What do fake mashed potatoes, a borrowed Mustang and Professor Tillet have to do with each other? They all play a role in the short film that has earned Regent film students a College Television Awards nomination for Best Comedy. Espionage by Candlelight was written by undergraduate senior Jared Esteban for a class project. Now, industry professionals have deemed it worthy of national recognition.
When a class of Cinema-Television students voted to bring Esteban’s script to life, winning an award was not on anyone’s radar. Nonetheless, the students chose to view the project not as a class assignment but as something they truly desired to succeed. Leila Haddad and Michael Beam excelled as co-producers of Espionage by Candlelight, despite their positions being relatively new. Jared Ragan came alongside Esteban as assistant director, while Sage Thomas became the director of photography. Kenny Williams not only orchestrated the production design but acted in the film, along with the stunning performances of Bethany Poulson and Harrison Dove-Green.
The 42nd College Television Awards will be presented by the Television Academy Foundation on April 1, 2023. The foundation is paying for Esteban to fly out and stay in L.A. for the ceremony. Beam and Haddad are planning to attend as well, and the three of them will participate in a development program available for all the nominees run by famed figures of the film and television world. The nominated films from all categories will be shown before the winners are announced.
Esteban did not foresee his film going anywhere after being shown at Regent’s student showcase Fall 2021. However, Professor Mike Sinclair told him about the opportunity and encouraged Esteban to submit the work. The senior students are incredibly grateful to the professors who have pushed and believed in them throughout the process. “We all put in 150% on this,” Williams reflected, which was needed to compete with the 135 other films submitted by schools across the country.
Two other schools have been nominated for Best Comedy: The University of South Carolina and Loyola Marymount University. While both of Regent’s competitors are teams of graduate students, Espionage was made entirely by undergraduate students, making their nomination even more striking. Although friends and family responded positively to Espionage, the nomination brings a new level of validation for the film’s creators. “It’s really cool seeing in a professional environment that our content is still good; our production is still good,” said Haddad. After working extremely hard for four years, the recognition and affirmation these students are receiving is more than well-earned and will continue to inspire up-and-coming filmmakers at Regent.
Espionage by Candlelight is the story of two individuals enjoying a dinner together where everything is not as it initially seems. The inspiration for the film came after learning how to create a ‘table scene’ in class. Esteban used YouTube videos and his previous experience in martial arts to coordinate the realistic stunts to show that a seemingly ordinary interaction may have ulterior motives brewing underneath. As the idea of the comedy took shape, Esteban also desired to create a film that the entire family could enjoy. “When you watch it, it just makes you feel good; you aren’t really having an internal battle,” Haddad explained. Speaking of both his characters and real-life experience, Esteban stated, “When they finally let their guard down, they find that there’s actually this cool person right across from them, and that’s when the connection is made.”
The making of the film was not always smooth sailing, but the cast and crew’s perseverance clearly paid off. The entire production was accomplished with a budget around $40, all pitched in by the crew (one of their competitors raised $6,500 for their production). When they showed up at The Swan Terrace restaurant, a key location for the two-and-a-half-day set, their reservation forms had been misplaced. Fortunately, with their commitment to “be a friend to everyone” and some persuasive rhetoric, the producers secured an area to film, and it worked out better than originally planned. Golf cart headlights, bits of a fake plant and real restaurant customers minding their business are just a few other bits that added to the magic that is now College Television Award-nominated Espionage by Candlelight.
If you’re impressed, watch out for Regent’s latest endowed film, Lift: written and directed by Jared Esteban, produced by Haddad and Williams, and filmed by Beam. With a team of over 50, this short film will be shown at the upcoming Regent showcase in April. Lift features stellar action and effects amidst a heartfelt story that you won’t want to miss!