September 25, 2016

Webster University alums’ short film ‘Les MiséraBaristas’ wins Viewer’s Choice Award in the Tiny Film Festival

Correction: Maximilian Reid’s name and the title of the short were originally spelled incorrectly. The price of the film permit was also incorrect. The Journal regrets the errors.

Film production graduate Maximilian Reid and several of his close friends created a short film entitled “Les MiséraBaristas,” a parody of the novel, musical and film “Les Misérables.”  The film portrays a group of young baristas who work to support their career aspirations. The cast sings about their struggles and annoyances with customers to the tune of several songs from Les Misérables.

The premise of the short is based of cast members’ work experiences as a baristas. The film won the cast the Viewer’s Choice Award in the Tiny Film Festival. “Les MiséraBaristas” received the most online views, tallying more than 22,000.

“It’s amazing the number of views we have,” Reid said. “So far we have 407 likes and only two dislikes, and that’s not bad considering the video is on YouTube.”

Contributed photo

Contributed photo

Reid graduated from Webster in 2011. Immediately after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles where he began working as a barista at a Barnes and Noble café. While employed at the café, Reid said he encountered various customers with outlandish orders, which helped set the tone for the film’s backdrop.

The idea for the short was born, Reid said, when fellow barista Hayley Brown sent him a text message early in the morning on Jan. 7 with describing the concept. “Les MiséraBaristas” began immediately. Reid called alumni Trevor Harris and Reid’s former roommate Sam Vest to assist in the production of the video.

“It’s funny. Though Sam and I were roommates in college, we lived completely different lives and rarely hung out together, and now here we are working on a film together,” Reid said.

Vest, who served as a producer for “Les MiséraBaristas,” said he was willing to help Reid with his project because he recognized Reid’s potential.

“Once I read the script, I knew I wanted to be a part of the production,” Vest said. “The film had a message that resonated with people — the struggles of making it in the world.”

Reid’s girlfriend and Webster alumna Ashley Lam also assisted with the film. Lam said she enjoyed helping Reid and his crew organize the production. She said her experience working on “Les MiséraBaristas” was similar to her video production coursework at Webster.  Lam said she had a full workload serving as production manager, assistant director and working full time.

“It definitely got stressful at times,” Lam said. “Just trying to handle the difficulties we came across while I was busy at work definitely made me lose some hair.”

Lam stated in an email that one of the biggest obstacles the crew faced during pre-production was actually filming the project. She said L.A. requires a $700 filming permit for any video production.

“If the police find you filming something without a permit, you can be shut down, heavily fined and your equipment confiscated,” Lam said.

Contributed photo

Contributed photo

The crew ultimately decided to film without the permit, but managed to raise funds for production through IndieGoGo, a crowd-funding site. The goal for the project was set at $2,460, which they exceeded by one dollar. Reid said the bulk of the budget was used for hair, makeup and production meeting fees. Lam said preparation became so hectic that unexpected script and character changes had to be made in order to stay on schedule.

“We had a very strict 11 hours to work with, so we went wild on the script and cutting out what we thought was unnecessary, rearranging the schedule and combining shots. We ended up loading out with eight minutes to spare,” Lam said.

The total production had nearly 40 participants, many of whom were current and former baristas.  Reid said he took a leap of faith working on this project because he had only known the majority of the cast members for a year. The film took six months to produce and finalize.  The film made its debut on YouTube on July 14, 2013 on Bastille Day (the anniversary of the French Revolution, a thematic element of Les Misérables). Reid and Lam said they were pleased with the overall support they received for the film.

“I was definitely happy for Max to win, especially since it’s his first project outside of school,” Lam said. “Especially as the girlfriend, it was good to get the validation that all the months he had to spend on the project ended up earning him a handsome reward.”

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  • Thank you for your praise, Dave! It means a lot to me that you found this film to be faithful to the original musical’s themes and performances. I did a lot research and spent months finessing the tiny details in the lyrics and on the screen.

    Almost every main cast member you see singing on screen was recorded just a couple days prior to shooting. I played and sang the role of the male barista who laments the lack of tips. Most of the primary roles were played (and sung) by my fellow coffee shop co-workers. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with so many talented people.

    Also, be sure to stick around for the end credits! We recorded a fun Master of the House parody for the credits roll.

    And thank you to Latasha at The Journal for publishing this article!

  • Ashley Lam

    I’d like to clarify that a film permit in L.A. costs around $700, not $1,000,000.