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Student wins mtvU's 'Best Film on Campus' contest

Dec. 1, 2004

By Erin Roberts

Spencer Houck says he has fellow creative students to thank for his recent mtvU "Best Film on Campus" contest win for his short film "Detonate."

Click to view Detonate on mtvU's Web site"I'm an editor and graphics guy, so it's obviously a collective of ten," Houck says of his fellow members of Par-T-Com, an independent student production firm, who helped to make "Detonate." "As the official winner, I'm guaranteed to go on all these trips, but I get to pick a guest. And I want everyone to get a bit of limelight."

The 21-year-old college junior from Cuyahoga Falls just landed in a very good place. As the winner of mtvU's first ever "Best Film on Campus" contest, Houck and a guest will fly to NYC to interview director Joel Schumacher and attend the premiere of his latest film "Phantom of the Opera." Houck will also travel to the Sundance Film Festival, enjoy an internship with MTV Films and, most importantly, get a pitch meeting with CAA/MTV Films, a prize for which he is now feverishly preparing.

"This part of the prize could really affect our future," Houck says, still speaking fondly on behalf of his fellow students. "Of course there are no guarantees, but our goal is to catch them off guard. We'll be pitching packages to see if we can blow them out of the water. If not, we'll make some good connections."

Some of the fellow students Houck talks about are John Swartz, Jordan Blum, Devin Doyle, Matt Todd, Zach Nocera, Nick Hamilton and Dan Nykiel, all of the School of Telecommunications. Jeff Rosenberg, BSC '04, wrote the script and lyrics. The group was responsible not only for "Detonate," but another of the contest's three finalists: "Fade Away," which was entered by Doyle and worked on by several Par-T-Com members.

No other college was represented more than once during the semifinals, which "speaks volumes about Ohio University and its programs," explains Ross Martin, vice president of programming at mtvU, an MTV channel that reaches more than six million students at more than 700 universities and colleges across the nation. The channel is dedicated to every aspect of college life and extends to reach students everywhere they hang out -- on-air, online and on campus.

The "Best Film on Campus" contest's 11 semifinalist films were aired on mtvU and available for viewing on mtvU's Web site, where viewers voted for their favorites. Once the three finalists were chosen, the films were evaluated by Hollywood directors Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting"), Allison Anders ("Sex in the City") and Schumacher ("A Time to Kill").

Martin says mtvU does not yet have an exact figure on the number of submissions or votes cast, but says the response to the contest was "overwhelming." In regards to the win, Martin says Anders, Schumacher and Van Sant all "really loved the film" and that it garnered "tremendous" online support, making it the clear winner.

"'Detonate' is a completely unique film, and it really took us by surprise," Martin says. "It's a great example of the quality and creativity of our audience."

Houck says the winning film was actually shot last year in just 48 hours during Ohio University's second annual "Shoot Out," during which the group was given a line, a prop and a genre. However, "Detonate" was disqualified from the contest after it was turned in several minutes late.

"'Detonate' has had a pretty great life post-Shoot Out, which has been nice," Houck says, noting the film won a regional Student Production Award from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and was also shown at the Athens International Film and Video Festival last spring.

According to Houck, Par-T-Com started out as a group of friends with a shared passion for filmmaking, especially outside the classroom. Par-T-Com has now morphed into an independent student production firm and will become a limited liability company in January, which Houck says is a necessary step for the group to become involved in larger projects.

"In the beginning, we all wanted to get together, do our own thing and turn out projects," he says. "We realized we are pretty good at each thing we like to do. We're now raising money doing what we're doing, which is an amazing feeling at 21. How many other 21-year-olds can say they are making money doing something they truly want to do?"

School of Telecommunications Director Karen Riggs says the film's success is a clear indicator of the height to which the school's programs have climbed.

"We're attracting some really genius students doing incredibly innovative work," she says. "They are meeting each other and networking together at earlier stages of their academic careers. We're seeing work from sophomores that juniors and seniors used to produce. By the time they leave here, they are operating at such a level of professionalism that it just blows us away."

mtvU's viewers will get the chance to witness Houck on the red carpet in January when mtvU expects to air footage of his trip to New York City. To read more about mtvU, visit www.mtvu.com. More information about Par-T-Com and its members can be found at www.par-t-com.net


Erin Roberts is external relations director for the College of Communication.

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