January 16, 2020 : By Ryan Klinker - Liberty University News Service
With every new feature film project from Liberty University’s film school, students are presented with an additional element of industry realism. The school’s latest feature film, “Mulligan,” will take 60 students to an extended out-of-state shoot on location for the first time.
From March 21 through April 26, juniors in the Cinematic Arts, Zaki Gordon Center will be working as crew members in Toccoa, Ga., on the second film to be made through a partnership with ReelWorks Studios owner and producer Rick Eldridge. The first was 2018’s “The Trump Prophecy.”
Students will be working in a wide range of departments throughout the shoot, each led by an industry professional who will provide real-world advice and direction to students during production. Stephan Schultze, the department chair for Cinematic Arts, said this immersive experience teaches students in the atmosphere of a professional film set, provides IMDb credits for their career portfolios, and offers a glimpse at their futures in the industry.
“The goal is to make sure they have an employable skill when they get out, so this semester is all about the practical applications of gaining some skill sets,” Schultze said. “We want them to walk onto a film set or television series and know what kind of gear they’ll be working with. Having a real-life professional experience gives students an understanding of protocols, politics, workflow, and untold things that relate to the functionality of a film set.”
The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Ken Blanchard and Wally Armstrong. It tells the story of a father with a passion for golf who is offered the opportunity to have a “do-over” with his son.
“It’s a father-and-son relationship story, even though it’s also about the father’s career as a golfer,” Schultze said. “Ultimately, the real conflict is between the protagonist and his son and the idea that it is never too late to start over, find grace, and make the relationship work again.”
“Mulligan” marks the school’s third feature film to hit the big screen. “Extraordinary” in 2017 was the first student-driven film in the country to have a nationwide theatrical release, and “The Trump Prophecy” was shown in over 1,400 theaters in the United States.
Eldridge said working with Liberty’s film students has been a great experience.
“The mentoring and on-the-set working environment (are) a dynamic way to put skills into action and refine the learning process,” he said. “With my current film, ‘The Mulligan,’ we will again be utilizing the students and faculty of Liberty in a remote location, which should further enhance and authenticate the production process. I am looking forward to the experience together making this film.”
Prior to the shoot, students will be asked to list the departments that they are most interested in, and the crew heads will try to accommodate their requests. Halfway through the shoot, the students will switch to other departments so they can gain hands-on experience and a credit in multiple areas. Schultze noted that some of the department heads for these feature shoots are Liberty alumni who have made careers in the industry, forming a full-circle dynamic on set.
“The amazing thing now is that now we have students who have graduated and been out in the marketplace for a number of years, and these graduates are coming back as department heads,” he said. “They know the experiences and the issues related to the students’ mindsets because they were in those shoes, and they know our format of what we do. Now, they’re coming back to train the next generation of student filmmakers as professionals.”
Whereas many of the film school’s shoots have taken place in Central Virginia, Schultze said that being in Georgia will place students in an environment more typical of a professional set, with their daily routine consisting of added factors like living beyond their college housing and being more self-sufficient in their time off.
“It seems like every time we go out to do another feature we have a new wrinkle to our process,” Schultze said. “The budgets are getting larger, we’re finding more filmmakers who say they are willing to risk their money, and we’re getting larger distributions from studios like Sony or Universal.”
Liberty’s cinematic arts program is a two-year immersion cohort program where students concentrate solely on filmmaking. In addition to creating their own short film and business plan, students earn at least one IMDb credit on a professional film project.
In its nine years as a program, Cinematic Arts has developed seven features, one television pilot, and one short film. With “Mulligan,” Liberty is continuing to make history in the world of collegiate filmmaking.
“We have the only two films in cinema history to be made by a film school with students and get a theatrical release,” Schultze said. “No other film school has done what we’re doing with (“Mulligan”), which is taking about 60 students out on location in Georgia, which gives them an experience that reflects real life.”