How a Coralville couple is pursuing their dream of becoming feature film directors

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In Keokuk, early one morning in June 2017, college student Brittany Benedict showed up at Dollar Tree for her first day of work at her summer job.

She was greeted by Michael Huntington, one of the employees she was going to supervise. They had seen each other in town but had never officially met.

They chatted while filling shelves with candy and laundry detergent – ​​then made a monumental discovery.

Both dreamed of a career in cinema.

Benedict and Huntington quickly became a couple. Three months later, they bought a camcorder and produced a short documentary about a paranormal club in Keokuk. They laugh now to recall the amateur nature of their first film.

“It just wasn’t great,” Huntington said. “I literally knew nothing about a camera. The white balance was bad, it was grainy, the lighting was horrible and the sound was atrocious.

But they moved on and pursued other film projects, including as videographers for family weddings. They worked hard, learned through experience and experimentation, and honed their skills.

Five years later, you find the couple living in Coralville and working full-time on two separate videography businesses in a small office in the North Liberty CoLab, a coworking space.

Their wedding videography business is called One22 Studios and has grown to the point where they now film around 30 weddings each year. Their office is packed with equipment – ​​four cameras, nine specialized lenses, two computers, microphones, green screens, assorted cables and other professional filming accessories.

“We love to do weddings,” Benedict said. “We put our heart and soul into it, and it’s rewarding as heck. We’re creating something people will watch for generations.

But they are also deeply committed to their other business called Cintree Films, their dream movie adventure. The name combines “cinema” with “tree”, a nod to the Keokuk workplace where they met.

They self-produced 15 shorts, most self-funded or crowd-funded with a volunteer cast and crew. They have also appeared in countless other films and have several larger projects underway. You can find samples by searching Cintree Films on YouTube.

Marriage work helps sustain Cintree Films, because, as Huntington explained, “short films are not marketable like feature films”. He said the industry generally classifies a short film as under 60 minutes, while a feature film is longer.

Most of their shorts are around 15 minutes long, which usually involves at least three long days of shooting, plus countless hours of editing. Although they rarely generate income, these films are intended to give credibility to the videographers.

The couple begin racking up awards for their short film. At the recent Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, they earned nine nominations and won four top awards in categories including editing, special effects, shorts, and web series.

“When we got into this, we had no idea you could do little movies in Iowa,” Benedict said.

Brittany Benedict and Michael Huntington of Coralville recently received top awards from the Iowa Motion Picture Association for their work on the various short films they either produce themselves or are working on with other film groups in the Iowa.

Now they have a network of like-minded friends and associates across the state, a collaborative community they were thrilled to discover and join. They refer to hundreds of people acting, filming, directing, producing, or otherwise involved in making movies in the state.

Making films is hard work and budgets are tight at this level. Cintree Films typically spends less than $3,000 on a project and relies on volunteer actors, homemade props and sets, and the expertise of an additional crew as needed. Both Huntington and Benedict can wield a camera, but much of his job involves organizing and directing projects, while he excels in editing the final cut.

“We balance each other out,” Benedict said with a smile. “Michael is a gear junkie and a risk taker, whereas I tend to be a little more hands-on and budget-focused.”

“No one is as hardworking or as organized as Brittany for our projects,” added Huntington. “It’s so important that filming takes place on a tight schedule because we have to respect the time constraints of everyone working on it. They are mostly volunteers, after all.

Examples of their projects include a 17-minute film they called “Rosie’s Necklace”, which depicts a family’s struggle when an elderly member develops Alzheimer’s disease. They rented a Cedar Rapids theater to show the film and used it to help raise $1,500 in donations to support an Alzheimer’s organization.

Another of their films, titled “Shut the Box,” will premiere online this summer. It’s a thriller about former foster children who, as adults, discover a game that unleashes sinister power.

This is what it looks like behind the camera when setting up a scene for

In other projects, Benedict and Huntington were hired by Nathan Sharp of Burlington to produce a film called “Batman: Terrors of the Knight”, which stars Sharp in the lead role. The film is expected to run about 40 minutes after editing and could premiere in a Burlington theater before the end of the year.

“We staged a complicated scene in an alley in Cedar Rapids for the Batman movie,” Huntington said. “It was a choreographed fight, and we actually wetted the street with buckets of water to make it look like it was raining and give it a more dramatic effect.”

Benedict added, “In another scene, we used poster paper and PVC pipe to make the bars of a prison cell for a close-up of the Joker behind the bars.”

On screen, it looks authentic.

The pair will be working on a feature film in June called “Dead Man Walking.” The story follows a gang member, shot in the head, who tries to find out who is responsible for his injury, as well as what happened to his money.

“We’re helping a filmmaker from Waterloo with that,” Huntington said. “This will be our first chance to do a feature film, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

At the end of June, they will travel to Texas for a week to watch a western short called “The Satchel”. They will film the “behind the scenes” part of this production. Two Des Moines filmmakers are the producers.

Huntington and Benedict say their career goal is to keep improving to the point where they can create a feature film that could catch the eye of Netflix or a major film festival like Sundance.

Four cameras similar to this one are used by Brittany Benedict and Michael Huntington, along with associated equipment, in running their two videography businesses.

While it can sometimes be difficult to spend so much time together at work and at home, Benedict said the couple’s enthusiasm for filmmaking on all levels helps make the partnership work.

“We started working well together as soon as we were at Dollar Tree, and it continued as we formed our own company,” she pointed out. “We are both happy with what we are doing and pursuing our dream.”

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