UWF students make feature-length film that gains international attention
A group of University of West Florida students can now add a major accomplishment to their resumes: feature-length filmmakers and actors.
Entity, a psycho thriller that is set to debut in local theaters later this year, is the brainchild of Will Phillips, a May 2012 graduate of UWF, and the result of countless volunteer hours from a 53-person cast and crew, made up primarily of students from UWF and Pensacola State College.
“The idea for the script originally stemmed from actual experiences I had at a friend’s allegedly haunted residence,” Phillips said. “I later started penning a short story called ‘Lights Out,’ and it ultimately evolved into Entity.”
At the beginning of 2012, Phillips began reaching out to local college students he knew to see if they would be interested in turning his dream into a movie. He recruited Mervyn Ortiz, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and UWF senior art major, as the film’s executive producer. Ortiz also provided the majority of the funding for the film’s production, which cost approximately $30,000.
“Will approached me with the script, and I was on board from that point on,” Ortiz said. “I didn’t have much experience in film, but I knew I wanted to do what I could to help.”
Next, Phillips recruited Chris Jadallah, a senior film/telecommunications major, to be the film’s director.
“I was always filming something,” Jadallah said. “But I didn’t see myself as a director of a feature length-film at age 21.”
Jerod Perez, a junior political science major and theater minor, was cast as the lead male character, Casey Hughes.
“I always thought I would love to be an actor,” Perez said. “I’ve acted pretty much all my life in Pensacola Little Theatre productions and church plays.”
Once the rest of the cast and crew were recruited, filming started in May 2012. Despite busy schedules filled with jobs, summer classes and other responsibilities, the volunteers dedicated up to 18 hours a day several days a week to be on set at various locations throughout Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
By the end of 2012, the film was in the final stages of production and garnering attention from distributors and well-known entertainment production companies with ties to the independent film festival market.
A teaser trailer, launched on Youtube and Facebook in December, currently has more than 160,000 views and a fan base scattered across the U.S. and worldwide as far as England, Australia and Brazil. Once it is released later this year, the film will be available for digital download and has been approved to show at the Ridge Theater in Pace. It was also invited to be featured at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in October 2013.
“I didn’t see it going this far,” Ortiz said. “I thought it would be a small project to get my feet wet – something that would be fun and give me a taste of what filmmaking is like. Once I saw the reaction to the teaser trailer, I thought, ‘We may have something here.’ ”
The production of Entity also led Ortiz, Phillips and Jadallah to achieve a bigger dream: founding their own local entertainment production company, East Bay Entertainment. Ortiz said he hopes the company will enable local talent to achieve their dreams.
“Early on, I realized there is so much talent at UWF and in this area. We used local talent to make this film, and it got worldwide attention,” he said. “I may not be a filmmaker myself, but I know there are other talented people here who may not have the means to accomplish their dreams. I want to support local aspiring filmmakers and save them a trip to Hollywood.”
Ortiz said that the film’s success would not have been possible without the education many of the cast and crew members received at UWF.
“Because of my choice to attend UWF, I was allowed the opportunity to meet talented students, such as Will [Phillips], who were a major part of making this film,” he said. “My background in art helped me think creatively as a producer. Being an art major allowed me to immerse myself in a creative environment, which established the solid foundation I needed to succeed in this project.”