By Daniel Jackson
“Jesus Fish” is swimming home.
Spawned from the mind of Bryce McGuire through a writing assignment in an advanced screenwriting class at Bryan College, the 22-minute short film is entering the waters of the film festival circuit. But not before it stops at the place where it was made: Dayton, Tenn.
Two alumni of the film department, Bryce McGuire and Colton Davie, are returning to the hill to show their short film, “Jesus Fish”, Monday April 22 at 8:30 p.m. in Rudd Auditorium.
McGuire said he got the idea for “Jesus Fish” from growing up in a small town and hearing the stories lore, legends and haunting in his small town.
“I remember growing up that my brother had seen this lake monster and no one believed him—of course,” he said.
When Assistant Professor in Communication Studies Chris Clark asked the students in his screenwriting class to create a story, McGuire crafted a story that explored spiritual faith through the account of a lake monster.
McGuire said Clark did not like the story at first. McGuire remembers getting a low grade on the project. But he then revised it over the course of a year and a half, about 37 times, he recalls.
At first, McGuire and Davie wanted to film the story for Spiritual Life Formation to be shown in chapel and then as an omnibus project, but they realized the film was too ambitious.
The two finally got around to filming the story in August 2011, just before they both married and before McGuire left for the American Film Institute (AFI).
McGuire wrote and directed “Jesus Fish,” while Davie worked as the producer and cinematographer for the film.
They finished filming in seven days, and then McGuire hopped into a car packed to the bursting, drove to California in three days and started classes at AFI the next day.
“It was probably very unwise but we had to do it,” he said.
McGuire will graduate with a MFA in screenwriting in June from AFI, one of the top film schools in the country.
He feels that the film program at Bryan prepared him to work with the people who will be making the biggest movies in the next few years.
The stress Bryan placed on worldview helped McGuire navigate the culture-producing Mecca of Hollywood. His Bryan education helped him understand other people’s worldviews, think critically and own his worldview, speaking confidently about what he believed.
McGuire said people in Hollywood respect you if you have a broad view of culture, understanding its many angles. Even the creator of raunchy R-rated comedies care about what’s going on in culture, he said, and they use their art to talk about message and subtext.
Bryan’s film school also taught McGuire skills he needed to succeed in screenwriting.
“Chris Clark is always taking in terms of story,” McGuire said.
People can easily learn the mechanics and style of writing a screenplay, McGuire said. Storytelling is often overlooked.
Clark said he’s seen several scripts for “Jesus Fish,” but he has yet to see the film.
In his Advanced Narrative Writing for Film class, Clark said he asks questions about the script. Who are the main characters? Is there conflict? Is there dramatic need?
“It’s the questions Aristotle was asking 3,000 years ago,” he said.
Davie and McGuire will show the film at the Indie Grits Festival in Columbia, S.C., and Boston’s independent film festival. They are waiting to hear back from other festivals from around the country.
McGuire said if the film does well in one place, word will get around and they will have an easier time getting into other festivals.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of film festivals in the country, said Clark. The trick is getting the film into the distinguished festivals, SXSW, Sundance, Toronto, etc. Other film festivals, such as Nashville’s and Atlanta’s film festivals, are feeders into the Oscar Awards.
McGuire said he wanted to thank the other Bryan students who helped in the production of “Jesus Fish,” such as Bryan Boling and Cameron Lane.
“They played really big roles on that set,” he said.
Recently, McGuire rewatched “Jesus Fish,” after five months of not touching the project. While two years at AFI gave him a new perspective on the film, he is still excited to show it at Bryan.
“This movie isn’t perfect, but it is a wild ruckus ride, and I hope people will enjoy going on the ride with us,” he said.