Meadows Student Film Picked Up by Major Distributor
Award-winning Summer Film comedy, The Book of Job, now streaming
By Caitlin Drott
The Book of Job, the 2017-19 Summer Film Production project of Meadows’ Division of Film and Media Arts, features a teenage boy whose expectations fail to align with reality. For writer/director Andrew Oh (B.A. Film and Media Arts ’18), the film’s reception has far exceeded his expectations. The Book of Job was picked up by Gravitas Ventures, one of the world’s largest film distributors, and is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube and other platforms.
Oh started writing the script in 2016 in his parents’ basement and submitted the film to the Summer Film Production (SFP) program, which brings together SMU students and alumni every two years to create a feature-length film from beginning to end. His expectations for the film were realistic, but his standards were high. From the moment The Book of Job was selected, Oh and his producers, film students Alli Barta (B.F.A.’20), Al Bouchillon (B.F.A. ’19), and David Fice (B.F.A.’19), were determined to make a funny, enjoyable film that didn’t look like a student project.
“This wasn’t some assignment we could film the night before,” Oh said. “The Book of Job was a very ambitious project, and we had to hold ourselves to a high standard to see it through. We treated it like a professional film at every step of the process and tried to follow industry practice as much as we could.”
From revising the script to picture editing in post-production, the team was committed to creating a relatable narrative that captivated the audience with skillful camera work and vivid, compelling scenes. The pacing of the film was crucial because The Book of Job is a comedy.
“One of the reasons I chose to write a comedy was to challenge myself,” Oh said. “I hadn’t written a comedy before and I think it’s hard to pull off. It’s one thing to write a funny joke, but for a film, you have to be able to convey humor visually. You also have to be conscious of comedic timing, both on set and in the editing room, because that can make or break a joke.”
The Book of Job was a departure from past SFP projects, which ranged from horror to a post-apocalyptic Western film, Elsewhere, TX. Oh worked as a sound mixer on the set of Elsewhere, TX, which debuted in 2017, and learned what it takes to make a full-length feature film. Unlike other film schools that often select a small group of students to work on a set, SMU’s Division of Film and Media Arts encourages all students to participate in SFP.
“It’s a cooperative program; the students support each other,” said Associate Professor Troy Perkins, who served as the faculty advisor for The Book of Job. “First- and second-year students are working with upper-level students who remember what it’s like to be a first year or sophomore. They remember how scary it is to go on your first film set not knowing anything. It’s their job to train them and make sure they feel like part of a family.”
SFP, an entirely student-run project, started in 2010. The faculty advisors take a hands-off approach to encourage agency among the producers and crew. Perkins routinely met with the producers, and later he arranged for feedback from professional editors. But during production, Perkins let the team practice what they’d learned in class and excel on set.
“I’m not surprised the film got distribution because the core crew members did everything right,” Perkins said. “I saw them moving in that direction and dedicating themselves to making a film that looked like a professionally made film.”
The Book of Job was filmed in 19 days primarily at Richardson High School. Barta, producer and casting director, drew on actors from SMU, including lead actor Ben Singel (B.F.A. Theatre Studies ’20), and Richardson High School students. The producers worked on a small budget and limited shooting time — months less than major films — so they had to make the most of their resources.
“We knew we were fortunate to have SMU Meadows as a resource,” Barta said. “We reached out to the theatre department when casting the film and the music department when scoring the film.”
As casting director, Barta understood the importance of selecting the best actors for each role; the movie is character-driven and complex. In the film, Job falls in love with a girl named Alice at church. He soon discovers that Alice is dating the captain of the football team. Desperate to woo Alice, Job begins to mimic her boyfriend. The film straddles the line between romanticism and realism, as Job is prone to grandiose dreams.
Oh explored the theme of romanticism versus realism in his original script. The main character was obsessed with Ingrid Bergman and determined to find his dream girl. The Book of Job does not focus on Ingrid Bergman, but there are hints of the original script in the film. A poster of Ingrid Bergman covers Job’s wall in his room, Job throws a party with a Casablanca theme, and Job’s dream sequences were filmed with longer lenses and soft focus to create an old Hollywood aesthetic.
The producers adopted Oh’s theme and vision and took off running. During production, they worked 14- to 16-hour days. Several actors and producers slept on each other’s couches to save travel time, and occasionally even spent the night on the set. This sense of camaraderie led to an on-set chemistry that spills off the screen.
“From early on, we had big plans for the film,” said Bouchillon, who served as producer and cinematographer. “I was surprised by how much I would have to change and grow to accomplish that goal. I learned that film is more of a collaborative art form than a sole artistic vision.”
The producers collaborated to raise funds for the film. They raised about $10,000 in crowdfunding, and then the Division of Film and Media Arts matched half, $5,000.
“We knew it would be our biggest hurdle the moment we considered applying for the project, but thankfully we were able to turn to places like Engaged Learning at SMU and our Dallas community who supported our crowdfunding efforts,” Barta said. “We were able to trade some production work for a full crew and cast meal from a wedding venue and a catering location in Dallas. You have to get crafty when you are feeding more than 30 mouths multiple times a day for 19 days.”
After it premiered at The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, the producers submitted The Book of Job to film festival circuits. It received the award for Best University Film and Best Lead in a Narrative Feature at the Red Dirt Festival in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Damon Blalack, director of the Red Dirt Film Festival, told the Stillwater News Press that The Book of Job is “probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years, and that’s including Hollywood films.”
“We were thrilled by the awards,” Barta said. “I was not surprised by Ben’s award for Best Lead. In the editing room, we saw he was commanding in his performances. He is a lively character. I know Ben will flourish in his career, so it was special to work with him on this early project.”
Singel, along with the rest of The Book of Job’s core team, encourages SMU first-years and sophomores to jump into projects like SFP. According to Singel, this is how students “make their own luck.”
“You have to get out there and say yes to every opportunity you can,” Singel said. “If you’re not prepared and you don’t have those pivotal experiences, you aren’t going to have that ‘big break’ that people talk about.”
SFP’s latest project, Smile, will go into production this summer, following a one-year delay due to the pandemic. Kelsey Hodge (B.F.A. Film and Media Arts ’20), writer and director of Smile, worked on The Book of Job set. SFP is accepting new scripts for the 2021-23 project. Scripts are due May 4; applicants do not need to be a junior or senior, or even an SMU student, to submit, although scripts from SMU writers are given preference.
“Before doing this, making a feature-length film felt impossible,” Barta said. “That’s what is exciting about the incoming students. They see they can make a full-length feature film at 19 or 20 years old. I am excited to see them walk into that.”
Read writer-director Andrew Oh’s article, “8 Tips for the First-Time Filmmaker.”