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A time capsule on Long Island youth
hidden away for decades

As a Senior undergraduate at Temple University in 1986, I knew I had one last opportunity to create something more ambitious for film school than the standard 5 minute short, so in June of that summer, with 3,000 feet of 16mm film, 9 days of equipment and a crew of three (which included myself) I shot The Three Phases of Fern. The film was both a response to all those naive and preachy after-school specials about substance abuse (several starring Scott Baio) as well as a fictional document of my own Long Island, New York experience with the Bleacher Creatures (the name of the stoner crowd at Manhasset High School).


Influenced by filmmakers such as Peter Bogdanovich, Sergio Leone, Terrence Malick and films such as Midnight Cowboy, The Last Picture ShowThe Panic in Needle Park and Christiane F. (to name a few), my hope was to create something that felt cinematic but also honest, with a documentary-like quality to the character's interactions and conversations. With 165 individual camera setups on the schedule and a shooting ratio of a mere 2:1, we somehow managed to complete the project by putting in 15-16 hour days and subsisting mostly on White Castle burgers.


After putting together an A/B roll, producing an inter-negative and paying for a release print, I became aware of a few aesthetic issues that my then insecure 21-year-old self couldn’t easily ignore – from unprofessional looking credits to a camera light in one shot, as well as a few other inconsistencies. With no extra money to return to the editing room and parents who clamored for me to get a job and pay rent, I deemed the project an ambitious failure, stuck it in a film can, into a box, into a closet and that’s where it stayed.


For 35 years.


While cleaning out during the pandemic, I came across that old, dusty box - and to my surprise the inter-negative as well. After a 2K digital transfer I went about eliminating all the issues that plagued me as a 21-year-old film student. The result is this current film, cut down from its original 44 minutes to 32.


Although this film is now 37 years old, the problems it addresses are no less timely. Furthermore, given the naturalistic performances, quick cutting and infrequent hand-held shots, the film's aesthetic made it seem even more relatable in 2023 than it was back in 1986.

Focusing on a subculture long gone but a problem no less urgent, The Three Phases of Fern is a testament to how Long Island's drug culture was as much of a danger to our generation as it is to the current ones - and maybe there's something to be learned from that.

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