WAXAHACHIE — “Create and collaborate” was the mentality of SAGU student filmmakers who engaged the grueling challenge of constructing a half-hour movie for a full-credit project.
“What you’re witnessing tonight is really the result of an academic activity, and it’s been two years in the making,” stated Del Guynes, Dean of SAGU’s Music and Communication Arts Department.
“This is the fifth SAGU Cinema production that covers everything from the initial ideations of script writing, casting, building sets, selection of locations, production, and audio. Think how difficult it would be if someone handed you a camera and said, ‘Go make a movie.’ Think of it that way, and, hopefully, we have something we all enjoy,” he added with a chuckle.
EDUCATION WITH VALUE
Over a span of two years, "Better Off Jed" is SAGU Cinema’s fifth student film. The unique project, which premiered last Thursday, Feb. 2 at Showbiz Theater, is part of SAGU’s Digital Media Arts program, setting it apart from other film schools.
Among the students who made the movie a success was Director of Photography Andrew Ansohn — who attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention this past year.
“One of the things I made a point to do was to talk to other film students who were learning something similar to what I studied, and I wanted to see what projects they had,” he said, describing what separates the film program from others. “Projects like our ‘Weekend Warrior’ and our ‘Spielberg’s,’ they had similar ones, but they didn’t have any type of film project like this. They were baffled at the fact that our school actually gives us $30,000 to put something together. Every other year we have a student film, and we take one of our scripts and bring it to the stage and premiere it on a screen. It was completely foreign to them, their schools didn’t do that.”
With a $30,000 budget and a premiere ceremony, the 35-minute film underwent a two-year production process that included a crew of around 20 students, 50 extras, and the main cast of four from DFW talent agencies.
“Our budget sets us apart and our availability for equipment and such things, because most schools, when they do a student film, there’s like 150 students wanting to do the same thing. So you really don’t have the option to use the same equipment or use the funds to make the movie, but having a smaller school and crew, it forces more creative decisions to come out. The more difficult the problem is and the more restrictions you have on it, the better you can find out better solutions,” said student director Timothy Jones.
“This keeps us pushing to the next level. This is like a big commercial for our DMA program because when they see the documentary, and they see the quality of our film, I think it’s going to attract more kids locally or from our church constituency. It’s so high quality that people are going to be like, ‘I want to be a part of what those kids just did,’” expressed Rob Price, Director of the Digital Media Arts program.
TEXTBOOKS TO CAREER
Along with the course textbooks and required materials to learn the industry of film, experience proves to be a vital key to the program’s success.
“There are certainly a lot of things you can’t learn from reading a book, which I would do a lot of, but there are things you have to learn by being thrown into it. This experience did equip me because it threw me into it,” Jones explained.
“We have a two-year process from script to screen. I almost felt like it was instinct like it kind of kicked in. When you get out there it’s like ‘bam, bam, bam,’ you either do it or you don’t. You either swim or drown. Yeah, it was tough,” affirmed Mallory Lough, student First Assistant Director.
Although “book smarts” took the student crew to a certain level, the practice of the craft pushed them further.
“As far as film goes, it was a lot of what I had been studying of the last three years, and that is, how to light, how to film, the angles to film, what to avoid when filming, but, at the same time, it was dealing with the people around me. We don’t read textbooks on people management, so as you have your projects you have to learn how to work with people and where to give and where not to give, so you can have a good project and make it good for everyone,” Ansohn divulged.
“To me, it was a cool experience being able to watch my work on the big screen and seeing the amount of students and their families who went there to support our film. As Production Designer, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen because of every single room, prop, and costume reminded me of all the hard work and all the fun I had with my crew while creating it,” smiled Emily Chinchay, student Director of Photography.
“I think it wasn’t so much about learning my craft, but how to work with others through the craft,” added Tyler-Marie Hartmann, student producer and co-writer. “It was mainly about working with different people with a different vision than you, and you can’t just Google something and fact check someone and say ‘No, you’re wrong,’ it’s a matter of subjective opinion of art. That’s one of the hardest things to agree with people on, but learning to function with different minds and perspectives I think molds every person who does it."
Maturing their artistic skills and organizational leadership, the crew has gained valuable knowledge that will prepare them for their future careers.
“I know that this, in particular, has opened up so many opportunities for me such as being able to write and get an internship and be on set as the script supervisor. The DMA family has definitely been super influential in my education and even in my professional career. As far as networking or keeping tabs on Mr. Price, it has helped me for the future,” admitted Alexander de Freitas with a laugh. Freitas served as a student screenplay writer and script supervisor.
“I think with the arts, the greatest thing that a university can do is unhinge the doors and open it. So I can’t walk out and say, ‘Oh, I’ve mastered this, I’m good.’ I don’t think anyone can truly say that it’s mainly about realizing the opportunity and the possibility ahead of you and then marching towards that,” Hartmann acknowledged the quality of her degree.
As the theater filled, the smell of popcorn rose, and act one played, "Better Off Jed’s" premiere was not a night to forget.
Set in the 90’s on a university campus, the feel-good comedy revolves around student Jed Harris (Taylor Johnson), an awkward guy who constantly talks about girls but can’t seem to score a date. Keeping his sights set on crush, Cece Warren (Shae Bagby), the laughs began to roll as Jed gets dating advice from his suave roommate, Pheonix Nash (Tanner Westmoreland), journeying the mysterious world of women and self-identity.
Pairing the timeless principle of “being yourself,” with catchy puns, on-the-spot improvisation, and an ending monologue that inspired one’s self-esteem, the movie was loudly applauded by its audience.
“Creating something from nothing, making it come to life, and seeing your words come out of people's mouths when it was in your head. I’m of proud of the final product,” expressed Asia Behrendt, student producer and co-writer.
Relieved and satisfied, the cast and crew were greeted by friends, family, and the SAGU community, congratulating them on a job well done.
“It was super fun, I had a great time with all the cast and crew. It was an incredible learning experience as a student film, especially being my senior year to go out on a fun project with a bunch of people that I came through the program with, I had a blast,” Jones recalled, celebrating the moment.
“Saying yes to this audition changed my summer, and it was really great. So being a part of this is really cool,” added Taylor Johnson, Lead Actor.
“We’ve never tried this before, and it really worked. I am so proud of these kids, and we try new stuff every time. With ‘Drawing A Blank’ it was, ‘Let’s do a feature film.’ With ‘Under the Sun,' it was, ‘Let’s do a serious drama.’ Every film has a little bit of a twist to it, and these kids have knocked it out of the park. People laughed and enjoyed it, celebrating the editing, the acting, and the music score and sound design – it’s top shelf,” Price finished, grinning ear to ear.
And just like any 90’s movie ending, the cast and crew of "Better Off Jed" embraced their accomplishments in a freeze-frame of laughter and high-fives.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer