Like Dorothy Gale traveling in the dream-world of Oz, creative storytellers at Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts (SCA) need to look no further than their own backyards to find their first big break into the Hollywood filmmaking market.
In January and February 2015, Regent partnered with Home Theater Films, under the leadership of veteran Hollywood actor Corbin Bernsen to begin filming Jesse & Naomi [Project Regent] the working title for Regent’s first-ever feature film written by SCA assistant professor, Sean Gaffney.
And while the production called for actors and set-workers from Los Angeles, several Regent students played integral parts during filming.
As a notoriously difficult industry to break into, many of those young cinema and television talents give up on their dreams before they even start. Regent students, however, were able to add work on a feature film in a Hollywood market before they ever crossed the graduation platform.
“The most encouraging thing throughout the process was that it felt a lot more doable,” said David Cunningham ’16, who served as the assistant producer for the film. “You don’t ever know what to expect when you come on to set every day; it was difficult, it was challenging, but it’s not impossible to get work in film.”
Cunningham came to film school at Regent after an eight-year long stint working as a manager for a cell phone company. He was already successful, making a good, comfortable living for himself and his wife.
“Just about everyone I knew from back home thought I was crazy for quitting my job and going back to school,” said Cunningham. “Who does that? Nobody does that.”
But Cunningham did it, despite protests from his boss and friends who would return the expression of his dreams with only a nod and blank stare.
“It’s not worth it to stay where you are if you’re living an unfulfilled life,” said Cunningham on encouraging other students to “go rogue” and pursue their callings, even when it’s scary. “I have a lot of confidence that God is going to work things out; I made really good connections on set, and it’s been great.”
Like Cunningham, Kim Kopeski ’15, who served as the assistant to the director on the set of “Project Regent,” was also relieved to find that all of her expectations of working on her first Hollywood feature were fulfilled.
“It’s something that doesn’t come easily to a lot of people, so to be able to have this experience as a student was beyond amazing,” said Kopeski. “I don’t think it’s anything any of us thought would happen.”
And while Kopeski understands the value of listening to her professors talk about the film industry and tasks on set in a classroom, her time on a real feature set helped her get the practical hands-on experience she needed to bolster her directing talents; but also to witness the camaraderie among crew-members during those long, sometimes more than 16-hour workdays.
“That’s why we all do this: one, because we love it, but two because it’s a lot of fun,” said Kopeski. “There aren’t many professions out there that you can have fun with, and it was reassuring to see that take place on set.”
Morgan Burke ’15 (College of Arts & Sciences) had the unique opportunity to work as “set dresser” during the film. She said her opportunity to be involved on set was a “change-her-life-forever” decision, and one that she couldn’t begin to pass up.
“I wanted to sleep for a week when we wrapped, but because of all that hard work, so many doors have opened for me and I’ve gained so many new friends and connections that will always be a part of my life,” said Burke. “I can’t wait to see the imprint this film has made on my fellow students and how it will affect our own student-made films in the future.”
Learn more about Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts.