On a June evening last year, Spencer Parsons was pacing in the back of a sold-out theater at the L.A. Film Festival, enjoying—in his way—the fulfillment of a long-nurtured dream. He and hundreds of paying ticket-holders were watching the world premiere of I'll Come Running, Parsons' first feature-length film.
"It was a great launch," he remembers. "By the third screening we had a long line of people who were disappointed when we had to turn them away."
Co-written and directed by Parsons, the film stars Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind) and features Parsons' classmate Hallie Bulleit '95. Set in Austin, Texas, and Aarhus, Denmark, it tells the story of a one-night stand that leads a young woman on an unexpected romantic odyssey in Europe.
The film sold out every showing at the festival, and was called by LA Weekly "a surprisingly insightful portrait of how a sudden loss reverberates through a family and a circle of friends." The movie also screened successfully at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. Purchased by the Independent Film Channel, the movie will be available through video-on-demand as part of the "Festival Direct" series on November 4.
A self-described film-geek from early childhood and a former teen film critic for his hometown newspaper in Naples, Florida, Parsons enrolled his freshman year in an introduction-to-film course taught by Christopher Brookhouse. "I took that thinking: I'll do that one, and then any others that come along after that," Parsons recalls. "Only there weren't any others." So he devised an independent study of films with English professor James Carson, wrote a number of scripts for a newly founded student theater troupe called Roundtable, and served as president of the Kenyon Film Society.
"I'm honestly grateful that I attended a college with no film major, and only one or two classes I could take that were related to film, because it encouraged me to explore other subjects," he says. "I would say that the philosophy and religion classes that I took at Kenyon actually have a lot more to do with my filmmaking process now than any film class I've ever taken."
After graduating with a degree in English and interning in the dramaturgy and literary management departments of Center Stage in Baltimore and Actors Theater of Louisville, Parsons did finally enroll in more film classes—in the MFA program in film at the University of Texas, Austin. He completed the program and taught at the university for seven years. While there, he made short films, served as senior programmer for the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival, and labored for three and a half years on I'll Come Running before production even began, while also struggling to cobble together the money necessary to turn the script into a film.
By the time Parsons arrived in Aarhus to start filming, in the summer of 2006, he had quit his job as a lecturer at UT, and had invested so much of his own money into the movie that he had a zero balance in his bank account.
"It was basically a question each month of what credit card I'd have to pay," Parsons explains.
The film has buoyed Parsons' fortunes professionally. He has just signed on as an assistant professor at Northwestern University, where he loves working with students on their films. "The teaching is really important to me," he says. "I love learning from students' mistakes, and also from their discoveries and triumphs."
Meanwhile, he has begun work on his own future film projects. Together with a writing partner he is working on a romantic comedy, and he is already at work with I'll Come Running producers to schedule his next directorial effort: a psychological horror film.
"Filmmaking—or at least my experience of it—always reminds me of a scene in Jurassic Park 2, where somebody says, 'We won't make the same mistakes we made before,' and Jeff Goldblum comes back with, 'No. We're going to make entirely new ones.'"
Staring out a nearby window, as if he can see, upon the grass, an idly assembled cast and crew whose talents he'll soon have to marshal, he adds, "The horror movie will present entirely new problems, I know. But maybe now I know better what sort of monster I'm inviting into my life. I feel ready."
—Brian Groh '95