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BYU Media Arts Capstone Films Premiere at Megaplex Screening

BYU media arts capstone directors and faculty mentors reflect on the process of making and sharing student films


Four BYU capstone films onscreen at the Vineyard Megaplex

It takes a village to make a film, but the collaborative and communal element of the process does not end with the final edit. Four BYU student directors learned the value of a shared viewing experience when their capstone films premiered to a packed house at the Vineyard Megaplex on Sept. 20.

The films—"To Have and to Hold," written by Ian Hawkes, directed by Colton Elzey and produced by Barrett Burgin; "Anna," written and directed by Billy Knowles and produced by Cody Mondale; "Passenger Seat," written and directed by Jeffrey Hein and produced by Kyler Sommer; and "Gather," written and directed by Howie Burbidge and produced by Emma Lynn—were developed by student crews during the 2017-2018 school year.

The capstone filmmaking process begins when student producers pitch scripts to the media arts faculty. Each semester, two films are selected and crewed up, kicking off an intensive planning and script revision process before the film can be produced and edited. The resulting films are typically 15-20 minutes long and are often entered into festivals and competitions around the country.

"From an educational standpoint, the capstones give students an opportunity to work on a film that's bigger than anything they've done in any of their classes," said Jeff Parkin, who, along with fellow media arts professor Tom Russell, mentors and assists the directors throughout the experience. "Students get a chance to mentor each other in the process. When you're teaching someone else, you learn as well."


Director Jeffrey Hein on the set of "Passenger Seat" (Photo by Braden Wake)

Director Jeffrey Hein felt the strength of his fellow students in bringing his vision to life. "I love the fact that film is so collaborative," he said. "By the time a project is finished, so many voices have been lent to it that I believe it has the potential to become something much greater than any one person could ever have created alone. I loved receiving others'input every step of the way and having other people help solve problems I may not have been able to solve myself. It was especially amazing working with Kyler as my producer. He has a natural talent for that position."

When a student agrees to work on a capstone film, they dedicate a large portion of their talents and energy to the process. Finding time in addition to their classes and other commitments is just one of many challenges they will face.

"Making a movie is hard, and it's hard in lots of ways," Parkin said. "There's the physical side of it—mobilizing all these people, getting funding, getting the equipment and resources, getting actors, finding places to shoot. There are technical challenges all through the process, but there is also the challenge of telling a story. We want to encourage the students to say what's in their heart and in their soul."

Many of these challenges were brought back to the surface as the directors prepared to watch their films with hundreds of audience members. "I was nervous and overwhelmed," said director Colton Elzey. "A small mistake shows up very large on such a big screen, so you recognize flaws you had never seen before."

Still, the screening experience was ultimately worth it for Elzey. "It was such an incredible experience to walk through the story with a crowd of new people who hadn't yet experienced it. Similarly, the large screen and speakers propel the story in ways we had never seen. There is a powerful sensation of catharsis and learning when a group of people at the cinema watch a new film together—this is rarely achieved anywhere else."


Jeff Parkin and Colton Elzey talk on the set of "To Have and to Hold" (Photo by Zach Connell)

"Going into the premiere, I honestly wasn't feeling great," added Hein. "The weeks leading up to it had been a rush to finish everything up on time, and so I wasn't really able to experience any emotion toward the film other than stress. However, at the premiere, I heard and felt people around me reacting to it just the way that I did when I was coming up with the idea and writing it. I was able to enjoy it again. It made me feel immensely grateful to everyone who made it with me, and everyone who was so willing to support it."

Though a premiere screening can be an intimidating experience for new filmmakers, it is a vital step in their development. The BYU media arts faculty strongly believes this, prompting Parkin to secure an agreement with the Megaplex to allow students to see their work in a format and scale that is not possible on campus.

"It's a profound thing, when art communicates to an audience and everybody feels something. It's a collective experience," said Parkin. "Film really is designed to be experienced communally. As a director, you learn things about yourself, but you also have that viewing experience that I think is unifying in a powerful, beautiful way. I think it's that notion of Zion, that we're all trying to be of one heart and one mind as we're pulling for someone together."

Tom Russell noted that the film community at BYU allows students to experience their first screening in a more forgiving environment than they may find after graduating.

"We're in a culture right now that loves to say ‘that was stupid, that was dumb, you're wrong,'" Russell said. "We make people offenders for words all the time and increasingly so, in a really disturbing way. And here are these young folks saying, ‘I'm going to make a thing,'knowing that there are a hundred people out there and one might take great offense to it, or find it unclear or unbelievable. But these students are ultimately the ones who are going out and taking the risk."

"They say there's little satisfaction in directing," Russell continued. "I promise that the director sits there feeling more uncomfortable about parts of the film than anybody in the audience. But it's important to get people in the seats, to let the director feel how that feels and give the crew the chance and the excitement and the pride to see something they've worked so hard creating up there on the screen."


The "Passenger Seat" crew at work on set (Photo by Braden Wake)

Hein and Elzey both expressed gratitude for the experience of making and screening their capstone films, despite the many challenges and difficult emotions that were stirred up by the process. They offered advice to future media arts students hoping to step into the daunting position of director.

"Don't be satisfied until you get what you know you want," said Hein. "Keep rewriting until the script is working. Keep editing until your cut is exactly what it needs to be. If a take isn't working, do another. Don't be lazy, and don't give up on yourself. You can make your vision happen, but only if you're willing to work for it."

"Make sure you learn to love each department," added Elzey. "Be kind, and grateful for the hours upon hours of free work that students are doing for your project. They agreed, yes, but you asked them to. Have the best attitude you can. Set a reminder on your phone every day to ‘be happy, be pleasant and be nice.'Make sure you understand what your story is, inside and out. Plan well, or at least the best you can. Forgive others when they fail."

"Filmmaking is just a crazy metaphor for life, it turns out," Elzey continued. "Maybe there is a reason the Master taught using stories. They have the power to teach and change the hearts of God's children in ways no other method can."

All four of the capstone films will be screened for BYU audiences at the 2018 Final Cut Film Festival, which will be held Nov. 15-17 in the Pardoe Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center. Tickets are available in person at the BYU Ticket Office in the HFAC or Marriott Center, by phone at 801.422.2981 or online at