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DePauw English professor shoots short film "Mud Lotus" in Putnam Co.

By Bri'anna Moore
On September 3, 2013

  • Chris White and Eric Branco on set during the filming of Mud Lotus. PHOTO COURTESY OF GARRET HOOVER
  • Chris White on location for the filming of Mud Lotus. A flash flood washed out the road and stranded the the cast and crew without elecrticity. PHOTO COURTESY OF GARRET HOOVER
  • Doug Fellegy, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick and Ron Dye on set during the filming of Mud Lotus. PHOTO COURTESY OF GARRET HOOVER
  • Eric Branco, Rob Weidner and Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on set during the filming of Mud Lotus. PHOTO COURTESY OF GARRET HOOVER

Tibetan Monks and rural Indiana are not typically associated together, but Christine White, associate professor of English, did just that with her short film "Mud Lotus".

Shot over ten days this summer, the film tells the story of a Tibetan monk named Nawang (Adam Tran) who is searching for his late teacher's reincarnation. It is on a farm in rural Putnam County that he comes across ten-year old Camilee (Liz Chiarella) and her fighting parents Kim (Rae Dawn Chong) and Warren (Ron Dye).

The process of the film, which she originally wrote as a play, first began when White was in graduate school. She was inspired to write the story after going through a divorce and discovering Buddhism.

"This original idea, and still to this day, remains a coming together of those two very different aspects of my consciousness," White said.

After receiving a Faculty Fellowship grant from DePauw, White began adapting her play into a feature-length screenplay.

Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, associate professor of communication and theatre, became involved in the project in 2011 when White applied for the New Directions Initiative grant offered by the Great Lakes Colleges Association. According to Nichols-Pethick, the grant was established to help those who are mid-career and looking to explore new areas.

"Chris [White] was interested in exploring directing and filmmaking since her experience is in theater and I was interested in re-invigorating my production background," Nichols-Pethick said.

When White and Nichols-Pethick received the grant, the two planned to use the funds to create a trailer for the film in hopes of generating investors and funding for a full-length movie.

After beginning the pre-production work for the trailer, White and Nichols-Pethick decided to make a short film instead.

"We realized that instead of making that trailer, we were more interested and enthusiastic about making a short film... something that would be in our hands and we could have at the end of that process instead of an idea," Nichols- Pethick said.

With the help of filmmaker and Chinonye Chukwu '07, White and Nichols-Pethick were able to make their short film a reality. Chukwu served as the first assistant director under White, who directed the film.

A number of alumni and current students also contributed in the filming experience this summer. Doug Fellegy '05, ITAP digital video instructor, was the location sound mixer on the film. Sophomore Jessica Keister, who worked as Fellegy's ITAP summer intern, was given the opportunity to work as the assistant location sound mixer on the film. Olivia Carmel '13 served as the associate producer of the film and also ran the film's social media sites. Carmel introduced White to senior Rob Weidner, who has experience working on numerous commercial productions.

Weidner worked on the film as the gaffer and second assistantcamera.

"It was a delight to work with [White] and how she wrangled up the very eclectic and diverse group of people was really cool," Weidner said.

Senior Akanksha Chawla, sophomore Theresa Carper and David Kunkel '13 also worked on the film.

DePauw faculty members also had the chance to participate both on screen and behind the scenes. Caroline Good, costume shop supervisor and part-time instructor of communication and theatre, constructed the monk robe costume while Susan Anthony, associate professor of communication and theatre, helped with additional casting. Ron Dye, associate professor of English and communication and theatre, played Warren, a lead role in the film.

Dye first became involved in the project back when the film was initially a play. "Chris [White] asked me to do a public stage reading of a scene from the play that was adapted into the screenplay," Dye said. "When she and Jonathan knew for sure they were going to do this shorten film version, they asked me back."

Adam Tran, who plays Nawang, also worked with White on a stage reading of Mud Lotus and was asked back for the film. Actress Rae Dawn Chong, who plays Kim, previously worked with White in a production of her play Rhythms in 2007.

Liz Chiarella won the role of Camilee after auditioning via Skype. She is the niece of Tom Chiarella, a professor of English.

The film is currently in the final stages of post-production. This weekend, White will be flying to New York to oversee on the film's color correction and to Philadelphia to oversee the sound editing. The first public screening of Mud Lotus will be on Nov. 7 at 8:30 p.m. as part of DePauw's ArtsFest 2013: Art and the Quest.

In addition to the screening on campus, the two plan on entering the film into various film festivals including the Sundance Film Festival.

White and Nichols-Pethick look back fondly on making their first film.

"It's been really exciting to work in this medium and to get to work with this great group of people-working with Jonathan has been fantastic," White said.

Nichols-Pethick also enjoyed working with White.

"I didn't just make a film, I made a friend.


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