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Film Students go back to school with “Pro” experience

Marvin Young (left) reviews a scene with actors, including local David Horn (second from right)
Marvin Young (left) reviews a scene with actors, including local David Horn (second from right)
photo courtesy of Christopher LaMont

This past summer, student interns in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at ASU had an opportunity like no other. Thanks to a one of a kind program among major universities, they are starting their fall semester with credit in all aspects of production and post-production for a professionally made feature film with Hollywood ties under their belt.

The suspense-thriller, “Justice Served” was brought to the University through Professor Chris LaMont’s connections in the local film community. As one of the founders of the Phoenix Film Festival, LaMont was approached by local Writer/Director Marvin Young, (aka “Young MC”) who was exploring options to make the film in Arizona. With outside financing in place, LaMont was able to gain support from School Director Jake Pinholster and the Film Production faculty, and then partnered with Professor Janaki Cedanna to facilitate the program.

More than 75 film majors applied for the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre Feature Film Internship Program, and over 50 were selected based on their focus areas and needs for development. Besides school credits, they also received a production credit on the film, which is a great resume builder, though the Internship Program alone was a tremendous learning experience. Students had to commit solely to this project for the summer and couldn’t be taking other classes. (Scheduling a film shoot is tough enough without having to manage school schedules for 50 people!) Students from all levels of the school’s program, including alumni, filled roles like casting, budgeting, camerawork, art, sound, makeup and hair, costuming, and all levels of post-production.

Student Brian Kiefling served as part of the sound crew for this project. He learned that the best time of the day to be on set was early – before the rest of the crew showed up. He was able to listen in on the planning conversations with Director Marvin Young. Early on in his career, he knew that networking on set is sometimes the most valuable way to get “paid,” and as part of his involvement in this project, two more projects were brought his way. Also valuable is the bonds created on set. Kiefling says that “when you work with other crew members and learn their habits, you want to keep working with them because it makes the next job easier when you know what to expect from your colleagues.”

“Justice Served” was filmed over the course of 17 days, and the ASU connection was key in attracting Hollywood star Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Terminator, Millenium, AVP) for one of the lead roles. Henriksen fell in love with the enthusiasm and passion that the interns had, and fellow stars Lochlyn Munro (White Chicks, Unforgiven, Scary Movie) and Gail O’Grady (NYPD Blue, Deuce Bigelow) round out the largely L.A.-based cast for the film were all excited with the prospect of working with the film students in the Internship Program. Local talent David Horn was also cast among the pros and caught the contagious energy from the student interns that was key to the success of filming.

When asked what advice he would give the graduating students from ASU’s Film Programs, Lamont says:

“The Internship Program prepares them for their careers by giving them practical experience and a major resume builder. They learn to Work hard, do their best, and find their passion. That’s how you become successful in this industry. The most important thing for a graduate to know is to who you are, and what you want to do – and then do it to the best of their abilities. That’s why the program works. Students graduate from ASU with advantages to put them on track for success.”

Thanks to LaMont’s and Cedanna’s efforts of producing “Justice Served,” more than 50 ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre student filmmakers are well on their way to doing just that. Plans are already underway to bring another feature film, and more opportunities for ASU students, in the Summer of 2015.

Professor Chris LaMont is a working filmmaker who has taught at ASU for over ten years. He is the founder of the Phoenix Film Festival, IFP-Phoenix, the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, and the Arizona Student Film Festival , and the current President of the Phoenix Film Foundation. Through his involvement with the PFF, LaMont also helped to write legislation that became the original Arizona Motion Picture Tax Incentive and is currently working with the Arizona Legislature to revive the program.