MUM filmmakers win awards
Staff members in the Media and Communications Department at Maharishi University of Management have produced a feature-length film which has won awards at film festivals in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
The film is “The Vindication of Ronald Clay and Other Fables for a Rainy Day.” The film’s Facebook page describes it as a “smart, stylistic adventure about the interwoven fables of five patrons to a coffee shop at the center of the universe. Set in an alternate timeline where Napoleon’s descendants rule Europe, The Vindication of Ronald Clay is equal parts Flash Gordon, Dick Tracey, and The Princess Bride, with lots of spies, lies, machinations and fun.”
The 90-minute movie won the top award, a Gold Eddy, for a feature film in the professional-amateur category at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival in April.
At the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival in Des Moines last fall, the locally produced motion picture won Best Iowa-Connected Feature Film, Best Lighting Design and Best Fight Choreography/Stunts.
The Vindication of Ronald Clay was produced by M.U.M. staffer Donald Revolinski and written and directed by faculty member Cullen M. Thomas. Revolinski and Thomas received help from more than a dozen of their students, who contributed to the set, lighting, props, wardrobe and other areas.
Thomas teaches in the media and communications program at M.U.M. He has worked on films since high school, and was a member of the first class to graduate from M.U.M. in the Media and Communications Department.
Thomas knew he was going to teach three courses on feature films last year, in which the class would create a film.
“I knew I had to produce a script,” he said. “The idea [for the film] came from watching the old black-and-white Flash Gordon series. It has papier mache spaceships and firework displays. It has terrible stunt coordination, and I just loved it. Behind the hokey sets and the cheesy special effects, you could see these actors and directors having so much fun. I wanted to do something that spoke to my love of that classic, without being too hokey.”
Thomas said he does not necessarily start writing a script with a plot in mind. Sometimes, that comes later in the writing process.
“Every idea comes from a faint notion that pops into your head in a dream or a song,” he said. “Then you have to start feeding that faint notion like you would water to a seed. My process is to start with a faint idea, and do some writing on a first draft. Once I start to feel the inspiration peter out, I’ll sit down and create a storyboard and a plot outline. Then I start layering everything together to ensure the characters have arcs and motivations that make sense, and that the story is coherent.”
Thomas said the secret to writing is taking a core set of ideas and structuring them in a logical way based on what people would actually do in a given situation.
“If you get stuck telling a story, it’s because you don’t know your people well enough,” he said.
The Vindication of Ronald Clay appears to be set a few decades in the past. The actual setting is in an alternate reality in which Napoleon was a successful emperor and in which his descendants still rule. Thomas said he loves the idea of alternate histories in movies.
“All fiction is based on the premise – what if this particular element were different?” he said.
Revolinski helped Thomas revise drafts of his scripts for the film. Revolinski said producers normally buy the rights to a script and hire someone besides the writer to direct the film. That was not the case in The Vindication of Ronald Clay, which Thomas wrote and directed.
“I was essentially there to make sure the script would manifest itself into a product,” Revolinski said. “Producing a feature film is easily the most time-consuming job I’ve ever done.”
Revolinski, as the producer, had to worry about the film’s budget and thus occasionally put constraints on Thomas’s creative vision.
“Cullen would say, ‘I want to have 26 cars all crash into each other and explode at the end of a chase scene,’” Revolinski said. “I would say, ‘We don’t have the budget for 26. We have the budget for 12.’”
Thomas and Revolinski were able to produce their motion picture without a massive budget because the university supplied much of their equipment and because their students worked on the film not for money but for credit. One key piece of equipment they employed was the RED One Camera, which is a state-of-the-art cinema camera that closely approximates the quality of cameras that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The film’s budget is officially $13,000, but Revolinski estimated the university saved him $40,000 worth of overhead costs.
The actors in the film are professionals, by and large. Revolinski said he was pleased at how many actors, including local ones, auditioned for the parts. He also was pleasantly surprised at how many actors from across the state tried out.
The Vindication of Ronald Clay is only the beginning of a career in television and film for Thomas and Revolinski. Revolinski is producing a television pilot which will be filmed partly in Fairfield and partly in Austin, Texas. He is still looking for extras for the pilot, which will film June 8-15.
Those interested in helping or acting as an extra may contact Revolinski at email@example.com.