind of the beginning of this year — experimenting with approaching each project with, ‘OK, what is something new that I can work on and improve,’” Gulock said. “I did a lot of things with ‘Paper Planes’ I had never done before.

“I felt like I found something new inside me when I did that project, and that kind of propelled everything else forward.”

“The goal of the project was to make a film with no words,” Conrad said. “And it’s the one that everyone watches and they are like, ‘Oh. It’s so emotional.’ And there is no dialogue in it. I just really wanted to see what he would do with that.”

The film takes Gulock’s ability to tell a story to the next level, tugging at viewers’ heartstrings and taking second place at the Orchard Lake Film Festival and Audience Favorite at the March Mitten Movie Project.

“It’s very rewarding to see someone smile or laugh, or some people tearing up, when they are watching ‘Paper Planes,’ and it’s very gratifying to see that,” Gulock said. “And I find you don’t really get that with ninjas or pirates.”

“His real gift is storytelling. Coming up with a compelling story, whether it’s a short story or documentary, it always stands out,” Conrad said.

Conrad said his student has filmed about 10 things this year.

“It’s going to be quiet around here next year,” Conrad said.

Gulock’s other films receiving acclaim include his C-SPAN documentary titled, “The Affordable Care Act: A Snapshot of the Now.”

The documentary received Excellence in Production through the Michigan High School Student Television Production Awards competition, sponsored by the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Emmys); Best in Show at the Orchard Lake Film Festival; and second place in the C-SPAN Studentcam contest. Gulock also received another first-place Emmy award for a director reel he submitted.

Gulock received a $10,000 scholarship in the Michigan First Credit Union’s statewide scholarship contest and was named the top high school video contest winner in the credit union’s Young & Free Michigan annual competition. The topic of this year’s competition was “How will your degree help you improve the state of Michigan?”

Other fun productions of note included a short film titled “Snow Globe,” “Not in So Many Words” and a public service announcement titled, “Driving Song.” Gulock has many of his films on his YouTube channel.

Conrad is still waiting on results from three additional competitions.

“He’s taken this year and ran with it,” Conrad said.

Conrad added that Gulock is not the only student winning awards this year. At the Orchard Lake Film Festival, Royal Oak High School students walked away with 14 total awards.

In that festival, Gulock took first place finishes in the categories of Best in Show, Drama and Documentary. He also received honors as part of the Royal Oak Film Club in the Drama and PSA categories. He received a cash prize of $750 and a $3,500 scholarship to The Motion Picture Institute for his wins.

Fostering talent

Gulock said his film career started in fifth grade with a love of writing and making goofy movies.

“I would get my friends together and we would see what could we do,” Gulock said. “As it went on, I was like, wait, I really actually like this, and I really enjoy this. It has definitely been for the majority of my life.”

Conrad said he had to create a third-year film course on producing short films to keep Gulock — and a core group of his talented classmates — growing in the field.

“They all want to do it for a career, so how do I stifle that?” Conrad said. “So, not stifling it, we kind of created this third-year program for them. And the whole basis of the third-year program is to create short films, (enter) scholarship competitions, (enter) film-television competitions.”

Conrad said his student took to it.

“It’s just such a higher level than you would expect possibly from even someone in college,” Conrad said. “The quality is amazing. Great stories. Great quality. It’s a lot of fun.”

Conrad said Gulock’s approach is different in many ways, but his ability to look beyond the walls of Royal Oak High School and go above and beyond to capture his message makes him stand out. In his Affordable Care Act documentary, Gulock visited many locations.

“I’ve never wanted it to feel like I was limited to just the school. I wanted to be able to go out and find different places,” Gulock said. “As cool as I think green screens are, I like to be able to actually go out into the world and find exactly what I’m looking for, even if it may be hard.”

The C-SPAN project asked entrants to show how a federal law impacts the community.

“I wanted to find something that really affected a large amount of people, not just from a personal side, but also from a business side, a medical side. It covered so many aspects of so many people’s lives, it made it relatable,” Gulock said. “I wanted to make it as informative as possible while making it relatable.”

He interviewed U.S. Rep.  Sander Levin, PBS correspondent Hari Sreenivasan, local residents and business owners, and Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin.

Finding inspiration

Gulock said the inspiration for his film projects comes from everywhere.

“Whether it’s a documentary or whether it’s a short film, I want to be able to tell a human story,” Gulock said. “I think that is definitely what connects them. … There is still some human aspect to whatever I’m making.”

Gulock said people joke that he thinks and sees in movies.

“I definitely will look at the world in a certain way,” he said. “And I think because of that, I start finding new ways that I can film things.”

Gulock said he takes mental notes on his surroundings so that when people are watching something he’s made, it’s a unique experience.

“I like to give some sense of semblance of dimension to the films that I make, and I definitely think with character, with cinematography, with story, all of that, I need to feed off my surroundings and my experiences, because that is what makes it real. That is what really puts in that human aspect of the story,” Gulock said.

The young filmmaker believes there has to be a story first; otherwise, no one is going to remember the film and it won’t stick with people after it is over.

“The message is what is most powerful, and it’s the message that people are going to remember,” Gulock said. “That has to come first.”

The end ...

Gulock lives in Royal Oak with his parents. In addition to filmmaking, he is president and founder of the Royal Oak High School film club, the senior class historian, and an Advanced Placement student.

As far as the future, Gulock is in the process of choosing a path.

“What I have right now is a direction,” Gulock said. “I haven’t found the location. I haven’t found where I’m quite going yet.

“I’m kind of still testing everything and seeing what works. I have this direction and I’m just going forward, and I know I’m going to end up where I need to end up, but I’m not sure what is going to work yet.”

He is still deciding whether he wants a future in filmmaking, news, business, advertising or other media-related careers.

Conrad said he has no doubts that Gulock will end up in filmmaking.

“It’s a huge part of who he is. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, Evan makes videos,’” Conrad said.

“I can’t wait to see where he goes,” Conrad said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”

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