(Reprinted from Tennessee Today)
With a couple of films already to his credit, Ben Murphy is part of UT’s first graduating class of cinema studies majors.
The new cinema studies program, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, offers an interdisciplinary major and minor devoted to studying the artistic, cultural, and political dimensions of motion pictures.
There are currently forty-two majors and thirty-seven minors in the program, with at least eight graduating this spring.
“Our program prepares students who wish to pursue careers in film and television, but that’s just part of the story,” said Paul Harrill, associate professor of art and cinema studies.
“More generally—and more importantly—it teaches students to be both creative and critical thinkers about media, while training them to use technology to tell stories and express ideas.”
For Murphy, the program was a perfect way to blend his interests; he’s double majoring in cinema studies and journalism and electronic media.
His short documentary, The Merry Death Collector, about oddball antiques collector Arnie Meredith, had its world premiere at the Nashville Film Festival in April.
The Nashville Film Festival received over 3,500 submissions this year, and Murphy’s film was one of the 6 percent of accepted entries. He was the youngest filmmaker in his category.
“The Merry Death Collector is a combination of work between my two majors,” said Murphy, of Knoxville. “I met Arnie during a photo trip to LaFollette in Robert Heller’s advanced photojournalism class.”
Advanced photojournalism students from UT’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media have taken pictures of what life looks like in the small town of LaFollette, Tennessee, since 1993. Students spend thirty-six hours each spring capturing photo stories for publication in the city’s newspaper, The LaFollette Press.
Murphy was drawn to Meredith’s charisma and passion for the antique business, but it was not until Harrill’s documentary class that he was finally presented the perfect opportunity to tell someone’s story.
“The documentary is both a portrait of a passionate eccentric and a chronicle of the obstacles challenging small-town business owners,” said Murphy. “It’s also about running after your dreams, which I can extremely relate to.”
The Merry Death Collector placed first in the College of Communication and Information division at UT’s Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EURēCA).
Murphy also served as associate producer of Ain’t It Nowhere, a feature film directed by his older brother, Scott Murphy. That film also premiered at the Nashville Film Festival and was named one of the top five Audience Award winners for all narrative films.
“We placed right alongside the Sundance winner, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl,” Murphy said.
Ain’t It Nowhere tells the story of a group of friends in the South who confront the pressure of settling down against an unwillingness to grow up.
All of the cast and crew are UT alumni or students, including accomplished actress and UT alumna Dale Dickey.
Murphy said he enjoyed working with his brother and learning about the film industry.
“It’s great that we are both going into the same industry, so we can support each other along the way.”
Murphy credits his obsession for storytelling for sparking his desire to be a filmmaker. “I love movies, theater, music—really anything that evokes an emotional response.”
As a child, Murphy created adventure stories with his friends using a LEGO Steven Spielberg camera and editing set from his parents. Since then, he started Jetpack Lab Productions with his production partner Matt Drury.
He says his main focus is entering The Merry Death Collector and Ain’t It Nowhere into as many festivals as possible.
“We are very proud of the hard work we’ve put into these stories and we want as many people as possible to see these films.”
Murphy is also working on a narrative romantic comedy short about “the extremes people will go to for love.”
After graduation, Murphy says he plans to move to Los Angeles or New York to pursue his career.
“As long as I’m crafting stories that I love and I’m working with creative, collaborative, and kind people, that’s all I could ever ask for.”