In 2010, three Emory students collaborated on a short film titled “The Gerstein Report” for Campus MovieFest. The piece won Best Drama at the international Campus MovieFest Grand Finale in Los Vegas and was the only film from Atlanta accepted to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Many students would be satisfied with this impressive accomplishment. They might pat themselves on the back and then finish filling out those law school applications before starting on their five-year plan.
This is not the case for seniors Matt Fennell, Matt Ryckman and Ari Blinder. For this triumvirate, “The Gerstein Report” appears to be merely the beginning. Moving onto the next challenge, the team will be shooting a feature-length film this summer through its company Fifteenth Floor Pictures (LLC). This, they say, will help jump start their professional careers. From there, the students hope that the film will be accepted to major film festivals across the country and be picked up by an established distributor.
Although Blinder and Fennell confirmed that their new film will be a genre piece, when talking about the concept behind the feature, Blinder and Fennell both shook their heads. “It’s not protected yet,” stated Blinder.
Until the premiere, the plotline of this film will remain a mystery to the general public. However, Emory students may have the opportunity to catch a sneak peek. Although the crew will predominantly be working with professionals, it wants to extend an opportunity to interested Emory students.
“We want to involve students,” Fennell said. “If we have 500 interns in this thing, and they learn a little about something they’re interested in, then we’ve done our job.”
Because there are numerous tasks to be done while creating a film, the crew is looking for students qualified in fields ranging from music to finance.
“It’s an extremely ambitious project that will fuse the creative talents of students at Emory with those of the growing Atlanta film community,” Ryckman said in an email to the Wheel
Toward the end of completing “The Gerstein Report,” Ryckman, Fennell and Blinder began discussing the possibility of a larger-scale project.
“Making short films has been a great learning experience for us, but ultimately, the industry runs on feature-length projects,” said Ryckman. “A feature film was the next logical progression for us after doing so many shorts.”
The realization of this feature film has been a fairly smooth process so far.
After the three were approached by Emory lecturer in the Film Studies Department Eddy Von Mueller, who offered to help with story creation and fundraising, the three set to work. The crew has raised in full the project’s estimated budget, although it is still fundraising for contingency, and plans to begin filming between August and November.
But even the feature film has not stopped the trio from continuing to create short pieces. “The Visitor,” the trio's most recent short film, will be screened in the fall.
“It’s a 15-minute sci-fi thriller about a divorcee father and his distant daughter and the night that changes their relationship forever,” Ryckman said. The YouTube trailer has already received 3,260 hits.
Although Ryckman, Fennell and Blinder seem seasoned in the art of filmmaking, they did not enter Emory in their freshman year with that in mind. Interested in the arts, Matt Fennell decided on Emory because of the prominent creative writing department.
“I consider myself first and foremost a writer and storyteller,” Fennell said. “But I’ve always been interested in film, and I wanted to be a director, but I had no one to tell me how.”
Matt Ryckman entered the College with a pre-med career track in mind. He explained he chose to attend Emory for “the food.”
The two found each other during their sophomore year and began cultivating their cinematic lifestyle. “We ended up making a terrible five-minute film called ‘The Machine’ about a delusional white-collar worker who’s stalked by his office computer throughout Atlanta,” said Ryckman.
Although Ari Blinder had a cameo appearance in Fennell and Ryckman’s 2009 endeavor, “When Even Death Forgot About Carl Swenson,” he did not know what he wanted from his college experience.
Upon entering the College, Blinder thought he would go into business. “I thought it sounded good,” he said. While Fennell and Ryckman were engrossed in their first Campus MovieFest, Blinder had other plans. “I wanted to be a Navy Seal at this point,” he said.
Blinder explored many different options on campus before finding his calling.
“He pledged to a frat sophomore and junior year, and then dropped it both years,” said Fennell. To which Blinder replied, “But this was the actor in me trying to break out. I wanted to experience those things and be in those people’s shoes, but I didn’t want to do it forever.”
During his junior year and with the help of Emory’s theater faculty, Blinder decided that acting was his passion. But it wasn’t until “The Gerstein Report” that Ryckman and Fennell realized their talent for filmmaking.
Blinder convinced the two to allow him to read for the part. “After the first reading, we realized that not only is Ari right for this part, but he might be the best student actor we’ve seen at Emory,” said Fennell.
Although the trio’s separate college paths all eventually led to film, they wish the trek had been more of a guided tour. While Emory is a liberal arts institution, the creative arts are difficult to find. “There was no one to show us the way,” said Blinder.
Alumnus Scott Budnick, along with Von Muller, has given the trio confidence in their craft. “They’ve helped us to realize this is something we can do after college,” said Blinder.
Emory University has one of the highest ranking business schools in the nation; the medical school is making major technological advancements every day. Students proclaim their desire for higher education in these areas without reservation. But, as the trio’s experiences indicate, that same confidence is not encouraged when announcing a theater major.
With the creation of a professional feature-length film, Fennell, Blinder and Ryckman hope to inspire the student body. “Our biggest goal is to show Emory that there is vast untapped creative energy in the school,” said Fennell. “And ignoring it is only going to cause it to go more underground.”
— Contact Arianna Skibell