Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s Digital Cinema Class was honored on October 7th for its excellence in filmmaking, bringing home the award for Best Inspirational/Christian Film at the CV Indie Film Awards in Los Angeles, California.
The film is called Desolate, and is, according to Evan Hewitt, Assistant Professor of Communications, a modern retelling of the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan. “In the spirit of it, it’s to try to tell that story in a modern context,” he said.
In the film, a father and son are left injured and stranded on the side of the road. Just like the Biblical parable, a number of people pass them by—including the stereotypical portrayal of a good Christian woman. Staying true to the Biblical original, unforeseen help finally does arrive.“A strange kind of person you wouldn’t expect to help them does come along,” Hewitt says.
Hewitt authored the short story that Desolate is based on, and as the professor behind OKWU’s Digital Cinema class, he undertook the task of guiding his students as they crafted the film. He’s quick to point out, though, that the students did the lion’s share of the work, acting as the crew, working in post-production, and even composing the original film score. Other than acting—the film team put out a casting call to fill the main roles—students “did everything else in terms of production,” Hewitt said.
“Our program has really grown. This is kind of a statement about what we’ve been able to do here for a small school.”
The film was shot over eight full days, in 22 different locations and by a crew of 30-40 people. The entire movie process—which includes production, shooting, and editing—was completed within one semester by Hewitt’s Digital Film Production class, a fairly astonishing feat considering the quality of the work being done.
And it wasn’t accomplished without intense effort. “You need to go all in if you want the end result that you dream of,” said Andrea Drake, an OKWU Digital Cinema graduate who worked on the film as student director. “You have to stay up late writing the shots and making script notes. You have to wake up early to find your locations and plan your blocking. It takes a lot of time, and most people don’t understand just how much effort is put into everything. We spent hours upon hours in pre-production and production.”
Savannah Griffin is another OKWU film graduate, and she worked as producer on Desolate. She stresses this theme of hard work, especially on the production side of things. “That meant a lot of phone calls, lots of printing… and keeping everyone organized,” she said.
And after the film was done, the work was only beginning, as Hewitt says he emphasizes the marketing aspect of filmmaking, as well. Press kits were put together and sent out to seven festivals, five of which made Desolate an official selection.
Despite the encouraging reception, Hewitt is clear that the class didn’t send out the film in an effort to garner acclaim. “To me, that’s just part of the process,” he said. “It’s part of the students learning how to market the film, as well.”
And the results were unlooked for. “I really didn’t have a lot of expectations,” Hewitt said. “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to see the kind of results we have.”
The film was nominated three times at the CV Indie Film Awards, for Best Lead Actress, Best Original Score, and Best Christian/Inspirational Film, which it won. In addition, the film is awaiting more awards results as the festival cycle continues into the next year.
“The Result You Dream Of”
For Hewitt, this award represents some well-deserved recognition for a program that, while young, has already earned a reputation for putting out solid work. “Our program has really grown,” he said. “This is kind of a statement about what we’ve been able to do here for a small school.”
And already, graduates of the program are making a difference, with some working on feature films and others working with prestigious media companies. “For a small program, we’ve really just done gangbusters in the kind of work we’ve put out and where we’ve been able to place people,” Hewitt said.
Drake confirms this unique aspect of the OKWU program, having worked on a number of high-level productions since graduating. “I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for my experience at OKWU,” she said. “Being part of a program that equips me with the knowledge and skills to pursue [my] dream is invaluable.”
It is this aspect of equipping young creators that makes Hewitt most passionate about his work at OKWU. “That’s the thing I’m excited about. Training students who are going to be the next generation of storytellers is always exciting,” he said.
And the hands-on training that Desolate afforded students is already paying off, at least according to Griffin. “I think the entire crew can agree that we would have been happy no matter how it did, because it gave so many of us experience that we just hadn’t had yet,” she said. “In the end, we all came out better creators.”
“In the end, we all came out better creators.”