Student films reach a finale

Beginning this Thursday, USF students will have a brush with Hollywood as several  aspiring filmmakers compete in the Campus MovieFest (CMF) International Grand Finale in California.

CMF, the world’s largest student film festival, premieres five-minute movies created by students in only one week – providing them with cameras, microphones, tripods and laptops.

The International Grand Finale, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, is the event’s highest level of competition and features films from more than 60 colleges across the country.

In 2009, USF student Sarah Wilson’s film “Rhapsody” took home the top prize at the International Grand Finale. Now, her sister Emily Wilson, who graduated in May with a degree in mass

communications, will compete with her film “RENT-A-ZOMB,” which won Best Comedy at USF this year.

Emily Wilson had a role in both “Rhapsody” and “Fireflies” – her sister’s 2010 finalist film – and said she made a last-minute decision to write and direct a film for the 2011 competition.

“I wasn’t going to make anything because of my good fortune in the past few years being a part of other teams,” she said. “I was intimidated to make something on my own.” Emily Wilson said the idea for “RENT-A-ZOMB,” where three roommates fend off video game-esque attacks from hordes of zombies, came to her in a dream.

“When I write screenplays, they are usually more comedic because it is what I enjoy,” she said.

Michael Schmidt, a senior majoring in mechanical and computer engineering, also has a comedic movie in competition.

His film “Real Life: My Superpowers Suck” follows a character that is constantly one-upped by his brother’s superior superpowers and won this year’s Wild Card award – a category selected by audience members’ text message votes.

Schmidt said he also decided to enter CMF at the last minute, and although he has competed for the past three years, this year’s win came as a surprise.

“Usually, I am prepared a few months in advance,” Schmidt said. “This year, I was completely unprepared.”

Keith DiRienzo, who graduated this summer with a degree in marketing, said he was also surprised by his win for “Shh,” which took home USF’s Best Picture.

“Shh” is the first movie DiRienzo has ever made, and his decision to try filmmaking came from attending CMF’s 2010 USF screening.

“Last year I went to (CMF), and I loved watching the films,” he said. “So I came up with an idea and entered for fun. I was just excited it got shown.”

Because the movie includes almost no dialogue, DiRienzo said his experience as a musical theater performer allowed him to help his actors understand their characters.

“I got to help both my actors with character connection and coming up with subtext,” DiRienzo said. “They didn’t have lines, so they had to focus on what the character was thinking and body movements.”

Chris Stevens, a senior majoring in marketing, is competing with “Blind Eye,” which won Best Character and is a finalist in the Social Justice category.

Stevens, whose film follows a young man faced with decisions to help others, said he is looking forward to the networking opportunities available in Hollywood.

“I am excited about the exposure and the opportunity to meet fellow student cinematographers and sound editors,” Stevens said.

During production, Stevens and his crew encountered a few obstacles, such as a run-in with a homeless man in Ybor City. He said the man, who agreed to appear in the film, became irritated with the crew’s strict shooting schedule.

“He pulled out a box cutter, and he started clicking it and going off on us,” Stevens said. “I told him he needed to leave and we didn’t see him for the rest of the day.”

Mishaps and complications were experienced among all of the finalists. Schmidt said he had the misfortune of receiving a camera that did not work, leaving only three and a half days to make his movie.

Because her film was set at night, Emily Wilson said her team shot until 6 a.m. for three nights straight.

“We were editing up until the last minute in the car on the way to turn it in,” she said.

In order to get the perfect shot and lighting for “Shh,” which is set in a library, DiRienzo said he had to ask students to move from the areas he needed to shoot.

As for the International Grand Finale, DiRienzo said he is not nervous about how the movie will perform because he is not keeping any expectations.

“I am happy to have made it this far, and I’m not hoping for anything, but it’s a big deal.”

Other USF films that will be screened at the grand finale include “evol,” “Five Minutes,” “Heat of the Moment” and “Stage 5.” For a full list of screenings, visit