Alex Isbell traveled to Normandy, France, to delve into prose writing and wound up becoming a filmmaker along the way.
While immersed in her Berridge Programs courses during her gap year, the 18-year-old Mercer Islander leaned into the screenwriting realm and was soon directing her inaugural short film titled “J’Accucumber.” The three-and-a-half-minute narrative absurdist satire, which is set during World War II, focuses on three aristocrats who quarrel over who should move a dead soldier lying on the fringe of their property lines.
After submitting the dark comedy into the 2023 YoungArts competition, Isbell learned last month that she received a prestigious finalist award alongside nine other budding filmmakers.
“I was absolutely shocked. It was just kind of surreal for me, actually, and I was almost like in denial for a week. I just did not expect that at all,” said Isbell, now 19, who is a freshman studying writing for film, TV and emerging media at Ithaca College in New York.
YoungArts took the finalists under its wing and flew the coterie out to Miami, Florida, for its week-long national convention to attend master classes, create short films, interact and learn the ropes from notable filmmakers and soak up the entire breadth of the arts domain, from film to architecture to music to theater.
“Being there among filmmakers, among people who were just so talented and were my peers, I just feel like I never expected myself to be there and be in the filmmaking world so fast,” said Isbell, who received another accolade in the form of a level-one prize of $3,000 for shining at YoungArts Week.
As a bonus, Isbell’s “J’Accucumber” drew heaps of laughter from copious attendees during the short’s screening during the week. It was a massive moment for Isbell to have her comedy embraced by the crowd as it beamed onto the screen in the large hall.
“I never really saw myself doing comedy. I feel like it’s a really scary thing to do, because what if you’re not funny? That was a big boost of validation,” said Isbell, noting that “J’Accucumber” was the sole comedy screened at the event.
Isbell gained inspiration for “J’Accucumber” by going on World War II and D-Day tours during her stay in Normandy. She filmed the short over the course of one day outside her living quarters, a chateau that dates back to the World War II era. In a whirlwind process, she penned the script, did pre-production and filmed the short in less than a week.
“I honestly don’t know how I come up with ideas, they just kind of show up,” she said of nailing down the premise of the film.
The 2021 graduate of the online Washington Connections Academy said she can’t envision her life without writing — and now filmmaking, after incorporating that medium into her arsenal. Isbell’s dream career is to be a writer and showrunner in the television industry and specialize in dark and horror comedy.
Isbell, whose mother lives on Mercer Island, waxes philosophical about her involvement in the arts and what she strives to achieve along the way: “I just absolutely love telling stories. I feel like storytelling is so important today because it’s all about connecting people and realizing how different we are from one another, but that’s kind of what should make us open to each other’s stories.”
Through YoungArts, Isbell and her peers will receive guidance and support from the mentors they befriended in Miami and be apprised of opportunities to continue along their creative paths.
“Now more than ever, it is essential to support artists so that their voices can be heard long into the future,” said YoungArts Artistic Director Lauren Snelling.
To view “J’Accucumber,” visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8jb7pnmqfM