Utah Tech film program creates an environment for students to grow, collaborate together

Last semester, Utah Tech’s film department was in the production stage of one of their short films called, “Exes and Woes.” It was directed by former student Brandon Hurdman. Photo by Joseph C.H. Rigdon

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Lights, camera, action. Utah Tech Univerisity’s film program is taking the stage by rapidly growing and redefining the art of storytelling by empowering aspiring filmmakers.

Ben Vasion, a senior digital film major from Cathlamet, Washington, represented Utah Tech and was a finalist in the Student World Impact Film Festival this summer. Vasion’s short film, “The Last Goodbye,” was created as a way of healing from losing his father to COVID-19 in December 2020.

Vasion learned all of his skills from Utah Tech. His professor and head of the film program, Patrick Smith, supported him in all the phases of the production of the short film.

“The film wouldn’t have been the same without his support,” Vasion said.

Lewis Kunzler, a senior digital film major from Barawley, California, was in the United States Army working as a ground fighter for 10 years when he decided to use his G.I. Bill and go to school

Kunzler was going to go into emergency medical science to follow his father’s footsteps, but in August 2020, his Trailblazer Connection instructor ended up being Smith.

“He changed my life,” Kunzler said. “I told my dad ‘I’m going into creative arts. I’m going to be a filmmaker.'”

Without learning about the film department, Kunzler would’ve been stuck in a profession he wasn’t passionate about because he felt he needed to follow family tradition by becoming a doctor.

The way everyone in the film program works together reminds Kunzler of the Army. They all eat together, work on projects together, and when they aren’t doing work, they all hang out for fun.

“Sometimes we all may be a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes we are fighting like brothers and sisters,” Kunzler said. “What I love about being in the program is we are in one big extended family. I found a little gem in Utah Tech. The program has let me flourish and become an artist, storyteller and filmmaker. This is directly because of the faculty we have here.”

Joseph C. H. Rigdon, a junior digital film major from Reno, Nevada, explained how the film department has changed positively over the course of his college career.

“With the growth of our department, our professors and students have adapted to new people, and everyone has become so incredibly nice and helpful,” Rigdon said. “As far as talent, we are presenting incredibly profound pieces a lot more. We have elevated beyond a lot of our previous stuff because our students are getting more industry-style experience.”

Rigdon sees Utah Tech’s film program growing and becoming a bigger part of the school. The department already does most of the school’s advertising. The film program students make up the majority of the commercials and videos. They believe they can use their film degrees to uplift other students.

Film program students film activities all over campus that are then posted on social media. Their projects range from filming the school’s sing-along video, covering freshman orientation and club rush, and promoting new and smaller programs on campus. Almost every video you see on social media featuring Utah Tech is produced by students in the film department.

Rigdon said, “The stronger the film department becomes, the stronger other majors become through our marketing.”