Since it’s inception in 2004, FilmFest has introduced over 1500 students to directing, producing, acting and a variety of other roles in the film industry.
FilmFest began as an iMovie film festival hosted by the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning and Apple to help students develop skills in digital storytelling.
Kyle Dickson, director of the AT&T Learning Studio and professor of English, said they recognized that communicating through media and telling visual stories was something no longer confined to a few departments on campus. Of this year’s nine films, films we directed by students majoring in Bible, English, digital entertainment technology, multimedia and theatre.
“We’re trying to show that it’s not just about the people you see on screen, there’s a whole team of folks. Students are getting to develop the skills of operating on camera, audio, thinking about lighting, editing, and special effects.”
Though the Office of Student Productions previously oversaw FilmFest, this year, the Learning Studio took the lead.
This year, students were offered a variety of workshops to perfect their craft. Adam Hester, professor of theatre, led a workshop for directors working with actors and Cade White, instructor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, taught students how to better capture video and audio for their short films and Jason Baumgarner, Hollywood writer and editor, sat down with screenwriters for 20-30 minutes to discuss their scripts.
Over the past three years, Brent McCorkle, who regularly comes back to join FilmFest as an industry judge, has been sitting down with directors and editors to look at their films and help sharpen editing.
Dickson said McCorkle is constantly blown away by what students are capable of, especially that they are producing films out of a desire to do so, not for a mandatory grade.
“It’s the pleasure of the performance, the participation in a group that creates something really powerful and resonant,” Dickson said.
McCorkle, who has judged for seven years, said his favorite part of coming back is the passion of students.
“They want to talk about things that are important to them and things they hope will shape the culture,” McCorkle said.
Dickson said when students participate in FilmFest, they develop project management and organizational leadership skills that can be applied across different industries. Students also have the opportunity to refine their creative urge.
15 years racked up 168 films, but the growth has been up and down. Dickson said in the last couple of years, there has been new energy, but any student production depends on the next wave of new storytellers.
“We had a lot of excited freshmen coming in and telling their first story this year, so we’re very much looking forward to the growth of that group,” Dickson said.
This year, 11 students directed nine films including:
- Zorah Green, Apple Tea with Cinnamon
- Wade Austin and Rankin Dean, The Brotherhood
- Austin Allison, Dodge
- Takuma Tsuneki, Fever
- Abigail Johnston, He Loves Me?
- Katie Pantoja, Meme Wars
- Lauren Mullen and Donte’ Payne, The Promotion
- Rankin Dean, Sacred Space
- Bradley Diaz, Underwater
Dickson said sometimes, students overlap their involvement – one actor or one director of photography works on two or three films.
“It’s a very collaborative process where people are seeking out somebody that knows what they need on their team and often improve each other’s stories,” Dickson said. “It’s really grown a lot to be more than just a competition.”
Students fund the film themselves, but the growth of the Learning Studio and the equipment offered has helped create an equal opportunity for those involved.
In addition to the equipment, free access to Adobe Creative Cloud raised the production standard with pro-level video and audio editing tools.
For the second year, Adobe is providing FilmFest award winners who are also graduating seniors with a year of free Creative Cloud access.
Randy Brewer, one of FilmFest’s longest-term judges and founder of Revolution Pictures, is starting a new partnership with the university called Prodigy Cinema School – a six-week program offered over the summer for academic credit. This year, two scholarships will be awarded to FilmFest winners.
Dickson said one of his favorite things about FilmFest is packing the Paramount Theatre with over 700 students.
“They’re excited to see their friends on screen and they’re excited to celebrate the work of their peers behind the camera.”
Since it started, there hasn’t been much change in genre of films produced, but Dickson said access to tools allowed for creativity in expression.
This year, the first three-dimensional computer-animated short will air.
“FilmFest is a really fertile ground for students to try on different types of storytelling,” Dickson said.
Mullen, director of the three-dimensional film, said she wanted to come back for her senior year after directing last year. In August, she and Payne decided to take a different direction than most short-films for FilmFest.
“It took us awhile to figure out what story we wanted to tell and how we would be able to do this,” Mullen said. “After a couple of rewrites of the script and a ton of concept art, we were ready to start the animation and molding process in January. The payoff was just to say that we have done the first three-dimensional animation in FilmFest history, and to see it on the big-screen is enough for me.”
Allison, a senior digital entertainment techonolgy major from Haslet, said acting in a film last year inspired him to direct this year. He wrote his script the weekend after FilmFest last year and spent the summer revising. In the fall, he casted his film, and began production in the spring.
On paper, it’s just about getting a camera and a microphone, writing a script and putting it all together, Allison said, but in reality, there’s more steps to the process than people see.
“I don’t normally like to ask for help on things, but here it’s absolutely necessary. Once I accepted that, I had a team that came together and made something really fun and awesome,” Allison said.
Last year, Johnston, a sophomore multimedia major directed a comedy film, Perspective, but this year, she decided to make a film about the ups and downs that a couple go through in their relationship. She said the judges feedback from last year helped her make a difference.
All three said asking for help and using the surrounding people was a difficult, but worthy lesson to learn.
Johnston had three or four crew members when she directed in 2018, and more than doubled that for her production this year with 11-12.
“It really helped to grab people who were actually interested and want to make this the best it can be, which was kind of hard to find, but when I found it, it paid off.
“It’s been rough, there’s been tears shed and many little victories celebrated, but overall it’s been a great time and it’s cool to be part of it,” Johnston said.
The films will premiere Friday at 7 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre downtown.