Hinckley Reservation Dazzles on the Big Screen

Lake views provide ideal setting for new short film

by Melissa Martin

Thomas Sawyer, who grew up in North Royalton, is one of four amateur directors who received a $25,000 grant to record a short film using Dolby’s video and audio technology.

With rolling hills and breathtaking views, Hinckley Reservation has long served as a private sanctuary for many Northeast Ohioans, and budding filmmaker Thomas Sawyer is no exception.

As the area provides the perfect combination of spectacular scenery and quiet solace, it is suitable for everything from recreation to meditation. For that reason, Sawyer, who made the park a second home in high school, has always wanted to share the area’s splendor with the world.

The short film, “Sirens,” was recorded Oct. 12-13, 2022, at Hinckley Lake when the leaves on the trees throughout the Hinckley Reservation were at their peak color. Photos submitted.

The 2011 graduate of North Royalton High School and the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center had the opportunity to do just that last year after qualifying for the Finish the Script Challenge, a short film competition sponsored by The Dolby Institute and the Ghetto Film School.

Open to filmmakers 18-34 years old, the contest challenges entrants to use a single page of a script written by Academy Award-nominated director Carlos Lopez Estrada as inspiration to craft a script of a short feature film of their own.

“I just so happened to see a video about the competition on social media 10 days before the deadline,” said Sawyer, a self-taught filmmaker who creates films from the experience of being nonbinary and neurodivergent. “I knew immediately that I had to leap into action. I quickly finished the script and submitted it with only a few hours to spare.”

Two weeks later, Sawyer was named one of four finalists, each of whom received a $25,000 grant and the opportunity to use Dolby’s video and audio technology, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, to record the films they scripted.

Sawyer said the contest and its mission hit home, recalling that as a teenager, he spent a significant amount of time in self-doubt.”

“As artists, it’s easy to get discouraged before completing a project, and many incredible ideas never see the light of day,” Sawyer said. “Not only did this opportunity help me work past those feelings of insecurity, but in a way, it served as the entire inspiration behind my film ‘Sirens.’”

The storyline, Sawyer said, follows the main character, Whitney, an insecure teenager struggling with identity. Haunted by a mysterious sound and visions of an ornery siren, Whitney becomes trapped in an alternate world where in order to escape he must find the courage to be himself.

Choosing the film’s setting, Sawyer said, was the simplest part of the process.

“Visions of filming in those spots around the lake filled my head to the point that I couldn’t see us creating ‘Sirens’ anywhere else,” said Sawyer, who resides in Columbus. “It had to be at Hinckley Lake.’’

Mother Nature, as the footage shows, appears to have been in full agreement.

“We were able to film ‘Sirens’ right in the sweet spot of autumn, when the lion’s share of the trees had fully changed their leaves to reds, oranges and yellows with just enough trees still green to really give us the full spectrum of all that Ohio’s fall season has to offer,” Sawyer said.

Those who happened to walk through Hinckley Reservation last year on Oct. 12-13, not only would have seen Sawyer’s team trekking through the woods with cameras and lights in tow, they would have seen exactly why the team filmed in that setting at that time of the year.

“Because we were able to capture such incredible colors of the landscape, it made my experience of color grading in Dolby Vision all the more impactful to the project,’’ Sawyer said. “Color grading is a really important aspect of filmmaking. It defines the look and feel of your film. For me, being able to utilize the natural beauty of the lake and the leaves, and then elevate them in this technology that is designed to make the color explode with vibrance, truly took my filmmaking abilities to the next level.”

“Sirens” and the other three finalists’ films premiered at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles May 3. Previously, Sawyer’s 2017 series, “Artisans”was selected by the Cleveland International Film Festival for its “Webisodes” category.

Sawyer is an established TikTok content creator, boasting more than 169,000 followers.

Sawyer, whose works can be viewed at thomascsawyer.com, expects to shoot another short film later this year and is planning to participate in a festival to share “Sirens” and Hinckley Lake’s splendor with the world.

“Our crew and one of our three actors are all from Cleveland, and the other two actors are from Chicago so I’d love the opportunity to screen the film in those two cities in particular, to give them all a chance to see their hard work in a theater,” Sawyer said. “Additionally, I will be submitting the film to countless other festivals around the country in hopes of connecting with fellow filmmakers.” ∞

FEATURED IMAGE: Amateur Film Director Thomas Sawyer captured the essence of the Hinckley Reservation in autumn as part of his new short film, “Sirens,” which made its big-screen debut in Los Angeles May 3.