Making your mark in the realm of cinema can be a tricky and seemingly fruitless pursuit in today’s film market. There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of platforms for creators young and old to use in testing the waters of filmmaking, but they are mostly inundated with cat videos and multimillion-dollar movies used to sell cheap toys and bags of Star Wars branded lettuce.
However, for most creators, their chosen outlet of expression isn’t motivated by monetary or notorietal gains—it’s just simply how they communicate what’s happening inside their heads with the rest of the world. Vincent van Gogh didn’t beat color onto canvases because he had a contract with an art studio; he did it because he HAD to. The point is, most creators can go their entire lives without earning an ounce of recognition, but when it does happen, it’s like a heavenly cherub floating its chubby little tush down from the sky and whispering those magic words in your ear: “It was worth it.”
This isn’t to say local UNF senior and filmmaker Connor Dolby is sitting around his house, contemplating chopping his ear off while imagining angelic conversations. However, Dolby’s chubby cherub did decide to manifest itself in the form of national awards for his most recent short film, Imitations. After participating in last month's Campus MovieFest, in conjunction with TERMINUS Conference + Festival, Dolby and the rest of his film crew walked away with the Silver Tripod Award for Best Direction, Best Production Design and Best Performance at the UNF level. Once awarded the Silver Tripod, they moved on to TERMINUS at the national level and were able to win the festival’s esteemed Golden Tripod Award for Best Picture.
“It came as a very big surprise,” said Dolby. “Campus MovieFest is the largest student film festival in the United States. They tour more than 50 universities each year. So, when CMF comes to a university, every student who signs up is given the camera, computer, microphone and equipment they need to make their film. The craziest part of this competition is that each student has only seven days to film and edit their film. At the end of the week, the films are collected and judged.”
Breaking down the seven-day process of camera to screen, Dolby said the first three days were spent in the field filming, 15 to 20 hours on the first two days, and another eight hours on the third. They had a rough edit done in the next day-and-a-half and spent the rest of the week on sound, design and color. They did all of this while balancing classwork as well.
Set in the distant future, Imitations is a combination of neo-noir and science-fiction themes with a production quality that’s simplistic and practical in a way that makes the world seem real and visceral without cheapening the quality of the overall product. From the beginning, a through-line of tension is established that grips the audience until the end credits start playing, accomplishing more narratively in 15 minutes than some major theater releases this year have done with 90 minutes.
According Dolby, his passion for filmmaking began in middle school and continued through high school. “I would always opt to do the video portion for a class project if there was one,” said Dolby. “It wasn’t until college, though, that I started taking it more seriously. It was definitely Campus MovieFest that sparked the passion that I’m now pursuing as a future career.”
For Dolby, the passion and process of his filmmaking coincides with a love for other great films and filmmakers, and a need to tell his own stories. “I normally watch a quality film of the same genre and break down how they film certain scenes to pull off certain effects and I implement my own take in my film,” says Dolby. Apart from his two favorite directors, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, Dolby says he pulled inspiration for Imitations from M. Night Shyamalan’s Split (2017) and Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), both gritty and mysterious thrillers of the sci-fi and psychological horror genres.
However, the central spark of his storytelling comes from a much simpler place. “My favorite way to write is based off a prop or location to see what story I can make around it. Sometimes I go to antique shops or thrift stores, looking for something interesting to base a story from,” said Dolby. “Imitations was in connection to my previous film Luminous, so I think I’m going to start fresh with a totally new idea. I have a few ideas in my head, but nothing set in stone.”
Yet, for Dolby, the creative process doesn’t end after the film is made and the awards are handed out. Even if a film has been lauded on a national level, one still needs to take into account the value of a fair critique. Now, YouTube channel Film Riot and its showrunner and host Ryan Connolly appear. With more than 1.3 million subscribers, Connolly’s Film Riot has become one of the go-to spots for filmmakers and film buffs alike, learning how to make films and critique them on a level beyond just saying if some movie is simply good or bad—it helps the audience determine why and/or how it’s good or bad.
Connolly selects a short film for review and critique every Monday, giving the audience and the filmmaker his ten cents’ worth on their film, and a bit of free publicity. After being chosen from among dozens of submissions, Dolby says having his film critiqued on the show was exciting. “A lot of what I learned came from Film Riot, so to have them select Imitations to critique was humbling,” said Dolby. “I’m going to take his critiques and implement them into my next film. That is what has worked best for me so far, making a film and then learning what worked and what did not work.”
Since the CMF and TERMINUS awards, Dolby has set a goal of making it big in the film industry and has gone on to establish his own production company, Orange Drive Films. While Dolby keeps his company flowing with work from corporations and local UNF groups, the main objective is to expand his portfolio and keep feeding his passion for filmmaking. “I like telling stories,” said Dolby in a recent interview with UNF’s Spinnaker. “I like making people react to things. That’s the best part about filmmaking. I get to create a moment that causes someone to feel something.”