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USF student from Seffner grabs top film honors in L.A.

NORTH TAMPA — A flock of filmmakers crossed a Los Angeles red carpet.

Among them, actor Christian Slater.

Oded Fehr, known for his roles in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

Then there was Seffner native Sarah Wilson, a senior at the University of South Florida and a much lesser-known — at least for now.

Like the celebrities before her, she walked through the doors inside Paramount Studios where her latest film would be screened.

The actors, the cameras, the action were all part of Campus MovieFest, a filmmaking contest where one young woman would live out her dream.

• • •

Wilson, 21, wrote, directed and produced Rhapsody, a flick a little over five minutes long, about a young man who learns to express himself in a world that says he shouldn't.

It was one of thousands of short films shot in one week by college students across the country, and the film wasn't Wilson's first.

She fell in love with Hollywood in high school, when she first saw her favorite movie, Spider-Man, and became obsessed with moviemaking, she said.

"I could stay up all night editing videos and shooting (films) and it really made me happy," she said.

So she joined the television production program at Armwood High School and won several local film competitions. During her freshman year of college, she worked as a video lab technician on campus, a job usually reserved for juniors and seniors. She helped create and teach a narrative filmmaking class.

USF doesn't offer filmmaking as a major, but her parents and colleagues don't doubt that Wilson, a telecommunications major, still has a future in the industry.

"If you are talented enough, even if you aren't coming from a film school, you can go a long way," said Mark Wilson, her father.

Donna Wilson said her daughter's attitude sets her apart.

"When Sarah set out to make Rhapsody, she wasn't trying to win nationals," she said. "She was trying to make the best possible film she could. And as long as she continues to work with that ethic, I think she'll be able to achieve any goal she sets for herself."

Trey Penton, Rhapsody's director of photography, said in addition to being a talented filmmaker, Wilson is an ethical one.

"She has a beautiful heart," said Penton, 21. "She really cares about people and she lets everybody know how valuable they are."

Wilson's goals are to direct and produce films in Hollywood.

"I'm not into super artistic, I have no idea what is going on in films," she said. "I'm all about emotional storytelling. The kind of movies I appreciate are made in Hollywood."

• • •

Representatives from Campus MovieFest came to USF in February with equipment for students to produce short films for the contest. Wilson co-directed a film called Focus in last year's competition and made it to the finals.

This year, Wilson said, she had a great team and believed Rhapsody could make the cut.

"It's a Romeo, Juliet kind of love story, with a twist," she said. "Pushing Daisies meets Dr. Seuss."

It wasn't easy to direct, shoot and edit even a short film in a week, Wilson said. It's harder still when you're sick.

"(Sarah) lost her voice for a couple days (during production)," said Kailey Mires, 21, Rhapsody's production manager. "But she kept pushing, every day, every night, to work on this film. It gave us all the drive to work harder and better."

With no budget, the help of Penton, Mires and others, the team finished Rhapsody in the allotted seven days and waited for results.

At the college level? Best picture. At the regional level? Best picture.

Next came Hollywood, where 10 team members spent part of a week sightseeing in L.A.

They also attended workshops during a three-day seminar for finalists.

"I got to hand my DVD to the writer of Big Fish, and Big Fish is probably my second favorite movie," Wilson said.

She toured studios. Sat down with the director of The Proposal. Bonded with Oded Fehr, who has already called her to chat about someday working together, she said.

"It felt like something only NYU (film) students would be privy to," Wilson said.

Inside Paramount Theater, celebrity presenters announced winners. While she waited, Wilson's palms sweat. She shook.

"And the best picture goes to Rhapsody."

Wilson stood up, smiling. She and her film team climbed the steps onto the stage.

"A lot of times you'll get excited about a door opening and you find it leads you nowhere," Wilson said, remembering that day. "Other times they'll lead you places you never even expected."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 269-5301 or aspenceley@sptimes.com.

See it

Watch Rhapsody online at www.vimeo.com/5056645 .

USF student from Seffner grabs top film honors in L.A. 07/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 5:30am]

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