Students fund film after Em. Channel backs out

by Beacon Staff • April 23, 2008

The pair are behind the wry mockumentary Spacerock, about a pair of students who pitch a sci-fi romance movie to their college's student film association, but are rejected and forced to produce the film independently.,In the tradition of mock-documentary film making, life and art imitate one another freely, often with hilarious results. For Jim Cummings and Derek Smith, art and life became one in the same.

The pair are behind the wry mockumentary Spacerock, about a pair of students who pitch a sci-fi romance movie to their college's student film association, but are rejected and forced to produce the film independently.

That fictional narrative leapt to life when the film was rejected by the Emerson Channel. The duo then chose to live out their fictional characters' roles as cash-strapped, unsponsored, irony-enhanced film makers to be.

Two thousand dollars later, they completed their indie movie about attempting to make an indie movie.

"It turned out great," said Cummings, the film's director. "I was blown away."

With a High Definition camera, actors who worked for free and money Cummings and Smith, a visual and media arts major, paid out of their own pockets, the two juniors filmed their mockumentary during two weeks in February. They did their own editing and screened Spacerock last Saturday in the Walker Building for a crowd of about 50 people.

The film stars junior Chris Spada and sophomore Jim Hoffman as the frustrated producers.

"Chris Spada is just the greatest actor alive," Cummings said. "And Jim was incredible. Anybody who knows him knows he's completely different in real life, so it was awesome that he was able to make viewers believe his character."

Cummings, a film major, said he's been interested in filming fake documentaries for some time now. He and Smith drew inspiration from their own failed attempts at making movies and from one today's most popular mockumentaries, NBC's "The Office."

Much of the banter between Spada and Hoffman's characters was drawn from real life, the producers said.

"Everyone has experiences like that on set. That's just how it goes when you're shooting a movie," Cummings said.

The original idea came from Smith two years ago, after he worked with Cummings on another fake documentary. Cummings was especially taken with the oddball characters they'd created while brainstorming for Spacerock, and felt that the film needed to be made just so these characters could be brought to life.

One character, however, needed no coaxing. Junior Chris Hurst, a broadcast journalism major, played himself in Spacerock, because Cummings said he was enthralled by Hurst's humor and felt it would work perfectly with the film's other characters.

When the real producers took their film to the Emerson Channel, they were not chosen for play on the air.

"They didn't like it, and they didn't like me," Cummings said.

Cummings said lingering hostility between himself and staff at the Emerson Channel was a probable reason he was rejected.

He said he then found out that the Emerson Channel would take on the project as long as he was removed as director. Later, the entire project was dropped for budgetary issues.

Emerson Channel's station manager, Jim Dunford, declined to comment on the issue but did say he was not employed at the station when Spacerock was pitched and that those involved with the incident no longer worked at the station.

According to the Emerson Channel's Web site, to pitch an idea for a film producers must submit a written concept, episode examples, sets and locations, a timetable, equipment and crew and a budget, followed by a meeting with the station manager to discuss the proposal.

Cummings has drawn some fire for his behavior in the past. In an April 19, 2007 Beacon article, it was reported that Cummings had a falling out with ETIN staff while he worked as a DJ there. After mocking a fellow Emersonian in a skit, the student threatened to sue, and the episode was pulled after only one airing.

Cummings was quoted in the article saying that if a lawsuit had gone through, he would have used insanity as a defense.

Both Cummings and Smith said they were much happier with the final outcome than they feel they would have been if they had worked with the Emerson Channel.

Cummings and Smith said the station staff wanted to add quips and punchlines to the end of certain scenes, which the students said they thought were unnecessary and wouldn't jive with the documentary style they were trying to emulate.

"You know how they say a camel is a horse designed by a committee? Emerson is the committee," he said.

With the film completed, Cummings has submitted it to various film festivals across the country.

"The one message I'd give everyone [who is trying to make a film] is that if you have actors and a camera, go do it yourself," he said. "It'll turn out so much better than anything Emerson can do for you. All you have to do is make a couple of phone calls."