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Arts & Life

Des Moines Roosevelt Alum's Film Premieres At Film Festival

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Max Ward
Ward and his wife, Carmen Fortea (middle), director of photography, on set for “Return of the Beast from Outer Space."

This past weekend, the Interrobang Film Festival in Des Moines screened over 50 films from 27 countries. Among the films exhibited during the three day festival was the latest project from Roosevelt High School alumnus Max Ward.

Ward, who now lives and works in London, said he was thrilled to have his new short film, “Return of the Beast from Outer Space,” selected for the festival.

“We were really excited to get into this one,” Ward said. “It’s a great first step.”

The film premiered at the festival on Sunday, June 27. According to Ward, it will screen at several other film festivals this fall before being released to the general public.

The Film

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"Return of the Beast from Outer Space" premiered this weekend at the Interrobang Film Festival in Des Moines.

Ward first had the idea for the film while working as an assistant director on another horror movie. There was something he saw on set that sparked his imagination for a new kind of monster movie. Without revealing any secret plot twist, the film’s synopsis reads: “A disgraced monster movie actor decides to make his magnum opus but needs a victim to do it.”

“It’s got really strange twists,” Ward said. “What makes it difficult to talk about is that the twist happens halfway through the film.”

“Return of the Beast from Outer Space” was shot in Wales, just outside of London, over the course of one week.

“We shot it out in a couple cabins, out where there was a forest,” Ward said. “It was kind of a relaxing week when we worked on set.”

One of the challenges Ward encountered while filming was making the monster costume look realistic.

“Sometimes we had funny things happen where the costume might flop a little bit,” Ward said. “So, in some areas, you have to shoot it in the right way, where the audience won’t see that floppiness.”

The film was shot by Carmen Fortea, Ward’s wife, who studied cinematography at MetFilm School, where the two met. Ward said he enjoyed the unique experience of collaborating with Fortea.

“When you know someone that well, you work together very well on set,” Ward said.

The Filmmaker

Ward’s interest in film developed as a junior in high school, when he enrolled in a film program at Central Academy with his cousin. During their two years in the program, they made two feature films, “Malone and Murdock” and “Small-Timers,” which premiered at the Varsity Theatre in 2013.

According to Ward, “Small-Timers” took the whole school year to make.

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Director Max Ward on set in Wales for "Return of the Beast from Outer Space."

“It taught us early how you have to have a lot of perseverance to make a film. It’s a lot of work. If you’re inspired enough by the creativity, you just keep going, day by day,” Ward said. “Finish those little tasks and that little task, and, eventually, you’ll have a movie on your hands.”

After high school, Ward wasn’t sure he would continue to explore his passion for film. While applying for colleges, he thought about majoring in marketing.

“It just didn’t seem practical to study film in college,” Ward said. “Maybe it’s because we’re from a state that doesn’t have much of a film industry compared to other states…I never saw anyone working in the industry. I didn’t know there was potential to do that.”

Despite his initial reservations, Ward ended up studying film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he made a few short films before graduating in 2017.

Ward considered film programs at graduate schools in New York and Los Angeles, but ultimately decided to attend MetFilm School in London because he wanted to experience cultures outside of the United States. In addition, the program turned out to be more affordable than those in the United States.

Ward graduated in 2019, and his career is just beginning to take shape. He said he continues to develop his own style, but finds inspiration from directors like Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Baby Driver”), who mix comedy and horror.

“What I’ve been really interested in, and what I keep finding myself writing, is stuff that attempts to subvert a normal genre and does it in a different way and flips the script on a classic genre,” Ward said.

He likes to incorporate elements that might catch viewers off guard, including “Meta things, people talking to the camera, knowing they’re in a movie, just things that are not what you would expect.”

"The best thing anyone could do is just make things."
Max Ward

Ward encourages aspiring filmmakers and artists in the Midwest to keep practicing their craft.

“For anyone who wants to get into film, or any kind of creative thing, the best thing anyone could do is just make things. Just make things all the time,” Ward said. “Eventually, you’ll get good at it, and, eventually, people notice.”

Ward is currently working on several projects, including a comedy short and a TV pilot set in Des Moines.