SAGU Cinema to premiere ‘Reverse Engineering’

Free showing of student-made romantic comedy at Hagee Auditorium on April 20

SAGU Marketing
The Southwestern Assemblies of God University film crew in action.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University hosts a television studio as part of its award-winning Communication Arts Department.

Love is in the air ... and on the screen.

The award-winning Communication Arts Department at Southwestern Assemblies of God University will premiere its latest short film “Reverse Engineering,” a romantic comedy, on Tuesday, April 20 in Waxahachie.

“Reverse Engineering” will be shown on campus at the Hagee Communication Center Auditorium at 7 p.m. Admission is free. It is the seventh major film project released by SAGU Cinema since 2008.

The idea for “Reverse Engineering” began in June 2020 when executive producer (and associate professor) Rob Price tasked his upper level students in the Digital Media Arts (DMA) program to write a 30-40 minute short film screenplay over the summer. They responded with amazing creativity.

“It’s easily the most clever, winsome screenplay that’s ever been written and produced by SAGU cinema,” Price said. “And they followed that up with excellent casting and shooting on set. This film is an absolute must-see.”

The plot follows Ethan, an isolated no-nonsense engineering college student, as he navigates strange new feelings for the free-spirited Summer. Stakes are raised and comedic plot twists ensue with the addition of an intense rivalry with fellow classmate Alex and Ethan’s self-proclaimed wingman Nate. Ethan is challenged to “reverse engineer” how he views people and their function in the world. Along the way, he discovers that love has a way of gumming up the gears of life.

The challenge of working with the restrictions of the COVID-19 virus as well as personnel changes forced SAGU Cinema to shoot the film in a completely different and safe way including temperature checks and masks. Price said the film is currently in the post-production process which includes the editing, special effects, an original film score, and other audio mixing requirements.

“I’ve called this class the ‘Can Do Crew’ because even in the face of new restrictions brought on by the pandemic they found a way to bring this project to life,” said Price.

During the 2020 summer, Price’s students chose senior James Landers' story idea after a few weeks of pitching and brainstorming different ideas. Once the script was finished Price assigned the small crew of five their respective roles.

Landers served as director; senior Esther Green was first assistant director, senior Stephan Farina was director of photography, senior Caleb Garrison was production designer, and senior Andrew Pena was sound designer/engineer.

“I just remember the constant Zoom meetings where all five of us would try to write the script. In the end after several drafts, I’m extremely happy with the finished product,” Landers said.

Price’s colleague Digital Media Arts instructor Matt Goode incorporated assignments from an upper level audio production class to assist with audio post-production needs such as sound foley, dialogue replacement, sound effects, and music score.

Most people don’t realize that only the dialogue is recorded on the production set, all other sounds that make up the soundtrack of a film are recorded and added to the mix months after shooting wraps,” Goode said. “This crew did a superb job of capturing the soundscape into a single cohesive product. I was also thrilled to see one of our musically talented students Evan Jones compose the film’s entire score.”

The film’s budget was $15,000, covering six main speaking roles, 25 locations, 60 different costumes and 20 days of principal photography from October to December of 2020.

Green knew that the goal of producing a film with so many jokes and a small main crew would be a daunting task. But she insisted her DMA degree’s course work and careful preparation gave the unusually small student crew a fighting chance to do what seemed insurmountable.

“I guess every time I thought about what all goes into making a film, especially with such a small crew, it seemed impossible. And it would have been without a team that was so willing and, admittedly, crazy,” Green said.

Pena agreed. “I honestly had no idea how we were going to balance this with the demands of our other senior level classes, but we somehow were able to band together and bring a quality romance to life,” he said. “The blood, sweat and tears that made this project possible were definitely worth it.”

As Director of Photography Farina was responsible for the visual look and style of the film. “Shooting this project allowed me to find my passion for cameras and how to make an image look pleasing to the eye,” he said. “We challenged each other to grow in our abilities and came together to make this film the best one SAGU has ever seen.”

The lead male role is played by Holton Hester, a first time film actor and current student at SAGU. “Holton was the perfect choice for Ethan, his personality and chemistry with his fellow actors is what really brings this film together,” Garrison said.

The Waxahachie-based Linda McAlister Talent Agency supplied local actress Marisa Duran as the female lead (Summer). This however is not Duran’s first time in front of the camera. She has had film roles in Crude Massacre and Horimiya.

“Working on ‘Reverse Engineering’ was an absolute blast,” she said. “I enjoyed being on set so much that I would actually stick around and hang out with everyone even after I’d been released for the day! I am thrilled to have been able to bring the character of Summer to life.”

“Reverse Engineering” is the first major movie project produced at SAGU since the COVID outbreak canceled two short films during the spring 2020 semester.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Price. “Our last major project was the ‘Forgiven Felons’ documentary series in 2019 which was a huge home run. My students are just glad to be back swinging at the plate again.”

The “Forgiven Felons” documentary was picked for global distribution on the Roku Channel.