In mid-March, CU Denver student Luke Austin opened his inbox to find it flooding with congratulations. The compliments were coming in so quickly, it took him a few minutes to realize what had happened: the web series he co-wrote with fellow student Nigel Wickens and produced with classmates from the College of Arts and Media (CAM) had been selected for screening at The L. A. Web Series Festival, known as LAWEBFEST, and nominated for eight awards in the Student Drama category.
Austin and Wickens were thrilled, but also surprised. While they were completing capstone classes in 2017, their senior year, unbeknownst to them, David Liban, Chair of the CAM Theater, Film and Television Department was sending their web series, “Seven Days Straight,” to festivals.
“My first thought when I found out was ‘Wow, this is incredible,’” said Wickens. “This is the first time something I’ve created has been honored.”
On April 30th, the thrill got even greater when Austin and Wickens won the award for Outstanding Writing and, along with fellow student Darren Hone, the award for Outstanding Editing. The series also won Best Theme Song, for the piece written and performed by Reid Hollingsworth.
“Seven Days Straight”
The web series chronicles the interconnected crimes, both petty and violent, of criminals whose lives revolve around a garden nursery. Each episode features a different type of crime: a heist, illegal casino gambling and drugs.
The appeal of the web series lies in its blend of crime drama with “Clerks”-style documentation of ordinary lives. “It’s a story about everyday people,” CAM Professor Roma Sur said, “That is where a lot of drama is heading towards these days.”
“Seven Days Straight” is the result of two flagship courses in the Theater, Film and Television department of CAM. In fall semester, Professor Craig Volk teaches the course “Writing for Episodic Television” where students work in pairs to write a script, and at the end of the semester, CAM faculty select one of the web series for production in the spring course, “Producing Episodic Television.”
For the 2015/2016 semester, CAM faculty chose “Seven Days Straight.” “I found the characters to be layered and intriguing,” Sur said. “The chemistry between them was very interesting, and even minor characters were well-developed.”
Collaborative effort for CAM students
Although Austin and Wickens wrote the script, the entire class was involved in every aspect of the series’ creation. As student producers, the class was assigned a budget by the department, held auditions, cast the show, scouted locations, designed costumes and sets and filmed the series, was well as completed post-production activities. Once complete, the series was screened on campus at Cinefest, the annual student film showcase.
On the set of “Seven Days Straight,” the classmates logged 12 to 14 hour days, including filming until 1 a.m. for some scenes. “Our class was an energetic crew,” Wickens said. “We had a lot of challenges completing scenes on time and staying within budget, but the final result is so polished.”
“The success of ‘Seven Days Straight’ is a source of pride for CAM,” Liban said. “Our cohort model of education uses the group effort to create collaborative success.”
Honoring independent filmmaking at LAWEBFEST
The web series was screened on April 29 at the 2017 LAWEBFEST, which focuses on independent productions. In the Student Series category, “Seven Days Straight” competed with films from Germany, Mexico and California for eight awards, including Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Editing and Outstanding Cinematography.
CU Denver CAM faculty David Liban, Jim Phelan, Roma Sur and Craig Volk were also nominated in the Creators/Producers category. “It is very fulfilling to see the student work being recognized by the oldest and largest web series film festival.” Sur said. “I’m proud of the students and honored to have been a part of this project.”
Austin, Wickens and Sur traveled to Los Angles to represent “Seven Days Straight” at the festival. “This was an opportunity for the students to network and to be celebrated,” Liban said. “They spread the word about what we’re doing in Denver.”
“For a filmmaker, the greatest source of inspiration is other films,” Wickens said. “LAWEBFEST was a chance to see the best international web series and get ideas for our next project.”
International success begins in Denver
As an Official Selection of LAWEBFEST, “Seven Days Straight” highlights Denver as a creative hub for film and television production. The Theater, Film and Television Department of CAM is the heart of that hub. “CU Denver was the only school I applied to,” Austin said. “The university appreciates its art programs, and it provided us with the tools to make this award-winning series.”
When asked about how it felt to win those awards, Austin and Wickens are the first to give credit to their professors and fellow students. “The university, our cast and crew of classmates, and our professors made our ideas come to life,” they said. “We couldn’t have done it without their support and hard work over the past year.”