UMSL media studies major Joshua McNew co-wrote and produced "The Stakes," which will be screened at the Tivoli Theatre July 12 as part of the the 2012 Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, an annual presentation of Cinema St. Louis. (Photo by Joshua McNew)

Joshua McNew thought he’d scouted out the perfect location to shoot the gritty student-driven drama “The Stakes.” In January, cast and crew set up shop at the Ford Asphalt Company building in Bridgeton, Mo., for a two-day, 24-hour marathon shoot. One problem, the site is right next to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

“There were airplanes constantly flying overhead and we had to stop and wait for them to pass,” said McNew, a junior majoring in media studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, who co-wrote and produced the short drama film, which centers on a prank gone wrong among co-workers. He called the plane mishap a lesson learned.

“I knew a little going in,” he joked, “but didn’t know everything obviously.”

McNew has worked on other film shoots, as a production assistant and boom operator, but this was his first screenplay. He got a kick out of writing dialogue and seeing the actors perform his lines.

“It was a cool feeling,” he said. “That’s probably one of the more rewarding parts of actually doing it.”

The film is the culmination of hard work by UMSL students and professionals, like Chris Benson, who owns the St. Louis-based production company Lamplight Films. He was the director of photography on the film and tasked with making it look like a high-quality movie.

“We hired professional people that actually shoot movies for a living,” McNew said.

The film has strong ties to UMSL, with more than a dozen students working on the project, as well as alumni like Patrick Lawrence, BS media studies 2011, who directed the movie. McNew said the fundraising efforts of the UMSL community were instrumental in making the film a reality.

The small film budget was co-financed by UMSL’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Media Studies the student film society and the Office of Research Administration at UMSL.

“The film would not have happened without Nasser Arshadi,” said McNew, referring to the vice provost for research at UMSL.  “He’s one of the people who really helped us raise money for the film.”

Arashdi called McNew an incredibly talented student who created “an impressive piece of work!”

“McNew has the temperament of a successful producer,” Arshadi said. “He’s tenacious, focused and generous!  This enabled him to assemble a talented group of students along with a professional cinematographer to realize his vision on film.”

Overseeing a film from its infancy to its finale can be a very stressful process, a situation that McNew certainly went through. But he said despite some tense moments of doubt he walked away from the experience more committed to filmmaking.

“At one point I told my girlfriend, I don’t think this is what I want to do anymore, but after it was over I couldn’t wait to do it again,” he said. And while it’s tempting to Monday morning quarterback the finished product, he’s not falling into that trap.

“There’s a saying that goes there’s the movie you write, the movie you record and the movie you edit. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I’m happy with it,” he said. “After it was done it’s so rewarding. This is absolutely what I want to do.”

St. Louisans will get an opportunity to watch it on the big screen when it premieres July 12 at the Tivoli Theater in University City, Mo., as part of the 2012 Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, an annual presentation of the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis.

“The Stakes” will be shown in conjunction with the film “Fatal Call,” which also has a UMSL connection. That movie was written, produced, directed and edited by Jack Snyder, a lecturer in media studies at UMSL. Snyder actually came up with the concept for “The Stakes.” McNew wrote his script based on an idea Snyder had been kicking around his head since high school. Lawrence revised the script and Snyder gave it a final revision.

“And the rest, as the saying goes, is history,” said Snyder, who was very impressed with McNew’s handling of the film.

“Joshua is one of the most level-headed, creative, yet business-minded students I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. He meticulously plans out his projects, then executes them,” said Snyder.

McNew also served as a production assistant on Snyder’s movie “Fatal Call.”

“He arrived early, left late, and worked hard each grueling 12-hour day,” Snyder said. “I have no doubt he will do very well and go far in life. If the work he’s done to date is indicative of his future, I’m confident he will make important contributions to the field of film production.”

“The Stakes” will screen alongside “Fatal Call” at 7 p.m. July 12 at the Tivoli.

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez