March 12, 2010

Multimedia: Communication professor’s film premieres at SXSW

A film produced by Assistant Professor of Communication Bryan Sebok will be screened during the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
  • Assistant Professor of Communication Bryan Sebok
  • A poster of the film produced by Assistant Professor of Communication Bryan Sebok

A film produced by Assistant Professor of Communication Bryan Sebok will be screened during the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Sebok, who completed the film at the University of Texas Film Institute before joining the Lewis & Clark faculty in the fall of 2009, supervised the work of more than 60 students involved in the project. Here, he discusses the film, Dance with the One, and how he balances his work as an educator and a filmmaker.  

When did you become interested in filmmaking, and what motivated you to cross the line from being a movie buff to a filmmaker and scholar?

Well, my parents claim that my childhood nursery overlooked a drive-in movie theater. They used to rock me to sleep while watching the movie from the window and tuning in on their radio. Also, my mom used to take my brothers and me to the dollar theater every Wednesday; I would offer critiques of the film on the way home. My first job was at a movie theater, and my major was film in college. So, I guess I’ve always loved film. It was in college that, through the guidance of a film scholar named James Morrison, I discovered how to take my passion and translate it into scholastic work. It was there too, at North Carolina State University, that I made my first advanced “student film,” about love lost (like many a clichéd student film). I then figured I needed to know as much as I could know about filmmaking and film history, so I applied to grad schools and ended up at Emory University in Atlanta. Two years later, I found myself in a doctoral program at the University of Texas, where I was thrust into making DVD content for feature films.

Can you offer a brief description of Dance with the One, and share a bit about the background of the project and your role in it?

Dance With the One is a crime drama set in Austin, Texas. Here is the “official” synopsis:

Nate, a skateboard-riding, small-time pot dealer, wants out of Texas. Out of his family home—broken and haunted by the tragic death of his mother. Out from sharing a roof with his father—a legendary drug dealer, who is stewed in whiskey and grief. Out from the demands of constantly looking out for his lost little brother, Sitter. Out of sight—and heading west—with Nikki, the girl he has loved since they were children. In a misguided attempt to secure Sitter’s future and escape, Nate takes on one last big score—one that will shatter his world forever.

The script was developed through a five-semester program at the University of Texas Film Institute. The idea behind the Institute is to develop feature projects from student filmmakers and to give students the opportunity to work on feature films. Several scripts go through a series of developmental stages, from revising the script to pre-production workshops to shooting spec scenes. Once the projects have been developed, one is chosen for production during a summer session. The film is then part of a post-production class, which I taught, wherein the film is edited and sound work begins. I served first as Academic Coordinator for the Institute and then producer of the film. I was responsible on-set for the experience of more than 60 students, as well as the logistics of the production in terms of resources and serving the creative vision of our director, Mike Dolan.

Watch the trailer for Dance with the One.

What is the significance of your movie being screened at South by Southwest? Are there plans to have it screened at any other festivals or to show it here in Portland?

Well, SXSW is a prestigious film festival. It is now rivaling Sundance for importance in the industry and continues to grow in terms of popularity for audiences and filmmakers. Several hundred people will see the film in Austin, including potential distributors. Hopefully, we’ll sell the film to a distributor and millions more will see the film in theaters and on DVD and Blu-ray in coming months. 

We have also been accepted to the Dallas International Film Festival and the Vail Film Festival.  We’re awaiting word from San Francisco, Seattle, and Cannes. I’m planning a screening for the Lewis & Clark community sometime after spring break. I’m anxious to share my work with my peers and with interested students. I’m hoping to screen the film, too, for the Portland community and will likely seek an opportunity to bring in my director for an event at a local theater like the Hollywood or Living Room Theaters.

What do you enjoy about the process of making movies, and how do you balance that passion with your work in the classroom? Does your work as an educator inform or influence your own craft, and vice versa?

Martin Scorsese recently equated filmmaking to going to war; you pretty much try to survive the process once it begins. For me, filmmaking is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences life has to offer. Just getting a film to the production stage is impossibly hard; once it begins, it really is all about focus and execution. I try to be as prepared as I can so when things go wrong, and they do, I can be ready to problem solve. On this film, my role as producer allowed me to focus on making our director’s vision come to life, from casting to editing the film.

My work on-set and in post-production directly influences my teaching and research.  My research interests focus on cinematic digital technologies, so it has been invaluable to work with these technologies first-hand. I also teach film production to my students, so having experience is key to giving them a sense of how the culture industries work.

In your first year here, have you gotten involved in the Portland community? Do you see opportunities to pursue future projects or collaborations with other local filmmakers?

Well, it’s been an exciting first year. I’ve been working on getting a feature documentary up and going. I’ve applied for some grants and am exploring local production resources. I had the opportunity to connect with the Portland and broader Oregon filmmaking and film-historian community in October at a film conference sponsored by the University of Oregon’s cinema studies program. I’ve made some great contacts. However, things got complicated in December when our house caught fire. We’re displaced for 6 months or so while the house is fixed, so we’re taking things one day at a time.

What kinds of courses are you currently teaching, and what kind of projects have your students been creating?

I’m currently teaching Mass Media Messages: Design and Analysis and Documentary Form. Both focus on learning the basics of media aesthetics, form, history, and theory prior to a production component.  Students in my Mass Media class produce short narrative films, while my Documentary students collaborate to produce short documentaries. Student projects from last semester are currently being screened on the HD monitor on the third floor of JR Howard Hall.