|UST Communication Graduates Emerge as Comedy Filmmakers|
Tapping into the booming Internet film genre, two University of St. Thomas communication graduates have found success and an outlet for creative expression as filmmakers.
Tomball resident Albert Vara graduated from UST in 2000 and currently works as a technical engineer for Wagner Media, but his true passion lies in making films. His recent project, Hot Tamale, a sports drama spoof, was featured as a finalist in the Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival on Nov. 15 on the campus of San Jacinto College.
Nick Mundy, a Spring native and 2004 UST graduate, would never have imagined the Internet shorts he and his friends filmed in their spare time would result in collaborations with entertainment industry giants like ABC and Comedy Central.
Vara and Mundy both took television production and video editing classes with John Butler, adjunct professor of communication. Butler also serves as newscast director for Fox News 26 KRIV.
In the last five years, the University of St. Thomas communication curriculum has moved completely to nonlinear or computer-based video editing, expanding facilities and equipment from one editing suite to 23 editing suites in the 2008-2009 academic year.
“There has been a dramatic change in the accessibility to technology,” Butler said “There is a huge demand in the job market for people who have computer video editing skills and the ability to tell stories visually. At the advanced level, students are able to pursue projects tailored to their own interests including news reporting, documentaries and even comedies like Nick and Albert. ”
Vara said he started his college career at UST taking classes in the theatre department to achieve his goal to be an actor. He soon realized he had a greater passion to sit in the director’s chair, and chose to major in communication to learn more about life behind the lens. While at UST, Vara was also able to hone his skills in a production assistant at KHOU Channel 11.
“I fell in love with the idea of being a director,” Vara said. “As an actor, you can only present your interpretation of a single character, but as a director, you get to offer your interpretation of the whole story. That’s why I wanted to learn the technical aspects of film and video editing in Communication classes. Exposure to those skills also planted the seed for me to be able to work in the audio-visual industry. I know I would not have the job I have right now, if I had not had that introduction at UST.”
In addition to the hands-on UST communication curriculum, Vara said he valued the support he received from the faculty.
“Dr. Robin Williamson always encouraged the students and inspired us to be creative,” Vara said.
Vara’s sports parody, Hot Tamale, follows the story of Jack Cougar, a “down-on-his-luck” single father who competes in the Hot Tamale Hand Slapping Tournament “to prove to the world and to himself that he can become the father only his son believes he can be.” Vara wrote, directed and acted in the film, playing the Hot Tamale Hand Slapping League Commissioner, who presents the coveted grand prize belt buckle to the tournament winner. Josh Bass, a 2001 UST communication graduate, also collaborated on the film.
After graduation, Mundy immediately moved to New York City to work postproduction jobs for various entertainment companies including ABC’s Extreme Makeover (cosmetic surgery edition). In 2005, he joined his friends and current writing partners, Clint Gage and Michael Truly, in Los Angeles where shot a series of comedy film shorts and created a Web site called TeamTigerAwesome.com.
“Within a week of the launch, we had thousands of hits on the site,” Mundy said. “Then we launched our first series of shorts which propelled us even further called, 28-Day Slater, about Mario Lopez’s character on the 80’s teen sitcom Saved by the Bell. That’s when we realized this is more than just a hobby.”
Their successful Internet film endeavors led to television, writing, media and acting representation from the famed William Morris Agency and subsequent collaborations with Superdeluxe.com, a division of Turner Networks. In March 2007, Mundy and his partners prepared a pilot comedy script for the ABC network entitled, “The Legend of Kraig.” The project, Mundy said, was loosely based off a fictitious story about his University of St. Thomas roommate. Unfortunately, the project was cancelled due to the writers’ strike. Since then, the trio has worked with Comedy Central, Aniboom, Digisynd and Greenstreet Films on various projects. Mundy also frequently appears on stage to perform stand-up comedy.
“The UST Communication Department professors were great because they were very accommodating and gave me the freedom to pursue my interests.” Mundy said. “The professors were almost as supportive as my parents are, and they still check up on me. University of St. Thomas professors expect a lot from their students, and those expectations have, in part, helped me develop a really strict work ethic that has helped me meet the demands of the entertainment industry.”
Mundy said his experience as a student at UST continues to influence him as an artist.
“I was able to learn more about who I was as an artist at UST,” Mundy said. “UST is still part of my creative process today because when I write something new, I frequently think, “would my old UST friends laugh at this?”