By Racquel Joseph
As a “creative academic” Baylor film professor Christopher Hansen takes a different approach to publishing his research and work. While academics in other fields publish books, articles, or scientific findings, Hansen produces feature-length films.
Hanson’s first major film was the “mockumentary” The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, shot in Waco. The Proper Care and Feeding follows a man who feels he is a regional-type messiah—not the Messiah—as he makes plans to announce his holiness in a town-wide rally.
Now an associate professor and director of the film and digital media division at Baylor, Hansen managed to climb the professional ladder while giving students the experience of working on the set of a real film, a unique take on the common practice of undergraduates partnering in faculty research. Hansen described The Proper Care and Feeding as “more of an experiment.” With lessons learned under his belt, he began filming his next feature, Endings, in the summer of 2008. Shot in the five weeks of a summer school session, Endings is now making the rounds on the film festival circuit.
Endings features Hansen’s daughter, Emma, in a lead role. Hansen says he purposely wrote a part for a pre-teen girl. By keeping the family involved, he hoped to keep things simpler than they were for his tenure project. “I’m not a full-time filmmaker,” Hansen said. “I’m a professor; I have a wife and four kids. My time is at a premium.”
It is easy to see why movie making can be hard on a family. “A three or four minute-long scene, depending, can take a ten-hour day, or two,” Hansen explained. Each angle takes lighting adjustment and new camera placement. Actors speak the same lines of dialogue dozens of times to create one gripping scene.
And Endings was made to be a gripping drama. The story follows three people—a cancer-stricken woman, a drug addicted man, and a young girl—as they confront the reality of death. “It’s about the way people deal with death,” Hansen says. “Some know its coming sooner than others.” The film also addresses the role of family. Each of the characters has various issues with their family and, because they cannot go it alone, they band together.
Hansen said that writing, producing, casting, and completing an independent film is the beginning of an uphill battle. “The road for these films is getting harder and harder. A film is technically independent if it has no distribution deal,” Hansen explained. When it comes time to submit to festivals, he says, “we’re not all on the same playing field.”
But the exposure of his films beyond Central Texas is generating what he calls “momentum.” So far, that momentum has earned him recognition for his work and a possible TV deal for The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah. He is currently writing a new film and is hoping to start filming next summer.
Chris Hansen’s opinions on filmmaking in Texas can be found on his blog, “Making Movies in Flyover Country.”