After months of Oscar buzz, Kevin Willmott’s work on “BlacKkKlansman” was lauded with an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay Feb. 24.
Willmott, a University of Kansas film & media studies professor, co-wrote the screenplay for the 2018 film about Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Stallworth wrote a 2014 memoir about how he infiltrated a cell of the virulently white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.
Willmott collaborated on the screenplay with Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz. The film has been gathering accolades, from the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival to a BAFTA award for best adapted screenplay.
Read more on Kevin Willmott’s accomplishment at today.ku.edu.
Ben Brodsky, c’17, produced a video chronicling his KU experience with familiar campus scenes sure to resonate with alumni. After posting his homage to his alma mater on social media, the video quickly went viral, generating more than 100,000 views during the first week of KU classes. Students and alumni alike could relate to his moving images and the poetic word play provided by Brodsky’s classmate and collaborator, Amie Just, j’17, profiled here. We caught up with Brodsky to go behind the scenes and learn more about the project and his KU journey.
Ben, we love your video. What inspired the project?
During my second year at KU, I took a class called After Effects where our professor showed us a short called “Traditions.” A combination of the cinematography, KUs rich history, and the intentional rhythmic storyline combining both narration and film left me inspired. I wanted to create something that left viewers feeling the same emotional connection and pride in our University as it did to me. On top of that, I’m always looking to grow as a filmmaker and this style of short allowed me to challenge myself.
(Editor’s note: We remember that video! We profiled KU alumnus and spoken word poet Topher Enneking, who was involved in the project, in 2014.)
How do you want Jayhawks to react after watching it?
As I said before, I want viewers to feel an emotional connection to KU and pride for their campus. At the same time, I want all future Jayhawks to see this video and become excited about the 4-year journey they’re about to embark on. With KU’s rich history, there are so many traditions and experiences all Jayhawks share. Experiences that are multi-generational. As the narration and scenes cuts to different locations on campus I want viewers to see themselves having those experiences.
I want alumni reminiscing about the hours they spent camping for basketball, the classes they sat through at Budig Hall, the organizations they met at Wescoe Beach, and the feeling that, while we all become Jayhawks, the Jayhawk becomes apart of us.
I want them to be present in that shared KU experience, whether they’re a future Jayhawk who is looking forward or an alumnus looking back. Everyone who goes to KU–and even people who just visit–know there is something special about our campus and culture. As those who live it, we understand it. For those who don’t live it, I hope they’ll understand it through this video.
We definitely think they’ll understand after watching. So how would you describe your KU experience?
Throughout high school, I struggled to find myself. I remember the day my twin brother, Sam, and I received our acceptance, it was an easy decision for us to attend KU. From the first time I stepped foot onto Jayhawk Blvd to walking through the Campanile at Graduation, KU was home. I was supported academically by incredible professors who continuously challenged me and my skills. I was supported socially by the community I found in fraternity life, and I was supported professionally by my friends and other community members who gave me the opportunity to create films for them. KU was everything I was hoping college life would be and more.
Now that you’ve walked down the hill, what’s next?
I am passionate about cinematography and media, as I hope my video, KU- A Journey, showcased. My twin brother Sam, and I started our own video production company in the Minneapolis area called Brodsky Productions. Right now, we are focusing on creating our business plan so that we can continue to grow and provide spectacular cinematic and emotionally moving short films for our clientele. So far, we’ve provided photography and videography services to create documentaries, music videos, wedding videos, event recaps, retail and product spotlights and much more. We’re hoping as our company develops, we will find our niche and focus our efforts in that direction. We’re also hoping that as we continue to meet and network with professionals in the area, we’ll find mentors who are eager to help us grow and succeed. So far we’ve been very fortunate and we’re excited to see where the future takes us!
No doubt your talents, developed and honed at KU, will take you far! But no matter how far you fly beyond the golden valley, remember–as your video reminds all Jayhawks–that there’s no place like home! Rock Chalk!
“As new Jayhawks arrive on the Hill, it’s hard not to get nostalgic about our four years.”
Before Ben Brodsky walked down the Hill last May, he could sense it was coming. That feeling of nostalgia that all alumni understand was becoming all too real, and Brodsky, c’17, wanted to hit save and preserve his time at KU. Fortunately, the talented film and media studies major had shot hours of footage during his time on campus; timeless scenes that also captured a place in time.
His memories. His journey. But one with which we could all relate.
Brodsky got right to work, even before walking down the Hill. With the help of his twin brother Sam, b’17, he founded Ben Brodsky Films and Photography in 2013, applying his talents and education to projects for clients. As his commencement loomed, one project became more personal.
The result of the effort that he began as a student and finished as an alumnus, was a three-minute and forty-two-second video that was posted on social media this week, as students returned to the Hill to start the fall semester. Almost immediately the video became a viral sensation, with views topping 100,000 in the first three days.
Naturally, this time of year makes all of us remember what it was like heading off to college.
“Feels like yesterday I was jumping out of the mini van, unloading my college dorm room onto the hot Kansas pavement,” Brodsky posted on YouTube. “I remember my mom telling me ‘these are the best 4 years of your life, enjoy every minute of them!'”
Brodsky offered his own advice to freshmen flocking to the Hill.
“To all incoming Jayhawks,” he added, “experience everything you can; there is no limit to what you can do.” On Facebook, he added a shared sentiment.
“New Jayhawks, we hope you love this place as much as we do.”
Brodsky could have been referring to all alumni when we said “we,” but in this case, it was a nod to his project partner and collaborator, Amie Just, j’17, who scripted the video. Her words, which resonate with all Jayhawks, constitute a poem she calls, simply, “Home.” (Read our interview with Amie Just here.)
We love the combination of moving images and words that so beautifully capture the KU experience, drawing us closer together and to our beloved alma mater.
“Through the good times and the stressful ones,” he concludes, “KU was, and will always be, home.”
Have you heard of Sharknado, the SyFy Channel’s global pop culture phenomenon? The first movie was released last summer, and Sharknado 2: The Second One was unleashed on July 30. The movies feature a freak weather system of tornadoes and sharks that spells disaster for major cities, and they’re epic guilty pleasures that generated a lot of buzz on social media networks.
Imagine our surprise and delight to find a KU connection to Sharknado: Matt Jacobson, associate professor of film and media studies at KU, contacted the KU News Service to let them know that Sandell Stangl, c’11, served as visual effects coordinator for both installments of the franchise. Many thanks to Christine Metz Howard, public affairs officer, who passed the tip along to us. We reached out to Sandell this week, and he shared a little bit about working on Sharknado and his time at KU.
What was it like to be a part of Sharknado?
I remember very clearly when my coworkers and I first saw Sharknado on our schedule. While we’ve done some pretty outrageous movies in the past, this one stuck out to us. When we asked what the movie was about, we were simply told, “It’s exactly what you think it is.” After that, we treated Sharknado like any other movie. I just assumed the movie would find a cult audience like our Mega Shark franchise, and that would be the end of it. You can imagine my surprise waking up one morning last summer and discovering that EVERYONE had seen the movie and they were all talking about it on the news and social media. I couldn’t believe that something I treated the same as any other movie was getting this kind of recognition. It still feels pretty unreal to me and will probably always feel that way.
What was your role as the visual effects coordinator for the films?
I always feel weird describing what I do because I feel like my description of it sounds boring. In reality though, it’s quite rewarding and very enjoyable. I work as the visual effect department’s interface with editorial. Anything that a visual effect artist needs from an editor, I get it to them. I also organize every shot into a database and monitor their statuses. Once a shot is done, I make sure that it gets back into the edit and that the most up-to-date version is used. This can be quite a challenge when we’re working on four movies at once—which is not uncommon for us to be doing!
What’s been the most surprising aspect of the Sharknado phenomenon?
Every aspect of it is surprising to me.
How did your KU experience prepare you?
When I attended KU, I had the privilege to be part of a wonderful student organization called “KU Filmworks.” Sadly, it is no longer around, but it was a student-run film production group. I learned so much from being a part of this group. Most importantly, I made some very close friends during this time at KU, and we are still in contact with each other to this day. Because of that practical experience, when I came out to L.A. I felt like I had made enough films and experience to prepare myself for real film work. This was all thanks to the opportunities KU provided me and the help I received from professors like Matt Jacobson.
What are your fondest memories of KU?
My fondest memories are making short films with my friends. We were constantly shooting films and learning something new from each one.
Have you made any helpful connections with KU alumni?
There is a group on Facebook called “Hollywood Hawks”. I recommend any alumni wanting to break into the industry to check it out and ask for help. (Editor’s note: Visit the official Hollywood Hawks website at www.hollywoodhawks.com.)
How do you stay connected to KU these days?
I still have friends that live in Lawrence or moved to KC, and I visit them from time to time when I can fit it into my schedule. I haven’t been on campus in a long time though. Next time I visit, I wouldn’t mind walking around Wescoe Beach again.
If you missed Sharknado 2, don’t worry—there’s an encore on Wednesday, Aug. 13, on the SyFy Channel. We’ve heard that Sharknado 3 is on tap for next summer, and we’re crossing our fingers that Kansas will somehow have a role in the movie.
During a long career as a radio and TV broadcaster, KU associate professor of film studies John C. Tibbetts interviewed dozens of Hollywood film stars, musicians, writers and theatre people. Many interviews were set up by studio publicity departments as part of long press junkets in which performers would do round after round of interviews to promote a new film.
Drawing on his undergraduate education in design, Tibbetts, f’69, g’75, PhD’82, found a way to make himself stand out in this assembly line approach to film promotion: He painted watercolor portraits of the performers and presented them for signing during his interviews. More than 80 of those portraits bearing the autographs and inscriptions of the subjects will be featured in “Stargazing,” an exhibition that opens Dec. 7 and runs through Jan. 31 at the Kansas City Public Library.
“Many of the interviews were arranged through the studios, and they really guard against every Tom, Dick and Harry seeking an autograph,” Tibbetts says. “But I got to know the publicity chiefs and they got to know me and my work, and I had carte blanche and was able to bring in paintings of whoever I wanted to get signed.”
Tibbetts says the paintings “were a wonderful icebreaker.” Performers would sometimes confide their own lover for painting or other private interests they would never otherwise share. Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury and Michael Douglas were some of the many subjects who asked for copies, which Tibbetts was happy to provide.
“I like to think the subjects themselves really enjoyed it,” he says. “Arnold Schwarzenegger–I did five or six with him–when I’d come in to talk to him, he’d say, ‘Well, what did you paint this time.’”
The interviews that came out of these sessions have been archived by the KU Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship as “Over the Rainbow: The John Tibbetts Archive of Conversations in the Arts and Humanities.” They can be viewed online through KU ScholarWorks. For more information on the “Stargazing,” visit kclibrary.org.