The 2016 presidential election thrilled some voters and exasperated others.
For a team of Tabor College students, the unprecedented election season inspired the production of a 50-minute feature film.
Directed by 2016 Tabor graduate Zach Neumann, with the help of a production team of current students Austin Calam, Tanner Sechrist, David Quiring and David Witt, “The Running Joke” will make its cinematic debut at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Historic Church on the Tabor campus.
“It’s a class presidential election, with the main character, Randy LePlatt,” Neumann said about the plot. “His campaign is a joke, his policies are fake and are intended to be as controversial as possible.”
The team said the film is an independent project, with no academic connections to the college, per se.
“This is what we do for fun,” Neumann said, adding, “We need to find better hobbies.”
Essentially the same team worked together a year ago to produce its first independent film, “The Dog in the Woods.”
“There was some talk of doing another one this year,” Neumann said. “We had a few ideas that were kinda loose—it really wasn’t anything coherent.
“Then the presidential election happened,” he said. “The day after that I was like, I have all these ideas. So, that was where the election satire came from.”
Austin Calam, the team’s director of photography, said, “Zach, with all his great ideas, decided to write something for us. He did a rough draft and sent it to us. The guys (on the team) chimed in and we worked together on editing, and kind of went through four revisions.”
A Tabor faculty member also agreed to critique the script in an unofficial capacity.
“In retrospect was a good idea, and we should have sent it to more people,” Neumann joked.
The film’s cast includes about seven main actors, plus extras. All are volunteers.
“I was in charge of finding all the extras,” said Tanner Sechrist, a junior. “One of the rules of making a small independent film is to have as small a cast as possible. So we didn’t do that, and involved almost 40 people. It was really hard to find extras just because in college everyone’s busy all the time.”
Although the plot line lends itself to potential controversy given the divisive political mood of the day, the team is hopeful viewers will enjoy the unconventional humor that runs through it.
“I’m expecting some controversy due to the content,” Neumann said. “I think we’re all behind the content, but it definitely could be misinterpreted. I’m expecting some people to not understand it—which is fine, that’s going to happen. But like they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Beyond the feedback of viewers, the team simply enjoys producing films together.
“What I know from last year’s premiere, it’s really enjoyable to show your movie to a bunch of people—if they really enjoy it,” Neumann said. “That’s especially true of a comedy as opposed to like a drama. You get immediate audible feedback that tells you they’re enjoying it.”
While several members of the team are enjoying filmmaking in the moment, others have a longer view.
“I feel like at this point, for Zach and I being people who want to pursue filmmaking as a career, it’s been a really good stepping stone in terms of learning the production process,” Calam said. “Like learning how to communicate well with people and with each other.
“We hope to work together in the future, so we can continue to build our relationship—but also just understanding things about our production, and knowing those are very common (challenges) on video productions as well.”
One of the challenges in filmmaking is sufficient funding, he noted.
For “The Running Joke,” the team developed, and has been selling, T-shirts related to the project.
“People who buy the shirts get to keep them,” Neumann joked.
Unlike last year’s film, which debuted on campus and then went online, the team hopes to enter “The Running Joke” in some festivals, which require that films not be released online prior to their festival debut.
The public is invited to view “The Running Joke: starting a 8 p.m. in the Historic Church. Admission is free and free refreshments will be provided.