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UNCP grads win national film competition


Charlotte filmmakers Trey McPhaul and Taylor Jones recently won an “Eisenberg Award” from the first annual No Film Film Festival in Bellows Falls, Vt.  Both studied broadcasting at UNC Pembroke.

The contest, which required contestants to make a movie in one week, pushed McPhaul and Jones’ skills and resourcefulness to the limit. They made the film with volunteer actors who were never able to be together on the set at the same time.

The resulting short movie, “Have a Wonderful Life,” won for Best Genre turned Frank Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” into a 12-minute film noir.

The No Film Film Festival gave contestants eight movie synopses on April 6 via webcast from the Bellows Falls Opera House. They had approximately five minutes to choose their classic, and then they were randomly assigned a genre. Other movies selections included “Citizen Kane,”“The Wizard of Oz” and “The Truman Show.”

McPhaul and Jones were most familiar with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Truman Show, but the latter seemed too difficult to adapt in a short time frame. They said they watched their selection over again on the first night with a friend, John Divine, and took notes on all the characters, their relationships and other details. The trio wrote the script and bought costumes the next day.

“Aside from ourselves, we had four actors (all friends), none of whom were available to film at the same time on the same day,” said McPhaul, a graduate of UNCP’s broadcasting program.

“We filmed all Mary’s scenes on Saturday because Kim (McAllister) had to go back to college the next day,” he explained. “Sunday was Easter, so we didn’t get to film until that night, when we shot all of Officer Sam’s scenes before Stefan (Flores) also had to leave. All of his scenes were shot in front of a green screen to place him into scenes with the others later.”

They worked around their work schedules for the rest of the week and edited all night Thursday and into Friday morning, when they uploaded their submission, minutes before the contest deadline.

“We had a blast,” said Jones. “I’d love to enter another one next year. It was really great seeing our project win an award and get nominated in almost every other area.”

“‘Have a Wonderful Life,’ which follows ‘Detective’ George Bailey during his investigation of local crime boss Mr. Potter and includes a visit from an angel named Clarence, won for best reproduction of its assigned genre. It was also nominated in categories, including Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Camerawork and Best Visual Effects/Style. Awards were announced in a ceremony at the close of the festival on April 28.

The movie’s exteriors were shot around Charlotte, and the interiors were shot in McPhaul’s parents’ house and his father’s cabinetry shop. The group couldn’t afford the trip to Vermont for the screening or awards ceremony, but they were excited that their short movie played on the state’s largest movie screen in the restored Bellows Falls Opera House on the first floor of Rockingham Town Hall, a Vermont landmark.

McPhaul gives credit to some of the experiences they had with making movies in their broadcasting curriculum at UNCP. 

“I think our capstone course in particular really prepared us, mostly for the preparation and scheduling part,” McPhaul said. “If we hadn’t been able to properly plan for this movie, there would have been no way we would have finished filming or completed the shots that required multiple actors on separate shooting days.”

The group expressed interest in taking on a 48-hour video contest as their next challenge. Earlier this year, McPhaul helped some friends enter Intel’s Innovators” contest. They won $50,000 in start-up funds for a business idea called “Cosmic Cart.”