April 27 2011 12:00 AM

MSU filmmakers profile an ’American Terrorist’


On a warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon,
16 students and two professors gathered in a classroom in the Oyer
Building on Michigan State University campus to talk about marketing and
post-production work on their film "American Terrorist," which finished
shooting several weeks ago.

The 32-minute movie centers on a
middle-aged botanist and professor named Gary Stevens, who has created a
biological weapon. Once a supporter of the civil rights movement who
believed he could help bring down a system he saw as unjust, Stevens has
since become a part of what he once fought against. 

“We want to express the idea that your
perception of what’s right and wrong is different from others," said Ben
Sherman, one of the two screenwriters. "We also deal with a lot of
things like consumerism. For example, different things are pushing at
Gary, making him feel overwhelmed.”

Students started working on the movie
last August. Everybody was asked to produce an idea and to vote for
their favorite. Then, the script was written.

“It’s a challenging script, and it’s got
interesting characters that develop over time," said Robert Albers, a
senior video specialist in the MSU Department of Telecommunication and
one of the two instructors of this class. "It looks inside someone who
is disturbed, and it does it in a very clever and interesting way."

This movie was a collaboration of the
departments of English and telecommunication. One-third of the students
are English majors; about half are from telecommunication; the rest
double major in both.

The two departments began collaborating
five years ago when Albers and English Professor Jeff Wray realized
there was a tremendous amount of interest in filmmaking. They brought
together the previously separate studies of  history/theory of criticism and film production into one class. 

Of the five movies produced so far, four
have won awards. The 2009 film "Fare Chance" won the People’s Choice
Award in the Lake Michigan Film Competition at the East Lansing Film
Festival.  It was also screened at the Saginaw Film Festival. 

“The class teaches film process," said Cirtis Matzke, the co-screenwriter of "American Terrorist,"

"No matter what your role is, you are
learning about the process and the entire film. So if you want to be a
director, but that’s not your position, you learn to be better at what
you want to do by doing this position.”

For example, the art department, which is
responsible for all of the props and costuming, “did a terrific job,”
Albers said. “They found things they wouldn’t have expected and made
things believable and realistic.”

Students meet twice every week in class
and shoot footage every weekend. “It’s a huge undertaking," said Greg
Capoccia, one of the two directors. "It’s hard to juggle that with other
classes, exams, work and everything. So we really cherish the time we
spend in class and with people to work things out.”

Teamwork is, of course, crucial.

“We work with a big group of people," said Maris Herrington, the other director of the movie.  "Some
people knew each other, some people didn’t. Whether people agree or
disagree with a certain thing, you have to set side your different
things and work it through,” 

The "American Terrorist" premiere will be
May 5 at MSU; a specific location is still being set (check for updates
at americanterroristthemovie.blogspot.com). The movie is scheduled to
be submitted to East Lansing Film Festival, Detroit Independent Film
Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, and Port Huron’s Blue Water Film

“We have high hopes for it," Capoccia said.