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A Date at the Sundance Music Festival

Cinema-TV Grad Ken Morris Produces Indy Film "Obselidia", Makes Sundance Debut

by Chris Calloway (B.M. Performance, '12)

Updated 05/10/2010 with Pegasus News interview.

How does one start a movement? Recently, SMU grad Ken Morris (B.A. ’08, Cinema-Television and Religious Studies) began his own movement by helping produce an independent film, Obselidia – which, against major odds, just premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January, winning the 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Prize for excellence in cinematography.

In the fall of 2008, Ken responded to an online ad from writer and first-time director Diane Bell, who was seeking help in creating a budget for her film project. Ken met with Diane over lunch and made a lasting impression on her. “When I met him, although he didn’t have as much experience as other people I talked to, his enthusiasm and good heart shone through,” said Diane. “I thought, here was the energy you need on your side if you’re going to make an independent movie - someone who’s going to keep smiling and believing when the going gets tough.” For his part, Ken said, “I loved the script and wanted to be a part of Obselidia in any way possible.”  

Although Diane and Ken believed strongly in the potential of Obselidia, their view was not shared by other producers. “I remember around the same time meeting another, much more experienced line producer who told me that what I was attempting was impossible. Ken was the guy who said, of course we can do this!” Diane recalled. 

When hired on to the production team, Ken remembers, “We began the process of fundraising almost immediately. By January of 2009, we had enough to do a test shoot, both to see how the camera would perform in Death Valley and to shoot a trailer for our investors. Within two weeks the rest of the money was there and Obselidia was on its way to becoming a reality.”

Besides fundraising for the film, Ken also contributed a lot of “fringe work” to help create Obselidia. “Not referring to taxes and benefits, but – bees,” said Ken. “My buddy Paul and I spent a lot of hours searching for bees while someone took care of locations and someone else handled personnel. The bees play an integral role in the screenplay but aren’t something you can just buy at your local nursery.”

Ultimately, the film was invited to premiere at Sundance. Putting into perspective what an accomplishment that is, Ken said, “Sundance has an acceptance rate lower than even the Oscars. Only 1.5 percent of films make it into competition.” The Sundance website also states that, on average, 9000 films are submitted each year in hopes of premiering at the festival.

So how does a film like Obselidia make it to Sundance? Of all the applicants, why would a work from a first-time director who is purely going off her own story and vision for a film make this prestigious event, and win the Alfred P. Sloan award no less? Ken replies, “Obselidia was able to make an appearance at Sundance because enough people believed in it to make it happen. Diane believed the story was worth sharing and wrote the script. Our investors believed enough to put their money into the project, which, given the state of things, means a lot. Our production team believed enough to devote a few months of their life and our cast believed in Obselidia enough to put their faces on screen. The programmers at Sundance believed in us enough to invite us to premiere in Park City.”

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