Thirteen students worked together this month to win Best Picture at the first annual Muse Film Festival at The Master’s University.
TMU senior Adam Whitney says several members of the group considered producing their own short films for the competition, which was part of TMU’s Muse Conference exploring media through the lens of Scripture. But in the end, the 13 TMU students decided that they were stronger together than apart.
A factor in that decision was timing. After receiving the theme for their project, contestants had less than a week to complete preproduction, filming, and editing. Whitney’s team filmed their entire six-minute project in one evening — starting around 6 p.m. and finishing after midnight.
The final product was “Bring Me Back,” a film centered on a young man (played by junior Matthew Brecheen ) whose life is seemingly falling apart after a car accident. The story tracks the man as he moves from despair to hoping in the Lord.
The prize for Best Picture was a $5,000 scholarship that could only go to one of the filmmakers. The students collectively decided early on that it would go to CJ Beck, who acted in the film and served as a second assistant camera operator.
“Winning the scholarship was nothing less than God’s provision,” Beck said. “The money is going to help me stay in college and keep pursuing cinema. God provided a team of people that chose me to get the scholarship if we won, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”
In addition to Beck, Brecheen, and Whitney (director, co-writer, co-producer, editor), the winning team included Isaiah Torres (co-writer, co-producer); Naomi Portillo (director of photography); Maddie Bowler (production design/hair and makeup); Mark Hoffman (editor, VFX Artist); Isaac Busenitz (editor, VFX Artist); Gavin McNamee (composer, sound design); Ariana Campos (first assistant camera); JP Peluffo (second assistant camera); Josiah Patton (gaffer/G&E/colorist); and Emery King (sound design).
The project highlighted something that Whitney has loved about his time in TMU’s Cinema & Digital Arts (CDA) program: teamwork.
“The CDA program really opens your eyes to what production looks like and the level of expectations that you have to meet,” he said. “A lot of times, you have to realize that it’s not my own skillset that’s going to get me there. It’s reliance on the Lord, and He gives you different ways to accomplish these goals. Sometimes it’s through friends who are willing to help you, and you can rely on others for skills that you might not have yet.
“… You build a team and you have to learn how to collaborate with others and get out of your comfort zone. It’s not a one-man band.”
Whitney also said he appreciates the mentorship he’s received from professors with industry experience and the number of hands-on projects he’s been able to participate in, including a superhero TV show produced by TMU during Winterim last year. In 2021, TMU produced the first full-length feature film in school history: “The Man from Nowhere.”
Said Whitney, “Professors are willing to look at the projects not only that you have to do for school, but personal projects that you want to do after you’re done at TMU, looking them over and giving you advice and building connections for you. I couldn’t have gotten that if I didn’t go to Master’s.”
TMU’s Muse Film Festival was designed to encourage young filmmakers to create uplifting content that informs the human condition. Finalists’ films were judged by working film professionals.
The event was part of TMU’s Muse Conference on Nov. 12. Speakers and panelists included podcaster Darrell Harrison, producer/director John Sullivan, Grammy-nominated singer Jubilant Sykes, and award-winning composer Grant Fonda. TMU’s Dr. Abner Chou, Dr. Grant Horner, Dr. Bob Dickson, and Prof. Matt Green also brought God’s Word to bear on pressing issues in the realm of media.
To learn more about the Cinema & Digital Arts program at TMU, visit CDA’s homepage.
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