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Media arts student wins 2nd in New York film festival

Photo by Cassie Tomlin/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Media arts sophomore Cole Mueller sits next to his collection of film posters. Mueller won first prize in the Director's View International Film Festival in New York for his short film 'By Richard Walton.'
By Cassie Tomlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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Media arts sophomore Cole Mueller doesn't have time for a job. After winning first prize (second place) in October's Director's View International Film Festival in New York, his work is sending out countless videotapes around the festival circuit.

Boxes of 9-by-12-inch mailing envelopes and files brimming with festival applications line Mueller's desk. He has been busy making hundreds of VHS copies of his third festival appearance, "By Richard Walton," a short he wrote, directed, and produced during a summer class at University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television last year.

It has been received well, Mueller said, so he's going to run with it for a while.

USC has an agreement with the Screen Actor's Guild that gives film students the opportunity to cast professional actors at no cost. Mueller said he put a casting call on a Web site and sorted through 200 responses to find his actors.

"Everyone knows USC films help launch actors' careers," Mueller said. "USC film students know what they're doing."

Mueller was careful not to downplay the UA media arts department.

"I want to bring recognition to our program by winning festivals and drawing interest to our school," Mueller said, noting that the UA is the only film school to which he applied.

"By Richard Walton" is a complex little movie: In 15 minutes, heavily medicated, more-than-neurotic Richard struggles to write the "Bible of all screenplays," finishes it, botches a meeting with an agent, dies of a seizure and is the posthumous victim of intellectual property theft. And on no budget.

Mueller shot the film with a handheld digital camcorder, which he said is the only thing holding him back as a filmmaker, but he noted that "By Richard Walton" wouldn't necessarily be a better movie on film.

"Film looks better, but the story's there and also the actors' performances. (Digital) is just crisper and faster," Mueller said, noting that some students in the program spent up to $5,000 on 16 mm film.

The shots are sometimes intrusive, sometimes sporadic, and the color is edited to be grainy and blown-out, all adding to the crazy-desperate look into Richard's head (he narrates the film as if his life were a screenplay).

The most chaotic shots in the film are the claustrophobic close-ups of faces, which often crop out eyes and display softening and sharpening focus.

Mueller said that "By Richard Walton" is in no way autobiographical.

"I totally avoid that," Mueller said. "That's the first thing I learned."

Mueller does write parts with specific actors in mind, visualizing the character and then turning it over to the actor to interpret and transform.

Mueller is currently deciding between summer internships in New York and Los Angeles.

As for his more distant future in cinema, Mueller said he couldn't say what is in store for him.

"As for commercial or independent films, that's not even a concern at this point," Mueller said.

He said he likes hearing of comparisons between his films and others, but it has gotten dangerous.

"Everyone says it reminds them of 'Pi,'" Mueller said of his film. "Then I started watching it for the first time and had to stop. It was influencing me too much. It was driving me crazy."

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