First Position.

Los Angeles, California | Film Short

Drama, LGBTQ

Michael Thomas

1 Campaigns | California, United States

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This campaign raised $9,670 for post-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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For artists and dreamers that know the feeling of having something stand in your way of creating, First Position is the story of pushing against all obstacles, whether it be in the emotional or physical realm. This film embodies how self-expression through movement is vital to the human experience.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

One of the goals of this film was to show the effect of the AIDS epidemic on human experiences, whether it be an artist who relies on their ability to move, or the people that love them. First Position is an LGBTQ film made by queer artists on and off screen from the director and crew, to the actors

The Story


The Prologue:

Hello everyone, and welcome to the crowdfunding page for my film, First Position. My name is Michael Thomas and I am a thesis-year cinematographer in the MFA Cinematography Program at UCLA. I first realized my passion for visual storytelling when I started filming my sister's dance performances in my undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama. From there on, I crafted my visual aesthetics based on movement and how bodies can perform with each other, not just during dance, but during life in general.


This spawned the idea of researching how body movement, specifically in the art of dance, can manipulate camera movement; thus evoking certain emotions in the audience. In December 2017, I did some camera tests that challenged this theory. I film the same dance with (3) different camera styles based on films like The King and I, Black Swan, and shows like So You Think You Can Dance? These different cuts were sent out and people were polled on their reactions. CHECK IT OUT HERE:


The Film:

During my time at UCLA, I wanted to make sure that I was taking advantage of every creative outlet I was allowed. Being in California, in such a creative and open space, I found a new freedom in the stories I could create. I have always been fascinated with LGBT History and the events that led to the present day. There is so much that we don’t think about, and the people that made sacrifices that allow me to be my genuine self shouldn’t be forgotten.

In First Position, we follow our protagonist, Zachary Campbell, a young aspiring dancer who has just moved to San Francisco to fulfill his dream of joining a dance company. In his quest to become a dancer, fate throws him into the arms of choreographer, Jamie Callahan, a San Francisco native who has the dream of owning his own studio. These two form a connection while continuing on their parallel paths, until Zachary notices warning signs on his skin.



Told through a series of memories and dance pieces, First Position is a film that shows how the absence of choice perpetuates tragedy when it comes to what you love, whether it be another person, or the art of the craft itself. 

The Process:

One of the main things we wanted to experiment with during the making of this film was how we could tell a story through more than just dialogue. Throughout First Position, you will notice that certain moments in the story trigger dance pieces set in a different realm. This realm was what we referred to in the script and shooting stages as “The Void”.



The Void was inspired by Black Swan and other performances I have photographed. This realm in the film played in darkness with movement of human bodies being our sole translator, as well as the only connection to the film’s actual reality.

Throughout the history of cinema, dance has been used to explain emotion, but also environment. When I was watching films such as Black Swan and All that Jazz, I started to see how the space that these bodies were in, were of just as much importance as what the bodies were doing. This became a huge subject because the spaces where Zachary was dancing, but also growing with the disease, were vital into how he would be operate.


The Choreography:

We sat down with choreographer, James Tabeek and had extensive talks before the original dance tests about what movement means to us both as a choreographer and a cinematographer. Using these discussions he crafted dance pieces that reflected and told the story of the narrative’s biggest moments.



During rehearsals, James worked extensively with our main actors, Anthony Sorrells and Mark Wax to help them understand what each count was choreographed for, and why these movements were being made. Then behind the camera, the production crew and I would work to make sure that these movements were captured in an authentic and purposeful way. In order to form an authentic and honest experience for the viewer, James, the dancers, and myself collaborated on how these dances would be done, but also why they would be done and covered on film.

The Disease:

We always knew we wanted the existence of HIV/AIDS to play a role in the film, but we didn’t want it to be the main focus. Instead, it needed to be a character in and of itself, whose purpose was to be a pushing force against Zachary’s growth as a dancer, but also as human being.

Anthony and I had many different conversations about what AIDS meant in that time as a sickness, but also as a social identity. Questions arose of how would you be treated, who you could trust, and if acceptance was a way of admitting defeat. Both of us being younger members of the LGBT community couldn’t fathom what it must have felt like, but we looked into stories of those that inspired us from the works of famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev, to written works like The Normal Heart and Angels in America, and documentaries like We Were Here. 

On set, makeup artist Stephanie Kim was able to recreate effects like lesions onto Anthony’s skin in scenes early on, as well as later moments after contraction.

Why shoot on Super 16mm Film?

One of the biggest conversations we had was should we shoot this project on physical film, or stick with digital formats? As the director & cinematographer, it was something to explicitly think about, not just as a visual medium, but also what effect it would have during production, as well as how the audience would receive it.


After viewing many of our reference photos, we saw that the time period we were trying to recreate was told through a series of celluloid containers like old archival photos from gay San Francisco, scenes from the 2008 film, Milk (35mm), Black Swan shot on 16mm, and photographs of the AIDS Crisis shot on 35mm rolls.

We chose to shoot 16mm film using the Arriflex 416 because the aesthetic matched what we believed to be how the film should present itself. We had a mixture of newer stocks, with some rolls being older from about nine years ago. The texture of these different emulsions allowed in aiding with the film having an aged, archival look.


What Now!?

First Position has been such a long project in the making, and it’s not done yet! Now we are on our final stages of Post-Production, but we need your help!

From shooting on film, we have to process and scan the film into a higher resolution digital format for release. We are using our friends Cinelab over in Massachusetts to scan all of our dailies into a high quality 2K HDR (DPX) file format. These uncompressed files will give us all of the color and image information we need once we move to the color stages of the edit.



As you are reading this, our editor Ellen Schwartz is putting together cuts of the film for test screenings. Ellen is based in Los Angeles, having just had worked on Contemporary Color by the Ross Brothers which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, and Ellen has also collaborated with Court 13 (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

For First Position, our plan has always been to have original music over the film, and more importantly, the dance numbers. We have composer, Karam Salem, attached to the project to create all of the original music compositions that will be in the film. His credits include many films, and as of most recent, a few Dreamworks/Netflix animated series (Home & Trolls). 

We are aiming to have a final version of the film being sent out to festivals this Fall 2018. We are looking to send it to festivals that celebrate not just LGBT cinema, but also those that celebrate the artists within all of us who know the feeling of having everything stacked against you, just like our characters in this film.

Thank you all from the bottom of heart for allowing my team and I to create something like this. I already feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity and I hope that with your help, we can take this even further to its final version. Contribute what you can, and know that every cent of your donation is being used for the betterment of telling queer stories.


Michael Elias Thomas <3


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Film Processing and Scanning

Costs $2,800

We are using CineLab in Massachusetts to process and scan our Super 16mm footage into 2K Digital!


Costs $1,000

We have a professional composer onboard who will be creating original pieces for the film!

Sound Design

Costs $2,000

We need a sound designer to create an atmosphere with audio inside Zachary's mind and of 1980s SF!


Costs $2,000

We are looking at different Post-Houses to do a final color pass using our uncompressed film files!

Film Festivals!

Costs $3,500

We plan on entering many different LGBTQ and Short Film Festivals around the world!


Costs $700

We plan on test screenings, posters, merchandise, and spreading the film over different mediums!

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

On First Position, we were able to pull together a team of amazing professionals that helped bringthis vision to life. Each of these creatives come from amazing backgrounds whether it be through the UCLA Graduate Film Program, Broadway, International Ballet, and many more. Without thesepeople,this project would not have reached the caliber that was portrayed.


Michael Thomas (Director, Writer, Cinematographer) is a recent graduate of the MFA Cinematography Program at UCLA. Growing up in the south, Michael went to the University ofAlabama where he began his studies in film, while doing work for multiple live performance venues/narrative films. In 2014, Michael traveled to Los Angeles for the summer with the Telecommunication and Film school at Alabama. There he worked for different post houses like Psychic Bunny and later worked for production companies like Michael Bay and ScottGardenhour’s The Institute. After living there for three months and studying the industry, he decided to go back to Alabama for his senior year with the hopes of coming back for graduate school.  His film credits include those as a Director and Cinematographer together and separately on works like Traces (2014), Pride Fighter (2015), Avenue (2015), Retrograde (2016), Gaslight (2017), Nadia’s Visa (2018), and morerecently First Position (2018). He works as a Cinematographer first and foremost, but alsoworks as a Colorist for short film and music videos. He currently resides in West Hollywood,CA where he is in pre-production for more upcoming short films.


Bailey Olmstead is a Portland native now based in Los Angeles. She is a producer and screenwriter, currently completing a Bachelors of Arts at UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television. Over the past two years she has creatively and line produced over six short films and webseries, both in and outside of UCLA. She works as a freelance line producer and full-time writer's assistant, and is always working on a new project to build a body of work that inspires awareness, emotion, and connection. 


Alex Beatty is a filmmaker in Los Angeles who works with The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) as their Master Class Production Coordinator, as well as the video editor and cameraman for online content and award shows. He has had several award winning short films, three of which were at the Cannes Film Festival. Previously he has been a live concert director and audio engineer for major artists including John Mayer, The Fray, Train and many more while also being a Video Editor for numerous top Cinematographers, Directors and actors such as Angelina Jolie. Alex is currently working on starting a film studio with its main focus being to provide innovative filmmakers and creatives alike a space to connect, learn and create. When Alex isn’t on-the-clock he is volunteering at Hillsong LA and other churches, local social relief facilities, educational institutions and various film companies or at home playing the piano, reading and of course watching Netflix. 



James Tabeek has broadway credits that include Mary Poppins, where he understudied the role of Neleus, Taboo, in which he was also the dance captain, Beauty & the Beast, where he played the Carpet and understudied the role of Lefou, Wicked, also as the dance captain, and the Broadway workshop of Sweet Charity. His other NYC/LA credits include Die Fledermaus at The Met Opera, Wonderful Town at LA Opera, Babes in Arms at City Center/Encores, the Christmas Spectacular and Carnivale at Radio City Music Hall, the LA premiere of Serrano the Musical playing the role of Jimmy Balducci, the Smith Center’s production of the new Broadway bound musical Idaho! in Las Vegas, playing the role of Manny Meany, the staged reading of Tony Blake’s new play Sunday Dinner in Los Angeles, playing the role of Michael, and most recently the 5th Avenue Theater’s production of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion in Seattle. His other regional credits include the Kennedy Center, Walnut Street, North Shore Music Theater, and the Goodspeed Opera House. His European credits include playing the role of Riff in West Side Story. Recent films: The Best Date Ever (2017), Naked (2017), Northbound, Retrograde, Hail Caesar! James also plays the role of Devan in the hit new media series The Residuals (exclusively on In addition to his acting work, James is also a writer, and a nationally recognized choreographer who works with dance companies all over the country. Twitter/IG: @jamestabeek.


Ellen Schwarz studied at the University of Alabama.  She landed her first job as assistant editor on a Ross Bros. documentary Contemporary Color, which won Best Editing in a Documentary Feature at Tribeca Film Festival 2016. From there, she has assisted on many exciting projects for Apple, Netflix, FX, National Geographic and CBS. She edited the short film Pride Fighter that premiered at Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes in 2016.  Ellen is very grateful to have worked on so many diverse projects and is excited to be apart of First Position. This will be the second short film Ellen has edited for Michael Thomas and hopes for many more to come.


Anthony Sorrells (Zachary Campbell): Originally from the Bay Area, Anthony began acting after receiving admittance into the Oakland School for the Arts where he trained alongside notable alumni Zendaya, and grammy nominee Kehlani. After completing his studies at OSA, Anthony continued his training at UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television where he recently finished his studies under the Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program. He has had the fortune of performing under the direction of many notable artists in various venues, including the Atwater Village Theater in Los Angeles and the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in New York.


Mark Wax (Jamie Callahan) is an actor living and working in LA. He came to LA after a nine year career in classical ballet dancing with the Norwegian National Ballet, Alberta Ballet, and the Boston Ballet. He has performed across North America and Europe. Wax joined the Norwegian National Ballet after three years with the Alberta Ballet in Calgary and two years with the Boston Ballet, having also previously danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. In North America, he has danced principal male roles in Balanchine's Concerto Barocco at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Stomper in Tharp's In the Upper Room, and prominent roles in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. After starting his dance studies in Montana, Wax continued his classical training at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle and The School of American Ballet in New York.


Kristi Hoi (Assistant Director) is a Los Angeles based filmmaker and storyboard artist hailing from Hong Kong and Dallas, Texas. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sequential Art and Sound Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia and is currently pursuing directing at the graduate level at the University of California Los Angeles. She strives to tell stories that challenge, incite, and inspire the world around us.


Devin Loring is a third year Graduate MFA Director at UCLA. In addition to writing and directing short films, including her upcoming thesis, Devin works as a production designer in Los Angeles. You can find her at Before moving to Los Angeles to begin her graduate education, Devin worked as a journalist for the USA Today Network in New Jersey, covering regional and national business news. Born and raised in New Jersey, feel free to ask her about the best places to find bagels and pizza in Los Angeles.


Current Team