LU Cinematic arts students reflect on influence of filmmaker Scotty Curlee
Austin Stumvoll, a Liberty University School of Cinematic Arts alumnus, remembers cold hands and sore feet during long days of filming. He remembers early morning classes fueled by caffeine. He remembers rolling into a tiny town to grab diner food during a long shoot for the feature film “Extraordinary.”
And he remembers his professor Scotty Curlee.
“One time … I was beaten down and I was tired, and I was hungry, and I was worn out,” Stumvoll said. “And (Curlee) came up beside me, and he put his arm around me, and he goes, ‘Once it hits the big screen all this is worth it, brother.’”
Curlee never planned on teaching. In 1992, he competed as a cyclist in the Olympic trials. When his father died, he returned to his mother and sister in South Korea, where his mother asked him to attend college. Curlee grew up attending a Christian school started by a Liberty alumnus, so he decided to attend Liberty to study sports management. He then earned his MBA at Averett University and worked in the pharmaceutical industry. But he wanted a new passion.
Curlee met Jerold Franks, a casting director who introduced him to the film industry. Soon he had written, produced, directed and distributed “The Potential Inside,” a feature film about a cyclist recovering from tragedy.
“If anybody came to me and said … I’m going to write, produce and direct a movie that’s going get real distribution — I would say you’re really naïve,” Curlee said.
When founders of Liberty’s cinematic arts department asked Curlee to join the school, he saw it as a chance to invest in students and build a legacy. He teaches, and he also mentors students and helps them make industry connections.
Austin Lewis graduated with the inaugural class in 2014. He said Curlee connected him to the Erwin Brothers for “Moms’ Night Out.” That job, Lewis said, provided a stepping stone to his career working on films such as Marvel’s “Venom.” Over coffee at Starbucks, Curlee encouraged Lewis to build a work process that would prepare him for high pressure situations.
“Sometimes I’m at work and I look … and the person to my left has won an Oscar, and the person to my right has won an Oscar, and the person in front of me is about to win an Oscar,” Lewis said. “And here I am, little old Austin Lewis.”
As first assistant camera, Lewis runs the camera department on films. He has filmed chase scenes with dozens of cars and cameras, written programs to overcome technical challenges, and built new equipment
days before a shoot began.
“Sometimes you have to find a way that hasn’t been found before,” Lewis said. “And I think that (Curlee) personally has … drilled within you that every single day you need to be learning something
Stumvoll calls that drive to improve a little every day the 1 percent rule.
“I got that from (Curlee) whether he knows it or not,” Stumvoll said. “ … You’re always growing, you’re always learning and you’re always moving forward.”
Curlee keeps equipping students to excel. He wants to focus more on television and continue bringing students into every project he takes on, such as the 12 who worked with him on “War Room.” And he encourages students to consider their impact as they choose how to spend their time.
“Whatever vocation we choose,” Curlee said, “Whether it’s a filmmaker or whether you have another vocation … we have to be intentional about getting involved and making a difference.”