How Sara Crochet scooped up a top Nikon award with her very first movie

Sara Crochet
Sara Crochet Photo: Cayla Zeek

Sara Crochet entered her short movie into a prestigious Nikon contest on a whim — and won.

Even more remarkable, it was her first proper effort at making a movie.

She describes her winning film, Exulansis, as “trauma-driven” and “emotionally ambiguous,” and says that making it was a form of therapy

Besides the kudos of winning a prestigious contest organized by one of the world’s most famous camera makers, Sara also bagged a Nikon Z7 camera and a trip to an award ceremony in Tokyo, Japan, to collect her prize.

A graduate of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and currently working at the campus’s Hilliard Art Museum, Sara Crochet told Digital Trends how the movie came to be, the challenges she faced in making it, and how she felt when Nikon announced her as the winner.

Tell us about the movie and the title, and how they link to the contest’s theme of “hope.”

Exulansis is a word I found online in the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” a dictionary that assigns words to difficult emotions. Exulansis, defined as the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it, was made with the intention to display how haunting memories can be

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I choose to see those traumatic memories as a tool I can use to shed light, hoping people can connect and understand. I believe the theme of “hope” was appropriate due to vulnerability behind making the film in letting the viewers know they are not alone in their experiences. We are all human and together we will heal.

How did the idea for it come to you?

The idea initially came from a very strong anxiety attack where I found myself in a mirror going through the motions of my actress. I walked away from my situation and for months it was a reoccurring thought. Something kept telling me I had to make this film. It was a form of therapy for me to put this idea on the screen. I’d much rather share something than tell something, and I’m so glad I did.

Can you offer some background details about the movie?

Kamille Taylor, my good friend and actress, had been hearing my idea for Exulansis for a few months before I called her up to finally shoot it. In my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana, there was a film lab event called Kinomada, where creatives were teaming up and collaborating on films.

I wanted to challenge myself as an individual, as they did in teams at the lab, giving myself only one day to make a film. At around 2:30 p.m. I was picking up a Nikon D7100 with a 35mm f/1.8 lens borrowed from a good friend. An hour later I met with Kamille and we rushed to our location, which was tucked away on my old university campus. On the drive there we ran through the concept for what felt like the 100th time, finalizing it. This drive was our version of story-boarding.

I chose this old bathroom for the location because it was familiar to me yet haunting, like a bad memory is. I loved the green tiles and yellow lights. Yellow is a very anxious color, and green, to me, symbolizes strength and courage. I wanted Kamille’s character to have this shield in this trauma-driven story.

I decided to hit record while we walked through our scene, which was actually a decent take

Halfway through our second take you can see Kamille’s character look up to the right of the frame when she hears footsteps and a knock on the door. That knock was campus staff coming to escort us out, saying, “You can’t film here.

Having been kicked out of our location, the original ending was out of the window. In my car, throwing around ideas, we rushed to a random second location and a new idea fell into place. I really don’t think we were ever actually acting. The film was so genuinely me, and so genuinely her, that it all just came naturally. She is playing the character of us

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Late that night we gathered at my tiny apartment with our friend and musician Josh Leblanc. I edited the footage as he scored the film throughout the night. Exactly 25 hours after picking up Kamille we shared what we made with the lab. I felt so proud

Two months later, on a whim, I opened Exulansis on my computer, said a prayer or two, and submitted to Nikon’s Photo Contest.

What were the main challenges you had to overcome while making your movie?

Other than overcoming the time crunch and last minute location change, the biggest challenge was deciding how I wanted the film to end. There were other takes in the red room that I was considering, but I ultimately wanted the film to be emotionally ambiguous, giving the the viewer a chance to fill the blank space with their own experiences.

How did you come to enter the Nikon Photo Contest?

I was gifted my first camera by my father when I was nine. He shot Nikon so I always adored the company. I really was proud of my film and wanted to find a way to share it. I started searching for a contest or festival to submit to, and Nikon was the first place I looked. I saw the theme for the short film category and felt called to submit. At first I was very scared to send it in — I talked about it with some friends to help build my confidence, and after what we call a “Louisiana Saturday Night,” with a few drinks in to warm my heart, I sat down and finally sent in my piece.

Remarkably, this is your first proper effort at making a short movie. How did you feel when you learned you’d won?

I was in complete shock and disbelief. I remember walking into work with the congratulatory email in hand, asking my colleagues if the email looked legitimate or not. I honestly forgot about my submission as several months had passed. I had my doubts until my supervisor jumped up and yelled, “Call your parents! It’s real!” That’s when I knew.
My parents were beyond ecstatic but advised me to hold back my excitement until the winners were published on the Nikon site. That initial email was in June, but when Nikon made an official announcement at the end of July, we really started to celebrate. I can’t tell you how many times we listened to Paul Simons’ song Kodachrome. It has really felt like a dream come true.

Are you planning to continue with your movie efforts, and if so, what’s next?

This experience has really shown me that I need to narrow my focus to film and photography. I have my degree in Moving Image Arts, and I had been searching for a sign to let go, challenge myself, and try and advance in that field. This accomplishment was that sign. My dream is to work on movies, I absolutely love the atmosphere. I’ve often been referred to as the Swiss Army girl on set. I’m ready for any challenge and I strive to learn all roles in the film world. Nikon is sending me a new camera — I have not had a working camera in years — and now that I have the tools I need to be successful, I plan to continue to create, and I aim to continue with a mantra of “do good work.”

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering entering a short film contest for the first time?

Do good work and be proud of what you do. Everything is a learning experience. It never hurts to try.

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