(UPDATE, May 14, 2008: Kevin Bender is scheduled to graduate on May 18, 2008.)
April 8, 2008 — Fourth-year University of Virginia religious studies major Kevin G. Bender didn't plan on pursuing a career in film; it was just his hobby.
That has changed. On Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Newcomb Hall Theater, Bender and a group of U.Va. students will premiere "The Receipt," a feature-length romantic comedy they worked on during this academic year. The totally student-produced film — from concept to financing, from sound and score to execution — is in high-definition digital format with six-channel Dolby Digital surround sound.
Bender, the film producer and director, said his goal from the outset was "to make the film as professional as possible." He envisioned it with the "look, feel and sound like a movie you would see at the Regal, Vinegar Hill or Carmike theaters." To that end he called on the talents of the other students and ran the production like a Hollywood professional. "Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. It takes a lot of people with a lot of knowledge, education and time," he added.
Bender also called on his own expertise. He said he's been making films since his early teens and in high school attended the Virginia Governor's School for the Humanities, where he concentrated on film production. In each production he undertakes, he attempts to build on his experience and increase the complexity in his filmmaking. For him, it's a learning experience and about coming up with creative solutions to problems that arise.
He speaks with admiration of the expertise and hard work his fellow students brought to the project. For students at a school without a film program to create a professional-quality film takes "students with dedication and knowledge. At no other school, except U.Va., would students do it to just do it and do it professionally," Bender said. "For most people involved, it was their first foray into film."
Co-producer and sound designer Mike Benonis (third-year electrical engineering major) commented on the film's official Web site, "This project mirrors a typical Hollywood film in every way we knew how to do it."
With this in mind, it was decided to shoot the film on a professional digital camera, edit on software used in Hollywood productions, and obtain licenses and written permissions for all locations. "I learned more doing this than on any of my other projects," Bender said.
The ambitious project grew out of a conversation Bender had with fourth-year Jewish studies student Rachel Bernstein. She had written a first draft of the film four years ago. When Bender heard the plot outline, he told her, "Let's do it." In addition to writing the final version of the script over the summer, Bernstein acted as one of the film's co-producers.
The story revolves around two college-age women who find out who they are as they are about to embark on the real world. It's a journey to adulthood and self-understanding. "The film is more beautiful and completely more amazing than I thought it could be," Bernstein said.
The production, shot entirely on Grounds at and in the Charlottesville community, involved 43 students. "Everyone involved made a substantial contribution to the finished project," Bender said.
As the film's director and producer it was Bender's responsibility to coordinate all the talent. The crew included third-year biology major Kevin Collins, director of photography, and Benonis, the co-producer and sound designer. The three lead actors — second-year drama/psychology/education major Sarah Elizabeth Edwards, third-year history and drama major Mauri Epstein and drama major Matthew Marcus — were selected from more than 30 students who auditioned for the leading roles. Graduate electrical engineering student Kyle Ringgenberg composed, orchestrated and produced the musical score.
What's next for Bender? He's entered the film in a number of festivals to gain exposure. After graduation in May he plans to stay in Charlottesville for a few years before applying to an M.F.A. film program. He said the project made him realize he could make filmmaking his career.