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Jennifer Piurek
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Jake Sherry

Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IU Cinema to screen first student-made feature film, 'Nathan and the Luthier'

WHAT: Nathan and the Luthier, a new film by IU senior Jacob Sherry
WHEN: April 26, 7 p.m.
WHERE: IU Cinema
TICKETS: This is a free but ticketed event. Tickets are available at IU Auditorium during box office hours (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or, if tickets are still available, in the IU Cinema lobby 30 minutes prior to the screening. Tickets to free screenings at IU Cinema are not available online; limit four tickets per person.

April 13, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When Indiana University senior Jacob Sherry graduates in May, the Herman B Wells Scholar will have already completed a goal few people ever achieve: the premiere of his first feature film.

Kate Braun

Kate Braun in "Nathan and the Luthier"

Nathan and the Luthier , a 52-minute coming-of-age story about a man making peace with his upbringing in the wake of his father's death, opens April 26 at 7 p.m. at the IU Cinema. This is the first student-produced feature film being shown at IU Cinema. "We intend to dedicate one evening each semester to premiere a student feature," said Jon Vickers, director of the cinema. "The production values in Jacob's film rival anything that you would see from a major film school. This premiere will be one of four nights dedicated to student films in the cinema this semester."

Sherry is completing a double major in telecommunications and filmmaking (through IU's Individualized Major Program), a combination he settled upon as the ideal blend for gathering the skills and collaborations he needed to become a filmmaker.

Growing up in New Orleans, the home-schooled Sherry played French horn and piano, and even toured with an international youth circus for a couple of years as a high-wire walker. He didn't have a television at home until he was 16. "I did watch movies, but certainly not as many movies as the average kid, and different movies than what the average kid was watching," said Sherry, who instead of Disney movies and slasher flicks watched films such as The Philadelphia Story and Casablanca.

Film seemed a logical place to combine his passions of storytelling, reading and writing. "Filmmaking is a powerful storytelling medium that combines writing with visuals, with music, with acting, with all of these other mediums to form this really powerful hybrid art form," he said.

The idea for Nathan and the Luthier began as a thesis project for the Individualized Major Program, under the tutelage of Sherry's IMP adviser Susan Kelly, a senior lecturer from the Department of Telecommunications.

Sherry initially pitched a rough idea to Kelly just before the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Once he began to translate his basic idea for a moody, character-driven story to a script, "he ripped his hair out," joked Kelly, who had to tell Sherry to scrap his first attempt and start over. ("I think she said, 'I see what you're trying to do, but it's not working,'" Sherry said.) He was eager to put in the work required to make the script flow, spending hours muttering lines to himself aloud at his laptop to see if the dialogue sounded natural.

David Wierhake

David Wierhake, foreground, and Jeff Grafton appear in the first feature film by IU senior Jake Sherry, "Nathan and the Luthier."

"Before he even had a script, he wanted to have his film premiere at IU Cinema," Kelly recalled. "He said, 'If I do this, I will force myself to make something good.'" Through the filmmaking process, Kelly said, she saw her student learn first-hand how an independent filmmaker is the vision keeper, whose energy and concept keep the cast and crew invested and energized. "He had a huge crew of people who stuck with him and tackled a mature topic in a beautiful way," she said. "He's willing to assume risks and is rewarded by seeing his vision realized. It's brilliant to see. As an educator and teacher, I'm thrilled by him."

Sherry loves "road movies" and films that show the progression of a character. From the idea of a violin being rebuilt, he eventually created the story of the protagonist's return home after his father's death. The character connects with his mother and rebuilds the violin his father smashed when he was a child, working in the shop of a crotchety violin maker who is working through issues of his own. Even after writing four drafts of the script, hearing the actors say the lines during rehearsal led to even more changes in the script ("Writing is rewriting," Kelly said. "He learned that.")

Sherry said that as students, he and his peers recognize that they'll have to work for free to build reels and portfolios, but that he knew it was asking a lot for actors and crew to arrive at 7 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m. for the first month of shooting. "But they did it. For me, it was important to realize that if I can communicate a vision and get people excited about it, they will feel ownership and pour their hearts out -- the cast, the crew. One of the hardest parts and also the most rewarding parts was figuring out how to get that momentum going and keep it going."

Among many other things, the filmmaking process included the hiring and overseeing of an extremely talented but unpaid crew and actors; gaining song rights from Carrie Newcomer and Krista Detor; borrowing a rural farmhouse at which to shoot the film; procuring two "junker" instruments from a violin maker friend in New York; coming back from winter break 10 days early for a solid week and a half of shooting; working late into the night to shoot a flashback (only to scrap a scene that didn't work); raising money; and renting space at a local violin shop.

Sherry gives his cast and crew "95 percent of the credit" for the film. "That's one of the things I love about film," he said. "You don't make films by yourself, you make films as a collaboration. Here, we formed a community where there wasn't one before, and people got to know each other who probably wouldn't have met otherwise."

While films should be entertaining and fun, Sherry said, filmmakers have the responsibility to tell important stories that make a difference in the world. "I think film affects and grabs people in a way that no other medium can."

About Jacob Sherry

Sherry recently returned from seven months in New Zealand, where he interned with South Pacific Pictures, New Zealand's largest film and television production company. While abroad, he traveled to the Cook Islands to co-direct a feature-length documentary about a total solar eclipse visible from the remote island of Mangaia. Sherry's recent accomplishments include writing and co-directing Two Juliets (for which he won the Advanced Fiction award at IU's 2010 Multivisions Media Showcase) and working as a crew member on Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables. After graduation, he plans to continue his work as co-founder and director of Color Blind Pictures, an independent production company.