"Jerry" Rests on the Shoulders of Ball State Students

Ball State University is redefining the term “educational film.”

During the hot summer months in Muncie, IN, Ball State University filmed its first professional, commercial film – MY NAME IS JERRY, starring Guillermo Del Toro favorite, Doug Jones.

And it is being made with the help of veteran filmmakers…and BSU students.

Producer Rodger Smith, director of the Institute for Digital Entertainment and Education (IDEE) and director Morgan Mead were able to convince the College of Fine Arts at Ball State to help finance the film, and in return, students at the college get to be part of a real commercial film…and perhaps get a head start on a dream career in the film business.

“We want situations where we can take students and put them into a real live situation where they are either using tools that they’ve already learned or they’re developing new tools by being in that environment,” says Smith. But he adds, “For that to be successful, the project has to have some sort of successful outcome, i.e. a product – one that has commercial value.”

Enter Doug Jones – a marketable name who has graced the screen in the Academy Award winning PAN’S LABYRINTH, and the blockbuster films FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, HELLBOY, and HELLBOY II. Not only is he a renowned actor in Hollywood, he is also a Ball State alumn, graduating in 1982. His participation, along with a strong script by Mead and fellow alumn David Hamilton (who is a professional scriptwriter in Los Angeles) was enough to greenlight this commercially viable immersion project about a middle aged man who escapes a mid-life crisis by associating with young people from the punk rock scene.

Director Morgan Mead, Doug Jones, and Katlyn Carlson

The students, who are diligent and professional on the set, are getting rave reviews from the industry professionals. Actor Don Stark, perhaps best known for his role as Donna’s dad on THAT 70’S SHOW, plays a main character in the film

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and this is one of the best experiences I’ve had. When you work with professionals that are coming to do it for the love of the project, its not for money,” he says. “And when you’ve got students who are wide-eyed and wanting to learn – they haven’t been tarnished by the Hollywood scene. They don’t know what they can’t do, therefore they can do everything.”

Doug Jones is more than impressed…he gets emotional about these young filmmakers. “I could cry,” he says. “These kids are amazing.”

The kids do everything on the set –acting, costume and makeup, working crew, assistant directing…even marketing and administrative work. Aspiring actress Betsy Holt is still in awe of the experience.

“I stay up with Doug Jones until 3am at the Sunshine Café and read lines with him. How cool is that?”

For those serious about turning this experience into a career, Smith acknowledges that it is quite a challenge.

“The best most of them can hope for is a job as a PA [personal assistant]. That’s where everybody starts, but it’s also they don’t know enough to be more than that. They need to spend 2, 3 or 4 years on a set, and they get enough skills that they can be a third A.D.”

This project, he says, gives them a head start on their goals. “These kids are picking up that kind of experience,” he says. “You can only get that [experience] from doing a commercial film. You just can’t get it any other way.”

MY NAME IS JERRY will be released in 2009.
All photos by Kyle Peters.

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