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MU to launch production of fourth feature film

Students in a University of Missouri film preplanning and production class attended a campus-sponsored presentation by Judy Irola, an ward-winning director and cinematographer, in advance of beginning work on a feature-length film being shot at MU and in Columbia this semester.

Midwest students dreaming of futures in the film industry don’t need to set their sites on Los Angeles. The opportunity to take part in the production of a feature length film exists at the University of Missouri, where this semester the fourth film since 2005 is in the works. The upcoming movie’s cast and crew are people drawn from a variety of MU disciplines, Columbia residents, and local film professionals who all will work side-by-side with MU students to give them an up close and personal experience in every aspect of filmmaking.

Jeff Uhlmann, associate professor of computer science, and Roger Cook, director of film studies, are the driving force behind the project. Funding for the venture comes from a variety of sources including MU’s Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund, Lex Akers, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Engineering, and computer science department chair, Professor Dong Xu.

“We’ve proposed a project that provides unique opportunity to MU students that will be valuable to the them for the rest of their lives,” said Uhlmann of the projects’ continued successes.

MU’s Film Studies Program, under the direction of Cook, has partnered with Mizzou engineers on the past three films. Like those films, the project this semester is offering a class in preplanning and production, this time taught by Andy Neitzert, a professional director who also will lend his directing talents to the project.

“I treat the classes like production meetings,” said Neitzert, adding that the film’s producer, Joel Shettlesworth, sits in on the class, which includes a mix of students from various disciplines. The pair has worked professionally on several projects, and currently is collaborating on a narrative short film being shot in Columbia.

Story boarding, shot testing, script breakdown and shot sequence are all covered in the class. Some of the film, which Neitzert describes as having a “roller derby/vampire” theme will be filmed on campus, but various other locations around Columbia will be utilized, including a facility at the Boone County Fairgrounds where the local roller derby league, the CoMo Derby Dames, compete. The film’s star is Derby Dame Devoney Looser, who also is an MU English professor.

“Joel handles logistics — when and where everything happens,” said Neitzert, adding that some of the crewmembers are people who have worked with them on past productions. “It takes serious drive, motivation and dedication to make a film like this, but the local filmmaking community is tight-knit.”

Dale Musser, head of computer science’s IT Program, has advised the group on technology-related topics, and equipment purchased for past productions — now broadly available for use to IT students — will once again be utilized. Musser has offered to again address technology-related challenges with the new project.

Much of the post-production for the film will be done by IT and Film Studies students in a class team hopes to offer in the fall 2011 semester.

Two of the previous films made at MU have appeared in festivals all over the world and will soon be out on DVD. The third film is in post-production. “Everything has been completed except the sound, which is being done at Webster University in St. Louis, in an audio production class,” Uhlmann said. He noted the faculty member teaching the class has a doctorate in sound design and extensive industry experience.

“Students who have worked on previous films have gone on to work all over the country,” Uhlmann said. Two students who worked on previous films and who now work in the film industry, Dan Wyssman and Robb McCleary, will serve as director of photography and key grip, not to mention the inspirational role they will play for this project’s student crew.

“Most of the responsibility will go to students in the class, but the project has opportunities for participation for all students on campus regardless of prior experience,” said Uhlmann, adding that there will be a need for extras and production assistants.

“We’d like to have as much community involved as possible,” said Shettlesworth. “Anyone who would like to be involved may contact me by email [shettlesworthja@missouri.edu] for opportunities.”

“Media has become such a pervasive thing in industry with such things as commercials and videos for web pages. That’s why we want to be able to offer this experience to our students,” said Uhlmann.