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Rediscovering Happy Valley: College Town Film Festival

by and on May 06, 2014 3:45 PM

I’ve always felt a filmmaker is the most powerful profession in the world.

President of the United States? CEO of a Fortune 500 company? A scientist making groundbreaking discoveries?

For me, none of those jobs comes close to the awesome potential a filmmaker has while on set. Think about it, a filmmaker can create an entirely new world, full of characters and plot lines conceived only in his or her mind.

Making films and writing screenplays is all I’ve ever really wanted to do with my life, which is why I immensely enjoy events such as the College Town Film Festival, held last month in downtown State College at The State Theatre.

The husband-wife filmmaking team of Rod Bingaman and Maura Shea premiered their latest film, “Ripped!” on the first night of the four-day festival.

Bingaman was my first film teacher at Penn State, and is easily one of the best and one of my favorite professors I’ve had at either Penn State or Indiana. I still remember using a light meter in the first week of class and making my first feature, a short film I shot on campus. It was an experience I’ve always treasured, especially since it’s the only non-documentary film I’ve ever directed.

He was also gracious enough to make some time for me a few weeks ago when I was looking for some advice, and so I made it a point to attend the premiere.

“Ripped!” was partly inspired by The Beatles film, “Help!” and is everything a movie can and should be: funny, thoughtful, and above all else, entertaining.

The movie follows a 1960s male pop band that accidentally lands on a foreign planet and causes mayhem with the opposite sex. The audience stayed engaged the entire time, and it was nice to see so many influential members of the local film community attend the screening and show their support.

Afterward, during a short Q&A session, Bingaman said they’re looking to submit the film to various festivals, and I suspect it’ll do quite well. In an age when so many filmmakers and screenwriters don’t give the audience enough credit, “Ripped!” offered so many reasons to keep watching.

I’ve followed his career from afar, admiring him and the films he makes with Shea. Bingaman is one of the most talented people working at Penn State, though I’ve always felt he and Shea have always flown under the radar.

Maybe I’m wrong, but he gives the impression he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s passionate about making films, and many of the filmmakers I know and am friends with are much more interested in producing quality work than receiving attention. I’m much the same way.

The day after “Ripped!” premiered, I spent an afternoon attending a script reading of a TV pilot that was originally pitched to Showtime. That deal dissolved, though it wasn’t for lack of a quality script. The show centers around two guys in their late 20s who continue to live in the town in which they attended college, and examines how they’re able to adapt to a college lifestyle while no longer students.

A handful of actors, including James Denton, best known for his role as Mike Delfino on “Desperate Housewives,” read from a 42-page pilot that was compelling, interesting and funny. Afterward, I spoke with both writers and a number of the actors, including Denton. The conversation was really insightful -- hearing from people who do this for a living, which has always been my dream.

The script was also personal for me, since I find myself in the current situation as the two main characters in the pilot. In essence, I’m trying to be cool in a place where it’s not always easy when you’re not a student.

Whether or not I’ll figure things out for myself while I’m back home, I don’t know yet.

I just submitted my latest feature-length screenplay to a number of national contests and the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, and if it does well, perhaps I can turn that into a presentation next year. I’m also working on a few other projects that I’m hopeful will get off the ground and could possibly be showcased. Something that has me very excited is a short (35-40 page) screenplay I’m writing that I feel could be produced locally at a relatively cheap cost.

Either way, I’ll be at the College Town Film Festival again next year, maybe this time on stage instead of in the audience.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

John covers sports for the Gazette.
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