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Cockeysville film student awarded $10,000 scholarship

Cockeysville film student awarded $10,000 scholarship
Conor Twohy, of Cockeysville, is winning recognition for his films. (Rachael Pacella / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

On the screen, two young men argue over an ill-fated decision to kidnap a man who caught them mid-burglary.

They shout at each other inside a blue hatchback as the car moves down the road. The gas tank is nearly empty.

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"Imagine what would happen if we got in a car chase with only half a gallon left in the tank," the passenger tells the driver.

As the two drive on, headlights from passing vehicles drift across their faces.

Filming the scene, meant to tease a prior event — the burglary and kidnapping — and foreshadow a coming torture scene, required four teens and two adults.

The scene is part of an 10-minute film, "Pushpin," by Conor Twohy, an 18-year-old from Cockeysville who graduated in May from the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, in Towson.

In the film, young men bicker about what to do with their victim, and in the end the solution that suddenly appears comes in the form of a passing vehicle, which strikes and kills the kidnapped man, saving the pair from prosecution.

This film and others Twohy produced and directed while at Carver have earned him national recognition through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, a scholarship program recognizing young artists. In the past, the program has honored novelist Stephen King and artist Andy Warhol, among others.

Twohy and 15 other honorees were recognized last month at Carnegie Hall in New York City and given $10,000 scholarships. At the event, creative talents including Alec Baldwin, Tim Gunn and Ken Burns spoke.

"Conor's films impressed the jury with their excellent dialogue, maturity and skillful technique," Virginia McEnerney, executive director for Scholastic's art and writing awards, said. "They were inventive, clever and memorable."

From June 2 to 12, Twohy's portfolio, which includes eight short films, was featured at Parsons School of Design in New York. The exhibit was next scheduled to tour the country, stopping in Texas, Mississippi, Michigan and Montana, among other places. Twohy's parents, Elizabeth and Peter Twohy, say their son showed a talent for filmmaking starting at age 6 or so. As a child, he would watch cartoons on television and try to re-create them, adding his own characters.

"I did that, and kind of got obsessed with it," Conor Twohy said.

On a recent day inside the Twohy house, Conor's mother took out a book of old drawings. After seeing "The Incredibles," a popular 2004 Disney movie, at age 6, Conor drew the film scene by scene from memory in the course of a few weeks.

The intricate details stunned his father.

"It's incredible," he said.

Cartoons to storytelling

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When he was 12, Twohy had a comic published in The Washington Post through a KidPost Comic Challenge competition. It told the story of a middle-aged man who was fired from work and decided to become a cartoonist.

Twohy wasn't able to continue cartooning when he entered Carver as a freshman. Carver focuses on drawing from observation, Twohy said. No more comics.

The decision to apply to Carver, rather than attending Dulaney High School, was a joint one for the family. Carver is a countywide magnet school, and Twohy had to audition to be accepted to the school.

Twohy participated in track and field at Carver, but outside of that spent his time focused on filmmaking, he said.

At Carver, he found peers also interested in the arts. Finding such like-minded students was one of the primary reasons the family decided on Carver, his father said.

At Dulaney, "he would not have been himself," Twohy's father added.

A film class Twohy took during his sophomore year at Carver made him realize that storytelling was his true passion, he said.

"It was like the floodgates had been opened," Twohy said. "I loved movies, but I never thought, 'Oh, this is something I could do.'"

His first assignments were rewarding because they proved how easy it was to make a short film.

Twohy began to add layers of complexity to his work.

One assignment required him to film an everyday task at home, he said, and turn it into a one- or two-minute movie.

Twohy did a 10-minute film on a task familiar to students at Carver — filling up sketch books with what should be daily or weekly entries.

He played the main character, wrote and directed the movie.

"It had a full story arch; it had everything," Twohy said of the short film. "That was when I realized this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

His film teacher, Khalid Ali, said that's typical of Conor — working hard and going beyond what is required.

"He does the assignments, but he always looks for something. A new skill, a new idea to improve with each assignment," Ali said.

Twohy is curious, and accepting of new ideas, Ali added.

He has taught himself skills not offered at Carver, such as using a green screen, a special effects process that allows filmmakers to superimpose subjects onto virtual backgrounds.

"He's a thoughtful and caring kind of person, and I think that's benefited him in his work," Ali said.

Dark and funny

A turning point for Twohy came last summer, when he didn't have a job. Instead, he opted to spend his time on filmmaking.

He made a three-minute movie, "Skyscraper," styled after Robert Rodriguez's 2005 film, "Sin City."

"Sin City" shows vignettes of murder, cannibalism and corruption. Twohy's take was not as dark.

The movie begins with a man, played by Twohy, stepping up to the ledge of a skyscraper. The viewer's assumption is that the man is contemplating suicide.

The film was shot on green screen, and relies heavily on special effects to give viewers the feeling that Twohy is looking down dozens of floors onto a street. It ends with another effect: Twohy's character is actually an assassin, and when he shoots his target, glass shatters in the foreground.

"Pushpin" is his latest movie. It's a goodbye to the friends he has worked with at Carver, he said, adding that the studio class he took his senior year gave him the latitude to explore his capabilities.

In "Pushpin," the characters seen at the beginning of the film decide to intimidate the man they've kidnapped by torturing him with pushpins they find in a classroom. Twohy was inspired by finding a pushpin on the ground in class one day, he said, and he let his mind wander; it'd be funny to imagine someone being tortured just by being poked with pushpins, he said he thought.

The movie is tense, slightly gory, but also funny.

"I really wanted to go dark, and see if I could also make it funny as well," Twohy said. "Carver is amazing because they let you have a lot of creative freedom."

The passing headlights illuminating the main characters as they drive down the road in the opening scene were flashlights shined into a stationary car. Twohy's father and a friend helped him with the effect, steadily walking past the vehicle as the two actors argued.

The scene took about an hour to perfect, with Twohy politely directing his assistants on the timing of their flashlight movements.

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Twohy's mother, Elizabeth, also helped shoot the film.

At the front of the car, Twohy set up two large lights to illuminate the interior. At one point in the shoot a light was moved to the side of the vehicle and, as Twohy filmed, his mother crouched next to the car and held the tall fixture, keeping it steady.

Elizabeth Twohy said she was impressed by what Conor learned at Carver, and how his creativity increased as he tried various mediums, from sculpture to photography.

"It's just been exciting to watch what he does," she said. "It just blows us away."

Conor attributes a lot of his development as a filmmaker to Ali, his Carver film teacher.

"Mr. Ali is capable of making every student care about film and excited to explore artistic ideas in film," Twohy said. "For me specifically, Mr. Ali helped me find a way to bring my wildest ideas to life in very practical ways."

This fall, Twohy plans to study film at New York University.

"It's a very good film school and New York is an amazing city," he said.

He plans on working as much as he can this summer to save money for college. He has two jobs, one editing commercials and another at the movie theater in White Marsh.

Twohy's work is available on his YouTube page, which can be found by searching his name on the site.

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