The Mafia has always been influential in changing the way things operate and three Miami University communications students are shaking things up with their own M.A.F.I.A., the Miami Association of Filmmakers and Independent Actors.
Brandon Lea, Sam Mechling and A. J. Rickert-Epstein are the co-founders and co-presidents of the student-run organization, created to provide practical production experience to aspiring student filmmakers.
"Outside of specific projects for mass communications courses, you are allotted cameras and equipment, but you have no outlet," says Lea, speaking recently at a popular dive near the Miami University campus.
Mechling sums up his group like this: Join M.A.F.I.A. and you can learn camera work and production techniques instead of watching movies in class and writing papers.
"If you want to be a legitimate filmmaker, you have to take a more active approach," Mechling says.
Mechling is serious and knowledgeable, talking incessantly about filmmaking. His plate of food remains untouched. Lea is relaxed by comparison, a funny alternative to Mechling's razor-sharp personality. What both students share is a passion about M.A.F.I.A., its future and the films they plan to produce together.
The Keys, a seven-minute film written and directed by Mechling and produced by Rickert-Epstein, tells the story of a college guy who wakes up with a hangover and searches for his lost keys.
His plan of action is intentionally loopy: Put himself on the edge of death, while the late Elliott Smith's moody Pop song "Needle in the Hay" plays in the background, and he'll find his keys while his life flashes past his eyes.
Mechling and Rickert-Epstein took their filmmaking message off campus for the first time on Nov. 9 with a screening of the M.A.F.I.A-produced film, The Matrix: An Untold Story, at Underneath Cincinnati, the popular series of film exhibitions at the Mockbee performance space (formerly SSNOVA) in Cincinnati's Brighton Corner neighborhood.
The Matrix: An Untold Story tweaks the well-known Matrix trilogy with an original story about a student and his instructor who travel into the Matrix to get information about the enemy machines.
Miami University contributed $10,000 to the organization via a federal grant to support equipment purchases and production costs. Rickert-Epstein says additional funding is being requested from Miami University's Associated Student Government to help create a series of campus screenings featuring M.A.F.I.A.-produced films.
"If you make a film and no one gets to see it, what's the point?" Mechling says. "Right now there is a lot of apathy at Miami as far as filmmaking goes. If this works, the school's going to have to take notice, and they're going to make a film program."
For more information about M.A.F.I.A., contact Brandon Lea at [email protected]