Christian Students Launch Film-Making Careers

Evelyn Iversen

Christian Students Launch Film-Making Careers

(WNS) -- The office looks like it came straight out of the 1940s. A large desk holds scattered papers and a typewriter; behind the desk is a large leather chair; and period photographs adorn the office walls. Men in suspenders and shiny black shoes sport side-parted hair slicked back neatly under fedoras.

But the scene also includes a crowd of college-age people in tennis shoes and jeans with clothespins dangling from their T-shirts. They're all packed into a small corner room full of lights, cameras and last-minute action.

As crew members dash around hunting for missing equipment, apply powder to shiny foreheads and adjust lights, director Peter Forbes coaches the actors. Forbes and the crew, most of them students or graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., are all part of Virginia-based Advent Associates, a spin-off group from Christian film production company Advent Film Group (AFG) that is giving college students their first break into the world of film.

If all goes well, it could be the first of a series of projects launching Christian college students into movie-making careers.

The movie, titled Writer's Block, is now in its second week of filming in Purcellville. AFG has made or been involved in several films aimed primarily at Christian audiences, notably Come What May, Hero and the upcoming feature Alone Yet Not Alone with Mission City Productions.

Over the years Advent has trained dozens of college students, according to Advent co-founder George Escobar. The idea behind Advent Associates is to give students the opportunity to make a good quality movie more or less on their own for an initial investment of $20,000. That's just enough to cover some basic props, equipment, and hire a few professional actors. Hopefully Writer's Block earns back this initial investment and then another $20,000 to finance the next project, and so on.

Forbes graduated from Patrick Henry College in 2009. He began working with Advent Film Group his junior year at PHC, served as the director's assistant for the AFG film Hero, and just finished the novelization of AFG's premiere film Come What May.

"Someday it would be nice to make money from this," said Forbes. "You know, to pay for student loans." Forbes said that he hopes Writer's Block will be reminiscent of movies like Casablanca, and while preserving the feel of an older movie they hope they can introduce modern equipment, layered lighting and new technology to bring classic styles into the present day.

"With movies, your options are cheap, fast and good," Forbes said. "Usually you can only have two out of three associated with a film. We've got the cheap and fast, and we're getting close to really good."

The cast of Writers Block features several professional actors who have appeared in The Notebook and Frost/Nixon, and TV shows likeArmy Wives. Other cast members include Sandra Van Natta, Jim McKeny, Jenn Gotzon, Rich Swingle, Gary Bosek and Curt Louder.

The screenplay was written in two months by Elizabeth Stinnette, a freshman at PHC, while she was working with Advent Film Group over the summer. "Elizabeth did a great job with the screenplay," Escobar said. "We're very happy."

Visiting the set with her mother, Stinnette was impressed with how well it was coming together. "The set looks almost exactly like it did in my head," Stinnette said.

In Writer's Block, Chip Leninskovich, played by actor Jason Burkey, must work with Stewart "Stu" Harvey, played by Jeff Rose, to write a feature-length script in 17 hours. Both professional actors, Burkey and Rose have an easy banter between them that lends itself well to their characters' on-screen interactions.

"For me it's harder to not make movies," said Rose. "Producing is the bigger headache though."

"It's always a great time working with new people and putting together a new film," said Burkey, who also appears in the upcoming films For the Glory and October Baby. "This is like filmmaking boot camp."

Obstacles to filming include the low budget of $20,000, a two-week schedule to finish filming, finding lead actors, a very cramped set and making re-writes to the script minutes before the cameras start rolling.

"We didn't have a location two weeks before we were scheduled to start shooting," Forbes said. "Our lead wasn't even confirmed until a week before we started filming."

Some changes to the script were just to tighten and condense portions of the plot, and the ending was rewritten to give it a stronger finish even though filming had begun. The changes to the script happened when a plot hole was discovered. Sometimes they were rewriting scenes as they were about to be filmed.

"It felt like [the movie] Inception," said Forbes. "The story is about two writers trying to finish writing a story, and meanwhile we are out here doing the same thing."

Space is really tight; a hallway that leads to the dressing room will be dressed as a set for a few scenes. Getting off schedule can cause tension to rise, but perhaps the obstacle that affects the most members of the cast and crew is the long hours on set each day.

"If you're willing to work these kinds of hours without pay it's probably because you love it," said Abby Raetz, an art assistant.

"After 18-hour days together, we get crazy," said Ian Reid, a senior at PHC. Reid is the director of photography, and has worked on several feature films.

"The business of film has changed, and so the mission of training, mentoring and serving is more important than ever," said Escobar. "We want young Christian people interested in film to know that there is a path vocationally, and you don't have to sacrifice morals for a good end product."

Publication date: October 18, 2011

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