A 2011 digital media production graduate from Southern Arkansas University and her husband have entered a “dark comedy” in the annual Louisiana Film Prize competition held in Shreveport, La. Their original short film, “Death Day,” has made it into the Top 20 and is vying for the $50,000 grand prize on Oct. 5-8.
Melissa and Josh Munds are competing among established filmmakers from around the country. Josh wrote and directed the film and Melissa was also the editor, assistant director and colorist. They both handled the cinematography. This was their first year to enter the Film Prize. They shot the film in six days with a crew of family and friends, and experienced firsthand all aspects of filmmaking.
The Louisiana Film Prize is an annual short film competition founded in 2012 by Gregory Kallenberg. The films must be shot in a predefined geography centered in Shreveport, and must have a runtime between five and 15 minutes. The grand prize winner receives $50,000, which is one of the world’s largest cash prizes for short films. Winners are determined by a combination of 50 percent judges’ votes, and 50 percent audience votes. There are also several grants in the amount of $3,000 each.
“There were a record-breaking 127 entries this year, and only 20 are chosen to compete for the grand prize,” Melissa said. “We are honored to be one of those 20! It’s a very difficult competition, as we are competing with established filmmakers with top-notch industry equipment and resources. Directors and crew members of these films have worked on major motion pictures and established television series; it’s pretty crazy!”
Prior to graduating with her BA in Digital Media Production in 2011, Melissa worked as a student in SAU’s communications center as a videographer and editor, helping establish video production capabilities for the University Communications and Marketing Department. “That training definitely helped prepare me for the job I have today, and our filmmaking pursuits, as well,” she said.
“After graduating, I went on to try an acting career. It is a tough business. I have always loved making my own films since I was a child, so in the process of dedicating 12-hour round trips to New Orleans to audition for the role of ‘receptionist,’ I realized I’d rather hone my filmmaking skills and save up for equipment so I could produce my own films. I’m a filmmaker at heart.”
Josh “had the same goals,” she said. “We started a video production business together in 2012, which led to completing thousands of promotional videos for small businesses and websites all over the world. He now manages the business full-time along with his other film work, and I am the spokesperson. I work full-time as video producer and marketing communications specialist for a national hardware company based in Bossier, Louisiana. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I enjoy.”
Josh went to school in Louisiana and worked on film sets during Melissa’s time at SAU. “We met on a movie set in 2008. It was my first time working as a background extra, and I got to know him over the week-long duration of filming. After that, we became inseparable.”
From 2015-2016, he wrote and directed a web series that Melissa filmed and edited. “We shot the second season at Millennium Studios in Shreveport, and the show picked up a buzz locally. We were also accepted into a handful of web festivals, including the Hollyweb Festival in Los Angeles. We decided we were ready to take it to the next level and take on short film production last year,” Melissa said. “Making the Top 20 of the Louisiana Film Prize is such an exciting adventure.”
They described “Death Day” as a dark comedy about a world where people are notified of the day and month of their eventual deaths via mobile technology. An unknown source releases this information at random, and history has proven it to be accurate. The catch is, people don’t know the year they will die. Every time that certain date comes around, panic typically ensues. “We focus on two characters who handle this information in different ways, and how our lead character overcomes his overly cautious lifestyle. It’s presented in a very light-hearted manner, despite its grim subject matter,” Josh said.
Finishing “Death Day” and entering the film in competition is “definitely important for our personal success,” Josh said. “Our main goal is the next project. If you get out of your comfort zone and meet as many people as you can, doors start to open.”
Making the film presented many challenges, including those of having a small crew, and obtaining financing.
“Getting funding is not easy,” Melissa said, “especially when you’re just starting out in the short film world. We started an Indiegogo campaign, which helped us raise several hundred dollars. We are so grateful to those who contributed. We ended up having to throw our own money at it for the rest, which wasn’t fun or convenient, but chasing your dreams rarely is. In fact, days before we had to make our second purchase of rental equipment, we were in a car accident. After finding out the car was totaled and racking up some hospital bills, we pressed on. Thankfully, local businesses and close friends, whom we had brought on as producers, helped donate locations and resources, and we had some donators help us replenish our bank account.”
The couple would like to work in any medium of entertainment, Josh said. “We just really enjoy creating and putting on a good show.”
They said they would be thrilled to have support from SAU at the festival. Tickets as well as more information are available at www.PrizeFest.org.