Filmmaking 101

Student-faculty produced film “Arlo & Julie” to premiere at SXSW 2014


Steve Mims, Arlo & Julie


After enrolling in the Department of Radio-Television-Film in pursuit of a career in entertainment, Corona knew he needed to add credits to his filmography.

“I just know that the experience makes me a more attractive asset to any production,” said Corona. “And the experience working hands-on for a feature length project is pretty big to me, knowing all it takes to do something of that magnitude.”

Now Corona has his stamp as first assistant camera operator on a feature ready to make its world premiere at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival on March 10, and he’s not alone.  Sixteen additional students from UT Austin have both academic and film credits for the making of “Arlo & Julie,” a feature-length comedy written and directed by Steve Mims, veteran lecturer in the RTF department. In 2013, eight world premieres were selected from more than 1,200 films submitted to SXSW Film.

“It’s a great way for them to get experience,” said Mims, who has taught in the department for more than 15 years. “The bigger part of it is students are able to get an idea of the commitment involved and live out what is learned from all their production classes.”

The comedy centers on the quirky relationship between Arlo and Julie, who are anonymously mailed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. As the meaning behind the puzzle grows more perplexing, the couple’s relationship is jeopardized as they become obsessed with the mystery.

With the exception of two other professionals, the film’s crew was comprised entirely of 15 undergraduates and two graduate students from Mims’ “feature film workshop” course in spring 2013. The only hired crew members include art director Kakii Keenan (B.A. Studio Art, ’83), and sound recordist and line producer Joe Bailey, Jr. (B.A. Plan II/History ’05, J.D. ’08). 

Mims finalized his script and cast prior to the start of the spring semester, completing a large chunk of pre-production. He also launched a Kickstarter campaign on Dec. 24, 2012, which raised $33,000 in nearly one month. The modest budget—by feature-length standards—allowed for the filmmakers to pay actors, reach an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, and cover the cost of the two professionals. A remaining $4,000 will help market the film and ensure music in the film chosen from the public domain is legally legitimate for fair use.

“We always knew with the budget we couldn’t support a full crew,” said Mims. “But the work ethic of the students I recruited to make this film is excellent—and if you enjoy working with them, it makes it easy to trust them and believe in their dedication.”

The course required students to invest a minimum of six hours one day a week to produce the film, which was shot on digital in locations around Austin including the sixth floor studios in the CMB on campus and in the border town of Terlingua, Texas. Mims added that some of the shoots would go upwards of 14 hours and that production wrapped just short of 18 days.

Students built sets, managed the production schedule, set lights and grip equipment, acted as camera and boom mic operators and often interchanged roles on set. After shooting wrapped in early March, students helped Mims critique raw footage, performances, and evaluate edits. By early May, a rough cut of the 76-minute film was in the can.

“It’s really quite remarkable that we were able to turn it around as quickly as we did,” said Mims. “I can’t say great enough things about our students.

Don Howard, production area head of the Radio-TV-Film department and director of UT3D, said a course in which students receive credit to help shoot a faculty member’s film is not typical, as the timing and fit of projects don’t often align with that of the course schedule.

“I wish we could to do this more—in a lot of ways, it’s better than an internship experience where students may be seen as a low-level employee,” said Howard. “We can’t necessarily plan on doing it every semester, but we’re open to it when the stars align.”

Howard said hands-on, feature filmmaking classes such as Mims’ are only successful if talented and experienced filmmakers lead them.

“I trusted Steve could shoot it in one semester and he knew the only way it would work is if it was a good experience for the students,” said Howard. “The most amazing thing to me is that we have filmmakers who are so successful—but choose to stay here because they love to teach.”

“Arlo & Julie” is scheduled to screen at SXSW 2014 four times and premiere at 2 p.m. on Monday, March 10 at the Topfer Theatre at Zach on 1510 Toomey Road.  

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer