NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many found time in 2020 – thanks to extended stay-at-home orders and quarantines – to complete projects that might otherwise not have come to fruition, including a 17-year-old Blue Valley Schools student.
Thanks to the encouragement of his friends, George LaHood turned an idea for a short film into a nearly hour-long Western feature.
Early in the film, one character asks another why he’d shot someone in the leg, instead of shooting to kill. The character responds, “I missed.”
LaHood wrote and directed the aptly titled, “The Man Who Missed.”
"I love westerns," he said. "They're one of my favorite genres. I basically had a movie in my head, I just needed to make it."
Making it involved long hours over the summer, with Missouri Town 1855 in Lee's Summit serving as a backdrop for several scenes. But originally it was going to be a much shorter production.
"It started out as just like a short, two scene, little two-page script,” LaHood said. “And one of my friends was like, ‘Why don't you make this longer?’"
With plenty of time on his hands thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote more, and his friends were all in.
“If you can picture a group of high school 17-year-old friends trying to make a movie, that's pretty much exactly what it was like," David Westerhaus, who plays the title role in the film, said.
Westerhaus also wrote the music and said he improved at that job as the production progressed.
"The very last (scene) is my favorite because that's the last piece of music I wrote for it,” Westerhaus said. “I think it's the best one, because that's when I actually figured out what I was doing."
Once the production was over, LaHood said, the cast members surprised him with a screening of the film at the Screenland Armour Theatre in North Kansas City.
"I turned around, and all of like 10 people I knew were standing there,” LaHood said. “And I was like, ‘What the heck is happening?’ And they just started walking towards the theatre."
For a presentation that gave LaHood and the cast a whole new view of this formerly little film.
"When you're just walking across the screen, holding a gun, and trying to look cool, it's not quite as bad to watch, but it was still like, kind of a big screen,” Westerhaus said.
"It's hard to show things to people,” LaHood said. “That was like, one of the best nights of my life, was seeing that with everyone."
2020 was a rough year for movies and movie theaters, including Screenland Armour. But this young filmmaker said he believes he, and his industry, have a future.
"The wanting for content, and for stories, is at an all-time high," LaHood said. "If anything, I'm really excited. Because there's just more demand for it."
LaHood already is at work on several new projects, but he submitted “The Man Who Missed” to the University of Arizona, where he plans to attend next year, and to a film festival. He should hear back from them soon.
LaHood is part of the Blue Valley School District CAPS Program, specializing in filmmaking.
The program is intended to give juniors and seniors in the district a chance to "fast forward" and experience some of the basic tenets of a career or field that they might pursue. Westerhaus also is part of the program, specializing in engineering.
"The thing that George has done is that he found a story that felt meaningful to him," Alisa Morse, a filmmaking instructor in the CAPS Program, said. "He pursued that passion, but then took it a step further by getting it screened in a local theater, by entering it into film festivals, by doing some of those extra things that people in the industry do on a regular basis, but a high school teenager might not normally think to do.
"There's this fear I find in high schoolers, who think, what (they're) doing isn't important enough, or it isn't good enough to be screened, or to be shown to the wider public. And it absolutely is, and I think George is a great example of that."
"The Man Who Missed" can be viewed on YouTube.