Contest Nets Bluebox Filmmakers New Laurels, Development Deal Print
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 20 December 2005 18:00
Technically, Scott Beck won mtvU’s “Best Film on Campus” contest earlier this month. You’d just never know it from talking to him. Beck’s trailer for his feature film University Heights won the competition – he wrote and directed the movie – but he never claims the project exclusively as his. In discussing his contest victory, he assigns plenty of credit to Bryan Woods, his partner in Bluebox Limited and an accomplished filmmaker in his own right. “It’s important for us to be recognized as a pair,” Beck said last week. The duo, who live in the Quad Cities and attend the University of Iowa, has been making movies together for five years.

Woods had his own trailer in the competition, for his feature film Her Summer. It was also among five finalists. Last year, Woods’ and Beck’s short film was a finalist in Best Film on Campus, which is meant to reward student movie-making talent. The duo was also a directing finalist in the 2004 Project Greenlight contest.

There’s no money attached to the mtvU contest win. Beck won a home-theatre system, but the real prize is a development deal with MTV Films. And that’s what he and Woods have had their eye on since last year. “It was the development deal that was the big deal,” Beck said.

For Bluebox Limited’s four feature projects, Beck and Woods established a strict division of labor: One person writes and directs, while the other produces. They’ve worked more collaboratively on their short films. (See “Bluebox Filmmakers Take the Unorthodox Road to Education, Partnership,” River Cities’ Reader Issue 504, November 24, 2004.)

But for the past year, they’ve been working together on the screenplay for Coast, in which “a rocky marriage is tested when a young couple is embroiled into the dangerous world of a father desperate to save his dying son,” according to the Bluebox Web site. The process of writing together has worked, Beck said, because “we’re able to bounce ideas off each other really well.”

This script was the one they were hoping to pitch to MTV Films if they won the Best Film on Campus contest. Beck said the screenplay is about three-quarters finished, and the Bluebox filmmakers have sent it out for feedback.

The pair has certainly been dreaming. About a month ago, Beck said, they started compiling a casting wish list, with the names and numbers of agents, “just in case something big happened.” Beck said that an ideal budget for Coast would be roughly $6 million. “We’d like to make this film with a studio backing,” he said.

A development deal is no guarantee that a film will get made, however. More than anything, it gives the filmmakers access to the decision-makers at MTV Films.

The Best Film on Campus contest this year – with its requirement for a trailer rather than a stand-alone short film – seemed designed to segue directly into a development deal. The idea, Beck said, was that the winner would have the opportunity to make a feature film based on his or her entry. But University Heights is already a feature film, and Beck has little interest in re-making it for MTV Films. “We don’t want to tread the same water,” he said.

The trailer format made it easy for Beck to enter the contest. Woods re-cut his trailer for Her Summer – to downplay the mystery element of the movie and emphasize friendship – but Beck didn’t make significant alterations for his University Heights entry.

Although Beck and Woods are experienced filmmakers, they’re still novices when it comes to the nuts and bolts of Hollywood. Beck is blunt that he doesn’t have a full sense of what the development-deal entails, and if there’s any money involved down the road. “If they don’t like the script, I don’t know if they can back out of the development deal,” he said. On the issue of money, he said: “We have no idea about that.”

Beck said that he expects to have a meeting with MTV Films in January, and he’s been encouraged by the contact he’s had with the company. “I feel really good about it,” he said. He and Woods are also generating a backup list of script concepts, in the event that MTV Films passes on Coast.

Beck concedes that the seriousness of Coast doesn’t seem to jibe with the MTV Films output, which has mostly focused on bawdy, juvenile comedies such as Pootie Tang, Orange County, and Jackass: The Movie, along with music-star vehicles such as Crossroads and Get Rich or Die Tryin’. But the studio has done dramatic fare such as Coach Carter, and Beck is quick to note that MTV Films also released the scabrous cult classic Election. “It seems as though they’re broadening their horizons,” he said.

Beck also said that the contest win has opened doors for the Bluebox pair, regardless of what happens with MTV Films. Beck’s win was noted in Variety last week, for instance.

Beck said he’s optimistic about the relationship with MTV Films while also trying to temper his expectations. “I’m expecting the best, but I’m trying to remain level-headed,” he said.

Of course, even if MTV Films doesn’t pick up Coast or some other Bluebox Limited project, Beck has that home-theatre system to console him.

Or ... perhaps not.

Beck said he and Woods don’t need a system that nice – it includes a plasma television with a 42-inch screen and a $450 stereo system – at this point in their lives. “We’re trying to find somebody to buy it,” Beck said. In typical fashion, they want to put the proceeds back into their filmmaking.

For more information on Bluebox Limited, visit (
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