A new short film by alumni Russ Nickel ’14 and Will Stribling ‘14 is featured now on the Science Fiction Website DUST. Stribling is also currently a screenwriting professor here at Dodge College, while Nickel has taught here previously. We had the opportunity to hear from both as they shared their experience of making their new short film, and their time since graduating from Chapman.

Russ Nickel MFA Screenwriting ’14 (RN)
Will Stribling MFA Screenwriting ’14 (WS)

What can you tell us about your new short film?

RN: It’s short! It’s a film! But in all seriousness, I can’t believe how it came together. “The Speed of Time” is a crazy, action-packed sci-fi romp where we tried to cram an entire feature film into 10 minutes. Notably, we failed. It’s 12 minutes.

WS: What can’t I tell you?? It only takes about 12 minutes to watch it and so far, people don’t seem to hate it. It was also shot mostly in St. Petersburg, Florida (my hometown) with support from the St. Pete/Clearwater Film Commission. It was my first time working with extensive visual effects and elaborate stunts and fight sequences. My wife, Alex Jennings, has a cameo in the film playing opposite her TV boyfriend Sean Marquette. I feel simultaneously inadequate and in awe when surrounded by professional wrestlers. What else could you possibly want to know?

Were there any issues with the pandemic?

RN: We filmed before the pandemic, so thankfully no! There were issues with lost locations, travel arrangements, and total chaos, however! I highly recommend not losing the one location where you’re filming the entire movie 1 day before flying across the country to start filming said movie.

WS: Fortunately we shot it all before the world shut down. But the pandemic has seriously changed our film festival rollout. We were originally supposed to premiere at festivals in the spring, but most fests pushed to the summer and adopted a virtual format. So we ended up premiering at Dances with Films in August before launching on DUST. So far the film has been accepted to 35+ film festivals and counting and I sure hope I get to see it with a live audience one day. But in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for reading the comments on YouTube for validation.

How did you come up with the concept for this film?

RN: Will and I have worked with John Hennigan before (the lead actor), and we have a feature script the 3 of us love and are dying to make, but obviously we can’t afford to make a feature, so we thought, why not write something short as a proof of concept! Basically trying to show what we’re capable of and use it as a pitching tool. From there, we just brainstormed some sci-fi zaniness and cranked out the script one afternoon while we were dogsitting.

WS: My writing partner Russ Nickel & I had been working with John Hennigan (star/producer of The Speed of Time) on some feature film scripts, but the three of us were chomping at the bit to actually shoot something and play around with some of the concepts we’d been talking about. So Russ and I set out to write something that would highlight our comedic chops and John’s unique abilities as an actor with great comedic timing who can do high-flying stunts. I’m a big fan of Back to the Future, so this is definitely an homage to that era of time-travel film.

Did you work with any alumni to produce this? If so, who?

RN: We used a local Florida crew!

WS: Yeah! My writing partner, Russ Nickel. Our 2nd AD (Thomas Nudi) was a Chapman alum as well. We also enlisted Matt Landsman to run our DIT and do some Assistant Editing work, as well as William Kioultzopoulos to record location sound at our LA pickups.

What has life been like since graduation? 

RN: Craziness! Just doing the Hollywood grind, which I love. Genuinely. It’s just fun being out here with friends trying to make it work. I’ve taught, done script coverage, started an education company, written for video games, sold short stories–all kinds of stuff! You never know where your next project will come from, so it keeps life exciting.

WS: It’s been a rollercoaster. Since leaving Dodge, I’ve gone on to direct my second feature film (Bear with Us), a series for Adaptive Studios, short films, commercials, music videos, blah blah blah. And written a handful of feature scripts, some of which may actually get made when it’s safe to do so. Pretty exciting stuff on the horizon, as long as the earth doesn’t burn down just yet.

Do you have any advice for students looking to continue making shorts after graduation?

RN: Yes! Do it! Okay but for real, here’s the skinny. It’s all about attrition. If you don’t give up, you will eventually succeed. It’s really really hard, but if you can find a way to stay in LA and just keep doing it, your friends will all make progress in the industry, and all of you will rise together. Other than that, I’d say the other main thing is just find people who have strong wills. For me, that’s Will. But simply believing that you can make something is the most important step in making something. It’s about overcoming inertia and just doing it.

WS: Do it! But also, why not just make a feature?? I mean, wait. No. Quit. Quit now. There aren’t enough jobs in this town already. I don’t need any more competition.

Check out The Speed of Time here!