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Keeping it Reel: SAU's Movie Makers

Keeping it Reel design featured photo

You’ll find over a dozen movie posters lining the hall occupied by Spring Arbor University’s communication and media department, though they depict films you likely haven’t seen: “His and Hers,” “Planet Campus,” “Love is Blind,” “Death at the Opera.” Their designs range from silly to professional, and the films they advertise — some award-winning festival circuit favorites, others available for digital purchase on Amazon — were all produced by SAU students and alumni from an array of disciplines and majors.

“I am a big proponent of interdisciplinary learning,” says associate professor of communication Dorie Shelby ‘92. “We attract students from many other majors — I’ve had biology and chemistry majors, computer science. Students are interested in writing, directing, the whole production aspect.” In addition to the video and film production majors, all of these students converge in the short film class. It’s in that class, in the mix of different experiences and study, that the ideas for 10-minute documentaries, short musicals, romantic comedies and brief sci-fi epics are birthed.

It was in this class that senior communication (media studies) major Trevor Tarantowski found the idea for “Planet Campus,” a mockumentary done in the style of the BBC’s “Planet Earth,” mashing together the mundanity of ordinary college life with a “study of the species” concept. Through the short films class, Shelby enlisted Logan Hurtado ’15, an alumnus of the department, to write the screenplay for “Planet Campus.” Given Hurtado’s pedigree as an award-winning filmmaker — he received a statewide Student Production Award of Excellence in 2016 — the choice was obvious. Between the strength of Tarantowski’s idea and his skillful direction, and the incisive script produced by Hurtado, “Planet Campus” was a shoo-in for the festival circuit.

When “Planet Campus” was screened at the Soo Film Festival in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Tarantowski felt validated in his efforts, and grateful for what he’s gained at SAU. “It’s a place that cultivates the creativity and skill inside of you, and really brings it out. Anything is possible if you decide to do it, because so many people will help you achieve your goal.” Tarantowski hopes to spin the skills he’s received and the experiences he’s had into a variety of professional opportunities, post-graduation.

The creativity and encouragement that SAU afforded within the Christian liberal arts is what drew Joseph Faultersack ‘14 to the communication and media department. “The department really stressed the importance of doing your own projects, of doing extracurricular work outside of class,” says Faultersack. Out of his extracurricular studies on screen writing grew the idea for Faultersack’s first feature film: the romantic comedy “Love is Blind.” Faultersack enrolled in SAU’s Los Angeles semester, and attended class at the L.A. Film Studies Center for three months. There, he gained experiences that proved invaluable when he filmed his script for “Love is Blind.”

In the months after the film was screened at the Michigan Theatre in downtown Jackson, Michigan, “Love is Blind” found distribution through Adler and Associates Entertainment, and is now available for purchase through Amazon. Faultersack hopes to have the film available to stream on Amazon Prime. In the meantime, he’s in L.A., pursuing his dream of making movies. “I want to make films within the mainstream of Hollywood, rather than something marketed to an exclusively Christian audience. But I want to weave in nuggets of faith, themes of righteousness and subtle pleas to change. I want a wider audience to be impacted by something bigger, and I want to use the platform of film to positively affect many in whatever ways I can: socially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.”

For alumnus, Academy Award nominee and BAFTA winner Hans Charles ’02, SAU provided the space necessary for that mental and spiritual exploration and growth. Charles transferred to SAU in 1999 and found a ready mentor and collaborator in Dorie Shelby. “The communication department had a vibrant program,” says Charles. Charles became a writer and producer on the SAU variety show, EPIC, and later studied for a semester at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, similar to Faultersack.
That path led Charles to serve as the director of cinematography on the documentary “13th,” which triangulates the relationship between the 13th Amendment, the justice and prison systems and the need for reform. “It’s a hard pill to swallow as a person of faith,” he says of the film. The film also earned an Oscar nod for Best Documentary Feature in 2016, and received a BAFTA — the British equivalent — for Best Documentary, as well as a handful of Prime Time Emmys and other accolades and awards.

Charles also serves as a professor of film and video studies at George Mason University and to date, he’s been credited as first or second assistant camera on 21 films and as cinematographer on 11 films. And even though he feels that his L.A. semester led him directly where he now finds himself, he emphasizes the importance of his experience at SAU. “I learned so much. It started in those classes with Wally Metts, Dorie Shelby, Paul Nemecek ‘81 and so many other amazing professors at SAU. I will never forget that.”

After having made the difference in the lives and career paths of so many students over the years, Shelby’s commitment to her department, her students and SAU has strengthened immeasurably. “We have made incredible memories here,” she says. “No matter what you study, no matter what you do, no matter what your goal, it involves a story, and stories have to be told.” With the skills they learn through the video and film program, SAU’s communications majors are, and will be, equipped to tell those stories in engaging, insightful and caring ways.