When East Meadow student filmmaker Max Hechtman received news that his film “I Am Here” would screen at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore this year, he was at a loss for words.
“It has been screened at other festivals before, but this one was special, because it’s screened close to my East Meadow home,” Hechtman explained.
The 20-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student started working on the film in 2015, after bouncing ideas around with friend Christonikos Tsalikis. They toyed with the idea of technology and photographs.
“We thought about it for a while,” Hechtman recalled. “We finally thought, what if someone found a random photograph in an apartment? What if we add a cell phone to the mix?”
“I Am Here” is a 26-minute romantic mystery short that explores the dangers of texting strangers. In it, a man moves into an apartment and finds a picture of the previous tenant that both intrigues and attracts him. The mystery woman’s number is on the photograph, and a texting relationship ensues. An obsession with the woman leads the main character to uncover secrets.
“The ending is a surprise twist,” Hechtman teased with a smile. “I can guarantee that people will be very interested, and maybe even shocked, at what happens.”
The film, which Hechtman said is the product of a lengthy collaboration between friends, was executive produced by his mother, Meryl Hechtman, and directed by Tsalikis. Hechtman produced the film, and served as camera operator and editor.
During the film’s production, a scene was filmed at the Herald office, which can be seen in the trailer on Hechtman’s YouTube channel. “It was really cool to be able to film on location in different spots, including the Herald office,” he said. “These are things that add a realistic feel to the short and gives it life. Setting matters.”
The actors are not professionals, and the film received positive reviews during screenings at FIT. It was an official selection of the Young Filmmakers Series, the New York City International Film Festival, the Levels Film Festival and the Big Apple Film Festival, all in 2016, and most recently made its 2017 debut at the film expo at the Bellmore Movies.
Since screening “I Am Here,” Hechtman has filmed a number of shorts and documentaries, including “FIT Hives: Sustainability- The Secret to Survival,” a student-filmed documentary that explores the benefits of beehives in the FIT community. Hechtman said that the students who shot it received an innovation grant to install a beehive on one of the college’s rooftops. The documentary was screened at New Filmmakers NY and the Gold Reel Student Film Festival in North Carolina.
Although Hechtman will pursue a bachelor’s degree in film and media this fall at FIT, he continues to work with organizations in the East Meadow community. He recently shot a documentary highlighting the family-inspired volunteerism in the East Meadow Fire Department, and keeps an eye on the East Meadow School District, where he first found a passion for filmmaking.
“I used to film theater productions at East Meadow High School,” he recalled. “I went from filming my first production, ‘Guys and Dolls,’ in 2013, within one frame with a camera, and finished my last production, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ in 2015, experimenting with visual effects.”
Additionally, Hechtman shot sports and other school events throughout his time in the school district. He credits the district for his passion for filmmaking, allowing him to explore his talents and refine them before to attending FIT.
He hopes to continue to blend his admiration for musical theater with filmmaking and turn theatrical productions into cinematic experiences.
“I’m very interested in translating a show called ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ to film,” he said. “It sparked something inside me when I first saw it. I want my work to have that exact same effect on people, even if it’s just one person.”