On the evening of January 23rd, 2022, members of local Virginia filmmaking groups logged onto Facebook and read something they would never have predicted: Peter J. Eaton, Regent University alumni and professor, had suddenly passed away. The news had an immediate impact, sending shockwaves through students and staff alike. During his lifetime, Eaton was known as someone who was full of love and ambition for both filmmaking and Regent University.
Eaton began his film career on the Regent campus in the mid-late 1980s when he came to study cinematography. As a student, he wrote, directed, and produced many short films and created outrageous projects, such as when he and his friends set out to recreate a scene from The Godfather but with cats. When remembering what Eaton was like as a student, Professor Andrew Quicke noted that he was “quite ambitious” and always had a talent for putting together a team and finding sponsors for his films.
Shortly after graduating, Eaton lived between Virginia and California. In Virginia, he would work on documentaries and instructional videos, and in California, he would run errands for big studio heads. Though most likely not his ideal situation, Eaton trusted that his hard work would eventually pay off. This proved to be true in the summer of 1989 when a producer at Warner Brothers called him up randomly one day and asked if he would be able to handle doing behind the scenes work on a Charlie Sheen movie called Navy SEALs, which was set to be released in July of 1990. Eaton answered yes and immediately began his time working for Warner Brothers. This opportunity proved to be fruitful for him because Navy SEALs soon opened the doors for Eaton to edit, produce, sponsor, and do camerawork on movies such as Toy Soldiers (1991), I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore (1992), and short-lived TV series Treasures in Your Home (1999-2000).
Eaton was finally able to direct his own project in 2003 when he decided to film his original screenplay, Gravity, a mob thriller about a brother looking for revenge. The film was released in 2004 with great success in the film festival circuit, earning Eaton his first award: “Best Director” at the 2004 Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Though Eaton had declared California his home by the late 1990s, he never forgot his roots. In 2004, he briefly returned to Norfolk, Virginia to make a film with Professor Quicke titled “Soulmate.” The movie was filmed under Eaton’s own production company Coastal Productions (now known as DuPont Solution). However, Eaton and Quicke could not find a distributor for the film, so it was never released. Despite this, Eaton and his wife had decided to permanently move back to the Hampton era, and it was soon after that Eaton began teaching at Regent University.
Regent Memories of Peter J. Eaton
When talking with former students and colleagues, they never failed to highlight Eaton’s kindness toward others and devotion to Jesus Christ. Dr. Peter Fraser, director of the School of Communication and the Arts, noted that Eaton was one of the few professors he had never received a complaint from or about. Mel Howerton, an MFA student who worked closely with Eaton since 2019, stated that “paying it forward” was Eaton’s motto. He always looked out for the underdog and encouraged students to chase their dreams. Howerton also mentioned that Eaton had a way of ensuring that everything flowed smoothly on set. Sarah Pinkham (junior) agreed with this, remembering an instance when Eaton had gotten coffee for the crew without being asked to during a particularly long filming day.
Eaton had a way of advising students while also giving them the room to make their own decisions. Adrianna La Tortue (senior) noted that Eaton taught students how to set up and best utilize equipment while still being able to step back and allow the students to make their own decisions regarding how the film should look and play out. Bailey Scimeca (senior) remembered Eaton fondly, noting how he was the one who first encouraged her to go into directing. Pinkham had a similar story, with Eaton being the one who encouraged her to go into acting.
In the words of Dr. Fraser, Peter J. Eaton accomplished something that very few people are able to do. Eaton lived a life of integrity and hard work, making an impact on Regent University, its student body, and its film department that will be hard to match.
The School of Communication and the Arts will be hosting a memorial service for the students on Friday, February 4th at 4:30 PM in the Moot Court Room in Robertson Hall.