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Sonora alum seeks to highlight human spirit in award-winning film

By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal

The actress sat by the window on the set and looked out, just as she was supposed to do. Everything was set to shoot the first scene. The director shouted his commands and then said the magic line, “Action.” That’s when the actress, Gitane Neil, stopped, looked at the director and said to him in a serious “Cory, come here.” The director, Cory Reeder, got up and went to the young actress. She looked at him and asked, “can I have a hug?”
The two hugged and the actress smiled and said, “I’m ready.” Reeder went back to his chair and shooting of the film “Best Friend” began.

Filmmaker and Sonora alumni Cory Reeder (center) directs actress Gitane Neil (right) while producing the short film “Best Friend,”which won the Best Film award for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.

Reeder, a filmmaker and Sonora High School graduate, and his crew shot “Best Friend” in one day as part of the 2017 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The short film, which chronicles the light-hearted story of a family relocating from New York to Los Angeles and the concerns of a young girl with Down Syndrome to find a friend.
This marked the fourth year Reeder entered the contest, but the first year that he swept the awards by netting Best Film and Best Awareness Campaign.
While he enjoyed winning the top award, Reeder acknowledged that it was something else that motivated him to make the film.
“Currency of the heart,” he said. “There were just moments like that hug, that the audience doesn’t get to see that makes it worth it. “
Reeder has been making films since before he started attending Sonora. He explained that his interest in film was fueled by his father.
“My parents divorced when I was young,” he explained. “When my dad would come visit, we would always see a movie, sometimes two or three a weekend. It was a bonding time.”
That bonding time fueled Reeder’s creative nature. He already had a passion for music and in particular the drums, but film was something different. It was art, it was storytelling, it was an escape.

Sonora alum and filmmaker Cory Reeder

Reeder had to deal with challenges early on. His mother battled cancer. Then when he was finishing junior high his older sister was killed, which sent his family into a depression. His mother’s cancer came back, this time she wasn’t able to fight it off.
Reeder, a Sonora swimmer and water polo player at this time, hit, what he called a rough time. He credits some of his teachers at Sonora as helping out.
“My coach, Jack Hawkins, was pretty in tune with what was going on and helped me,” he said. “He kept an eye out.”
He also credits his art teacher, Doug Stanton, as a guy that helped him through the loss of his mother and sister. Reeder explained he was always into drawing, but Stanton showed him his collection of VHS tapes.
“He told me if you’re ever having a bad day, you can come here and watch movies,” Reeder explained. He said Stanton was the first to show him the “non-blockbuster” films.
“He had me watch this movie ‘Eraserhead’ and wanted me to write a report on it,” he said. “I watched it three or four times to find a point and I finally realized there wasn’t a point…it was avant garde and could provoke thought.”
It was then Reeder said he realized the art of films.
He went to Fullerton College then Cal State Fullerton where he studied film and also continued to pursue his other passion of music by playing in local bands.
He started shooting short films in and around La Habra and music videos of his friends. But he scored big when he got a gig working for Ridley Scott’s production company.
Reeder went on to create his own film company, Renaissance Man Productions. He was also playing in a band, which was a house band at The Roxy in Hollywood.
He explained that he finally committed fully to filmmaking when he was hired to shoot a music video and he destroyed his drums as part of the video.
Reeder got connected to the Disability Film Challenge when he had to cast a little person in a film he was doing. The actor, Nic Novicki, was working to develop the challenge. Reeder said once he started shooting, he was hooked.
Reeder said he tries to do what he can to hire skilled individuals with disabilities. He also looks to hire women and said he loves to have them work in roles that have traditionally been for men in Hollywood.
Reeder said the film challenge is just part of his production process now. He will continue working with the challenge and being somewhat of an advocate to help Hollywood to become more inclusive.
He’s looking to make Best Friend into a feature length film and continuing writing and making more films.
For Reeder, the 50 hugs a day from Neil during production, makes everything he does worth it.

Watch the award winning “Best Friend” short film by clicking  HERE

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.