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LSU Alumnus and Screenwriter-in-Residence Zack Godshall Makes His Second Trip to Sundance

For many filmmakers, getting a film shown at the Sundance Film Festival is a life-long dream, but for LSU alumnus and screenwriter-in-residence Zack Godshall, it was only the beginning.

LSU alumnus and screenwriter-in-residence Zack Godshall, the 2009 Louisiana Filmmaker of the Year, makes both short- and feature-length fiction and documentary films.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

In 2007, Godshall had his first film selected to be shown at Sundance and, this past year, he became the first Louisiana filmmaker to have two films selected for the prestigious festival.

Godshall's directorial debut, "Low and Behold," was an Official Selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. His latest work, "Lord Byron," was shown at the 2011 festival this past January.

"The first film festival I'd ever gone to was Sundance Film Festival, and it was the first film I'd made. It was totally overwhelming," said Godshall, the 2009 Louisiana Filmmaker of the Year.

Godshall, who makes fiction and documentary films, both short- and feature-length, recently joined Mari Kornhauser, LSU associate professor of English, for a discussion, "Behind the Scenes of the Sundance Film Festival and HBO's 'Treme,'" as part of the LSU English Department Lecture Series. The event provided a rare, inside look at the magic of cinema and television in the making, with Godshall talking about going to Sundance twice and Kornhauser giving a behind-the-scenes look at writing for the hit television series "Treme."

2007 Sundance Film Festival

"Low and Behold" was the first feature-length narrative, dramatic film by a Louisiana filmmaker to play at the Sundance Film Festival since Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" in 1989 and Glen Pitre's "Belizaire the Cajun" in 1986.

Based on real events, "Low and Behold" tells the story of Turner Stull, a young insurance claims adjuster in post-Katrina New Orleans who risks his job to help a local man, Nixon, find his lost dog. Filmed on location in New Orleans about eight months after Hurricane Katrina, it blurs the line between reality and fiction, creating a mosaic of images, faces and voices that together make for a unique cinematic experience.

"Lord Byron" is set to make its Louisiana
premiere on Friday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m.
at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw
Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge.

"We had kind of wanted to do a fictional story with some kind of real-world elements, unscripted elements," Godshall said. "After [Katrina], we started saying maybe this would be an interesting way to do that because here's a huge story, but maybe we can tell a small story within this bigger context, and it would maybe have a certain quality."

Godshall learned a lot from his first Sundance experience with "Low and Behold" and went to this year's festival with a different mindset.

"You get all of this energy for eight weeks building up to it, and when you're there, it's 10 days of just mayhem, photo shoots and interviews and these parties with famous people at them," Godshall said with a laugh. "Then when it's over, it's back to Lafayette, living in the spare room of my parent's house."

2011 Sundance Film Festival

While all the glamour and bright lights of the Hollywood scene drew him in during his first Sundance visit, it ultimately wasn't the experience that he wanted during his second trip to the festival.

"It was really great and an honor to be there, but I felt like I didn't get what I really needed to get out of it," he said. "This time around, I thought it would be better to kind of approach it in a realistic way, so I tried to hang out with filmmakers and meet other like-minded people. I didn't look for the 'important' people or actually, I found the really important people, which were people that are like me."

"Lord Byron" premiered during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, held in January. Filled with a cast of eccentric characters, each pursuing dreams and missions of their own making, "Lord Byron" paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of the strange and lonely world of its title character, a middle-aged, late-20th century romantic who's confused and torn about his own ambitions and desires.

"This film I made, 'Lord Byron' … made it for almost no money with a very small group of friends and non-professional actors in Lafayette, and then to bring this movie to Sundance was, for me, a really big deal," Godshall said. "It was the first film with an all Louisiana cast and crew to go to Sundance, so that was pretty cool."

"Lord Byron" became Godshall's second film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was the first film with an all Louisiana cast and crew to be shown there.
Photo: Zack Godshall

He noted that "Lord Byron" was made for less than $1,000 with a crew of only himself, a friend and his friend's sister, who could only help part time. They did all the shooting, editing, sound mixing and coloring themselves.

"We made the lowest budgeted movie ever that's gone to Sundance for a feature film," Godshall said. "The fact that, that is true is unbelievable."

While at this year's festival, Godshall made sure to focus on the relationships he had established over the years.

"We just decided to have a good time and to meet people," he said. "This is my third film doing film festivals, so I knew a lot of filmmakers so I wanted to make sure I see their films, hopefully they'll come see mine. I'm going to try to talk to these people who I'm going to have a relationship with and work with again."

Since Sundance, he has already had an opportunity to work with some of those filmmakers and has hopes of working with actors he met at the festival as well.

"That's what it was more about," he said. "It was building relationships with people that were like minded that I'd want to work with again."

"Lord Byron" Louisiana Premiere

"Lord Byron" is set to make its Louisiana premiere on Friday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge.

"I do think that it's always a proud moment for me to show one of these films here in Louisiana," Godshall said, "because then it's kind of like this is where we made it, this is kind of in a way who [we] really want to like it more than anyone."

Godshall made "Lord Byron" with a small group of friends and non-professional actors in Lafayette. Made for less than $1,000, it's the lowest budgeted movie that's ever gone to Sundance for a feature film.
Photo: Zack Godshall

Godshall said that while it's a proud moment for him to show his films before a Louisiana audience, it's nerve-racking as well.

"In a couple weeks at the Manship Theatre, I'll be more nervous than I was at Sundance," he said.

Tickets for the premiere are $10, and can be purchased at www.manshiptheatre.org.

"I hope that a lot of students come and see this movie," Godshall said. "It's playful with the hero's journey. I made it with no money, which is another thing that will be interesting for people to see."

Screenwriter-in-Residence at LSU

Godshall, an LSU Honors College alumnus, graduated from LSU in 2002 in English and earned an MFA in film directing from UCLA in 2005. He has been teaching at LSU for four years in the Honors College and Department of English.

Teaching has been top of mind for Godshall ever since graduate school at UCLA.

"I had this idea that I'd rather teach instead of trying to work in the industry," he said. "I thought that was a good idea, and it just worked out that I was able to get this position here at LSU, which has been like a strange premonition or something, or like a dream. It's been really good. I'm really thankful to be here."

While getting to teach up-and-coming screenwriters, Godshall still has time to work on his own films, and having such a noted and award-winning filmmaker in the classroom is mutually beneficial for the Department of English and its students.

Godshall joined Mari Kornhauser, LSU associate professor of English, for a discussion, "Behind the Scenes of the Sundance Film Festival and HBO's 'Treme,'" as part of the LSU English Department Lecture Series. Video: Watch the discussion
Photo: Hillary Bronwyn
Video: Frank Bourgeois

"Having someone like Zack Godshall back at LSU teaching screenwriting courses is inspirational for our students, who recognize that he was an undergraduate at LSU and now he's making films appearing at Sundance, and he's my teacher!" said Rick Moreland, chair of the LSU Department of English.

Godshall grew up in Lafayette, and after living in California for three years, he knew that coming back to Louisiana was more of a natural fit for him.

"I find that a lot of times, I just get inspired just by kind of going out in the world that exists right here," he said. "I lived in California for three years, and every time I would visit back here, I always wanted to be here because I would be more inspired. My imagination would just get more excited just being around Louisiana."

Godshall's films have won numerous honors and awards. "Low and Behold" won the Best Feature at the 2007 Bend Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival and Sidewalk Film Festival, along with winning Best Supporting Actor at the Bend Film Festival and Best Director at the Sidewalk Film Festival. His documentary, "God's Architects," was shown at the New Orleans Film Festival; the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham, Ala.; the Indie Memphis Film Festival; the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas; and the Lone Star International Film Festival in Fort Worth, Texas.

For more information, visit http://zackgodshall.com/.