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Cinematic Arts students celebrate national theatrical release

As thousands of moviegoers across the country enjoyed a night at the cinemas on Tuesday, 57 Liberty University cinematic arts students celebrated a major milestone in their careers — before they even graduated from film school.

“The Trump Prophecy,” produced by ReelWorks Studios, was filmed in Central Virginia in partnership with Liberty’s Cinematic Arts, Zaki Gordon Center, giving students hands-on film set experience as they worked side-by-side with the professional production crew.

“It feels really good to have finished a feature now, while still in college. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity,” said senior Dryden Joss, who worked as a production assistant and second assistant director. “I am trying to move to LA next year, and I can say, ‘I’ve already worked on a feature film.’ It feels like a larger stepping stone. I had my first red carpet event at age 21 with my name in the credits of a movie in theaters.”

On Tuesday night, several cinematic arts students walked the red carpet alongside “The Trump Prophecy” stars and producers at the Regal River Ridge Stadium 14 in Lynchburg to celebrate the release. Tuesday’s event was the first of a two-night Fathom Events premiere (Oct. 2 and 4). The film is showing in approximately 1,200 theaters nationwide, making it the second Liberty production to hit the big screen. Last year’s “Extraordinary” was the first student-driven film to have a nationwide theatrical release.

“The experience has been great,” said ReelWorks CEO and Owner Rick Eldridge, who produced and co-wrote “The Trump Prophecy.” “Working with the students has been a phenomenal opportunity. Every student was hands-on in their department. They really pitched in well; I think they were trained well.”

Stephan Schultze, executive director of Liberty’s cinematic arts program and director of “The Trump Prophecy,” said that the hands-on learning approach is vital to training future filmmakers.

“There is no better learning experience in cinema than actually doing the craft of creating it,” he said. “It was an amazing gift that Rick Eldridge provided to our students.”

The program also teaches other essential aspects of the film industry, such as business, marketing, and branding. And for feature projects, such as “The Trump Prophecy,” students have a hand in every aspect of production.

“The students are working from concept all the way to distribution,” Schultze said. “And this academic year, they are immediately replicating what they learned on their own, with their own short films.”

Senior Victoria Swart, who served as an assistant director, said she appreciated the opportunity to work on set.

“You had the interaction of students, professors, and professionals. That triangle is not really seen anywhere else (in the film industry),” she said. “It was a highly valuable experience. I understand much more now how a set works and how to lead a set.”

The students also valued the relationships they built with industry veterans.

“The most valuable part was the connections that I made, the people that I met along the way, and learning from their experiences,” said senior Jordan Hunt, who served as a production assistant.

To date, Liberty cinematic arts students have taken part in five feature-length film productions, landing releases from TV One national cable, SONY Home Video, and Universal Home Entertainment.

The experience that students gain has led to great opportunities, from summer jobs on feature film sets for current students to work on blockbuster films for alumni. Graduates have been hired to direct films and have landed jobs at television networks and at media departments of some of the country’s largest churches.