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Buffalo State student filmmakers begin production on TV pilot

From left Buffalo State student filmmakers Joe Kostew, Taylor Stuewe and Grace Ann Phillips.


Student filmmakers enrolled in Buffalo State College’s Television and Film Arts program are taking on quite the task for their senior project this fall semester—to write, produce, shoot, edit, and release a full 22-minute TV pilot for Johannes Bockwoldt’s TFA (TV/Film arts) 450 Class. The end result will be viewed and evaluated by a producer with the Showtime network. I spoke with pilot’s producers Grace Ann Phillips, Joe Kostew, and Taylor Stuewe about the extraordinary opportunity.

The pilot, titled In/Sanity, originated from writer Jennifer Klemanns, and was pitched to me as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Orange is the New Black. It’s about a young man (Bryan Patrick Stoyle) who fakes a suicide attempt to escape the pressures of his everyday life and be admitted into a mental hospital, only to learn the hard way that life in the institution is far from what he had in mind.

“I think the theme was something we could all relate to a little,” said producer Phillips. “Everyone at some point wants to take a break from the stresses of everyday life. You go to school or your job and pay your bills. The chance to get away from those responsibilities is certainly appealing, but being in a situation amongst people who can‘t help themselves—one learns not to take one’s sanity for granted and to appreciate life that much more.” The teleplay was written by Drew Bailey, while Cassandra Crimmen and script editor Robert Kolb round out the writing team.

Phillips won the TFA Pioneer Award for directing in 2012, and the previous short film she wrote and directed, “Scuba-Tap Man,” won the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2014 SUNYWIDE Film Festival. The director of the pilot is Chris Greco, whose previous achievements include winning the TFA Pioneer Award for screenwriting in 2012, and whose short film “Road Test” (also produced by Kostew) was selected as an entry in the Buffalo Dreams Film Festival. Both he and Philips have also worked as production assistants on the hit network show Project Runway. Such TV credits proved useful when it came to reaching out to networks for feedback, explained Kostew. “One of our classmates (Crimmen) had an internship at Showtime. She spoke with her contact there about the pilot and they seemed interested by the pitch and said they’d like to see the finished product.”

The star of In/Sanity, Bryan Patrick Stoyle, is no stranger to the Buffalo acting community. He is the creator and star of the web series Failed First Dates, produced by NDstudios, and has other on-camera credits including “Lent,” “Draw,” “Scope of Practice” and various local commercials including, Crown Energy Services and Sweet Home Credit Union. Bryan made his NYC theatre debut this past April in Click Chamber (F-OFF Festival). He is also the creator and administrator of Western New York Actors Helping Actors, a Facebook group for local actors working to improve the quality of regional acting work. His co-stars in In/Sanity include fellow Buffalo actors Daniel Greer, Annete Herrman, Hilary Walker, Arlynn Knauff, Gian Carlo Gioa, and Frank Tedesco. “I’m very excited to work with the next generation of filmmakers on this pilot,” says Stoyle.

The project involves the various talents that go into all aspects of television production, including director of photography Van Dinh, assistant director/editor Aaron Maser, assistant camera operator Joey Springer, co-editor Madison Amy, and art directors Christine Wang, Derek Juske, and Ashley B. “This is definitely the most people we ever had working on a single project,” explains Stuewe. “Most short films are 2 to 10 minutes long and feature a crew of about 5 or 6 people. This is 15 people who have to all work together. You learn how to divide the work and learn exactly how it is to work in the industry. Scheduling that many people alone is always an issue.”

Most stressing, however, is the lack of funding, a reality that many independent filmmakers in Buffalo must cope with. “Everything from being able to pay our great actors to acquiring the best possible equipment for shooting and editing, even simple production costs like having on-set catering—it all comes down to funding,” says Philips, who’s learned first-hand what it’s like working on tight budgets and making the most of resources. “It’s valuable to learn how to make a film with no budget, but the reality of the industry is that, in general, money equals quality. Learning how to work on such a budget not only gives us the chance to create the highest quality pilot, it presents us with an extraordinary learning opportunity, as well.” Kostew agrees. “It makes everything a lot easier, it’s a huge motivation, and it pushes the cast and crew to work even harder knowing investors believe in our vision.”

To help fund the pilot, the production team has started an Indiegogo campaign ( hoping to reach their goal of $4,000 by November 12th. They have also teamed with Lloyd’s Taco Trucks, who have offered to donate 10 percent of their weekly proceeds towards funding the pilot.

In/Sanity is scheduled to premiere in the Buffalo State Student Union Assembly Hall in December (TBA) and on Artvoice TV shortly after. Started by Prof. Jeffrey Hirshberg in 2010, Buffalo State College’s Television and Film Arts Major is a small, interdisciplinary program made up of English, theater, and film professors. They accept only fifteen students per year based on academic excellence, extracurricular activities, and most importantly, a creative portfolio.

Perhaps most unique about the major is the growing number of female students being accepted, a trend reflected by the industry at large as young women with intelligence and leadership skills like Phillips and Stuewe assume production duties behind the camera in a profession that has largely been dominated by men. “I knew since I was eight years old I wanted to direct and produce, but I would never say it because I thought women weren’t movie directors. As I got older and started making movies I realized this is something I could do,” explains Grace. “Some people will always have negative feelings and prejudices, which are wrong, but if you’re truly passionate about something you shouldn’t let gender stop you from pursuing your dreams.”

Taylor echoed her sentiment, offering this advice to young women interested in filmmaking: “Don’t let anyone intimidate you into thinking this isn’t a female industry, because that’s changing fast. If you have the passion to succeed, then anything is possible.”

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