LAS CRUCES – Sheridan O’Donnell, a 2011 graduate of New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute, said that success has not come easy.
“I don’t know who said it,” — it was Malcolm Gladwell — “but there’s a lot of truth in that quote about having to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you’re good at it,” O’Donnell told the Sun-News.
O’Donnell is just another of CMI’s recent success stories, but don’t call him an overnight success. He believes that success is cumulative — the result of years of hard work — and not something that happens overnight.
“There’s something about this year, as things are beginning to fall into place — I feel ready for it,” O’Donnell told the Sun-News Saturday.
And he should.
O’Donnell’s short film, “Wolff’s Law,” has just been accepted at the 19th Annual Brussels Short Film Festival, where it will screen in early May. The film, which O’Donnell says is admittedly dark, addresses the difficult issue of childhood bullying.
“It tells the story of Hyde, a 16-year-old boy,” O’Donnell said. “It takes place in September of 2002, and he’s basically being bullied at his school. He’s unloved at home, and a lot of factors come together which force him to have a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, he undergoes a frightening and kind of sad transformation in the name of revenge — revenge against his bullies.”
The film is a little more than 25 minutes long, and cost about $25,000 to produce. It stars Brendan Meyer (“Fear the Walking Dead,” “The Guest,” “CSI”), and O’Donnell said the film has received a chilly reception, so far, in the United States. In Europe, however, it’s a different story altogether.
“My fiancée and I were visiting Belgium, and we showed the film to a few friends we were staying with,” he said. “It was incredibly well-received, and they told me that they believed it would really resonate with a European audience. That was encouraging. Then they told me about the Brussels Short Film Festival, offered to have the film subtitled for me, and we submitted it.”
The film was produced by Keagan Karnes, a fellow CMI alum who also produced “Buffalo,” a short film by Julian Alexander that was recently accepted to the Cannes Film Festival.
“We had been working so hard for years, but none of our stuff was ‘out’ yet,” Karnes said. “Now, all at once, it’s beginning to feel like everything is taking off — and that is very nice. It’s a long, long process, but we’re beginning to see some of that hard work paying off.”
O’Donnell said he feels like the film festival circuit — the only system available for a young, unknown filmmaker to break out — is, in some ways, a broken system. Before Brussels, O’Donnell submitted to around 20 film festivals; “Wolff’s Law” was never accepted. Each submission costs about $50 t o $75, he said.
“It takes a lot of money on my end, which is not easy to come by as an independent filmmaker,” he said. “The way they make money, to put the festival on, is by charging independent filmmakers a lot of money. And, over the course of a year, I got about 20 rejections.”
That took its toll on O’Donnell, he said. But he never stopped believing in his film, or in his career as a filmmaker. He said that, through it all, he remains committed to a career in filmmaking.
“I think that our graduating class — the people that I worked with, like my cinematographer Matt Wilson and Keagan, who was a year behind me — we’ve all moved up to Albuquerque and done fairly well,” O’Donnell said. “It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t easy, but move by move we’re getting closer and closer to what we want to do. Little things are happening. They’re small victories, but they’re victories.”
O’Donnell said he isn’t sure what the recent string of successes will mean for CMI, but he’s really proud of his friends, whose work is beginning to find its audience.
“I think we’re all doing good work,” he said. “But, most of all, we’re still going after what we want to do. I think that’s the victory. I’ve been out of college for four years, and I’m still 100 percent pursuing filmmaking. And I know that I will be four years from now. Even at the biggest level — even at USC and NYU — graduates get discouraged and leave the business. It’s very hard to stay committed, and we all have. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
To see a trailer for “Wolff’s Law,” or to learn more about O’Donnell’s other projects — including a recent, nationwide commercial contest for belVita Breakfast Biscuits he just won, visit SheridanODonnell.com.
Damien Willis may be reached at 575-541-5468, firstname.lastname@example.org or @damienwillis on Twitter.