It can be easy to see cinema as a distant, vacuous thing, existing only in the realms of Hollywood and multi-million dollar studios. Log into social media, and you’ll be blasted with a barrage of blockbusters raking in billions.
As sure as self-published authors and independent bands are enjoying a steady rise in popularity, one can also look around and find lively local film groups. Even though “movie” isn’t the first word most would link to Oxford, the town enjoys its own successful film festival each year, giving a bevy of local faces to aspiring kids who say: “I wanna be like them when I grow up.”
But why wait? These two Ole Miss students didn’t.
University of Mississippi freshman Tony King just had his premiere at the Oxford Film Festival. After years of independent film-making and YouTubing, he landed in the festival with “Dayfall,” a work that took him into uncharted waters – full animation. In the past, King used animation with live action, but this was his first fully animated film.
“When I was making ‘Dayfall,’ I’ll be honest, I made it in five and a half hours,” King said. “I was just messing around in After Effects, and thought something I was working on looked pretty cool. I guess you could say I freestyled it, and I said ‘let’s make a story out of this.’”
The one-minute film follows a man’s predicament as he tries to escape from a floating island. Made in Adobe After Effects, King shot himself in several poses and used their silhouettes to create a stop motion-like style for the work.
King noted that reception for the film’s two showings was quite warm.
“The first night, Wednesday, it got very good reactions,” King said. “There were a lot more ‘ahhs’ and ‘oohs.’ Then it got shown Sunday. I feel like most of the crowd was the same people… so I feel like there was less applause for everything that day.”
King got into filming at a young age. His oldest was a “Star Trek” parody that he made with his family. Over the years, King began creating more personal projects that he put on YouTube.
“I don’t even see myself as a YouTuber,” King said. “It’s just a place where I happen to put my stuff.”
Besides short films, King has also produced tutorials for After Effects and critical reviews of the recent series “Star Trek: Discovery.”
A longtime fan of the “Star Trek” franchise, King’s favorite series is “Deep Space Nine,” and Picard secured his seat for King’s best captain. He began making episodic reviews of the new series due to a dissatisfaction with its quality, feeling it didn’t live up to the caliber of the “Star Trek” name.
“Really, I saw the first episode, and I hated it,” King said. “I was like ‘I wanna talk bad about it.’ I don’t hate the whole show. It’s easily the worst “Star Trek” show ever made, but as a regular show, it’s OK.”
King’s current favorite directors are Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) and J. J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield.) He thoroughly enjoys the way Villeneuve tells psychological stories. In Abrams, he appreciates his dedication and thought in storytelling.
“I feel like his devotion to the story, to the art, is very impressive,” King said. “Those are the two that really inspire me to want to be a director.”
King films his movies in a spur-of-the-moment manner. An idea will pop in his head one day, and he’ll begin filming the next.
After the Film Festival, he said he received some useful critique from attendees. While his visual style and animation was praised by visitors, many questioned the short film’s story and narrative.
“I feel like I’ve got one box checked,” King said. “That’s the animation. If I can write a good story and then have equal or better animation, then I think I can have a competitive film.”
Due to his spontaneous production cycle and the onslaught of winter classes, King doesn’t have many plans for the future. The yearly film festival is over, and the show he’s been reviewing has ended. One faint idea lies ahead, though. He plans to visit Italy this summer, an opportunity to film something interesting. Last time he went, he wanted to film a documentary, but it fell through due to a lack of planning.
“I’m planning on really putting in a lot of thought into making a quality film in either Venice or the mountains that I can submit to the Oxford Film Festival and compete in major categories,” King said.
Another student making personal strides is Jacob Hall, a UM sophomore who has pursued action on both stage and screen. This year, he played a role in the Oxford Film Festival’s community film “Fifteen.” Hall’s acting career began as a child. His mother encouraged him to join a play when another child dropped out.
“She noticed I wasn’t really interested in sports and tried to get me involved in something,” Hall said. “So she got me into this show that some other kid dropped out of called ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ From then on, I fell in love with it.”
Since then, Hall has participated in numerous local theater productions and many Oxford Film Festival community films. He said there’s a difference between theater and film festival audiences.
“I would say, during a film festival, you get a different variety of people from all over,” Hall said. “You see more people from other places. You get some of those types of guests in a theater place, but more from a film festival.”
Hall sees acting as an intimate way to entertain people and connect deeply with characters. It has also given him much self-confidence.
“It’s a way to help me and audience members feel a different level of emotion,” Hall said, “a level some may have never experienced. Some may laugh. Some may cry, and some may just think. That’s the beauty of acting, especially in theater.”
Hall takes acting seriously, stretching his mindfulness of the character beyond what is presented in the frame of the story.
“Most people forget that a character’s life didn’t begin on screen,” Hall said, “or even on the script. It began before the character was even conceived in thought. So as actors, it’s our job to figure who the character really is through the psychology given in the script.”
In the aftermath of the film festival, Hall is already hard at work on a production for Theatre Oxford. This past weekend he appeared in their showing of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” a parody of the famous playwright’s works. He performed alongside three other actors, all as fictionalized versions of themselves.