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Fights! Camera! Action!

CMU students mix Hollywood hooks and explosive plot in sequel to movie that was never made

Wednesday, April 28, 1999

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

They're going to have a blast at Carnegie Mellon's University Center tomorrow, and the public is invited to watch (tuxedos and gowns suggested).

  CMU students and executive film producers Jeb Wilson, left, Adam Waite and Joe Manganiello work on editing their film "Out of Courage 2." (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

The explosion of the student union is just the scene from a movie that's premiering during the campus film festival. But this particular entry is more than a film: It's a student extracurricular project of epic proportions.

Boldly billed as "the sequel to the movie that was never made," "Out of Courage 2" is the 27-minute result of months of effort by more than 150 students from different disciplines. And none of them is filmmaking, since CMU doesn't have a film program.

The movie is of the action genre, as is the story of how it was made.

The director and producer is an electrical and computer engineering senior named Jeb Wilson. But he's been focusing on a filmmaking career since last year, when he made the original "Out of Courage," the "trailer for the movie that was never made."

Completing that 16 mm film was the final for a class he was taking at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. For help, he enlisted his buddy and music composition major Adam Waite. Hearts racing from too much coffee and the trailer for "Armageddon" they'd just seen, they decided to create their own trailer for a stereotypical Hollywood action flick.

They can recite all the classic elements: Violence, romance...

"Quick cuts."

"Powerful music."

"A narrator with a deep voice!"

Promo poster shows "Out of Courage 2" is not a typical student-made film. 

Not, in this case, big budget. Their shooting was limited to eight weekends and was stopped a few times by security officers alarmed by guys running around campus with pellet guns.

But within the semester, "JEBCO Productions" wrapped up "Out of Courage." The date movie -- or at least, this punchy preview of one -- starred then-freshman acting major Stephen Fletcher as a CMU student whose courage in asking out the fetching female lead saves her life and the world from terrorists.

If that makes you feel as uplifted as the American flag at the end, let them tell you how their entry wound up drawing capacity crowds and winning Viewers Choice and Best of Show at the CMU film club's Film Fest 7.

Now comes Film Fest 8, and "Out of Courage" is back, with the subtitle, "Out for Vengeance."

Such a buzz did the original film generate around campus that "You'd hear people humming the music!" recalls acting major Joe Manganiello, whose roommate Arik Luck played the Irish Republican Army bad guy. Manganiello wanted to get in on the lights, camera and action, so he contacted Wilson with the idea to write the same characters into an expanded film this year.

Wilson, meanwhile, spent last summer interning in Hollywood with action-producer par excellence Jerry Bruckheimer, whose credits include "Armageddon," "The Rock," "Top Gun," and many others -- "the coolest movies," as Wilson says with a grin.

Wilson mostly was a gofer, but he returned to campus inspired, and Manganiello's idea for "Out of Courage 2" grabbed him by the throat and wouldn't let go!

Wilson: "We just tried to completely overdo the first one."

    "Out of Courage 2: premiere

When: During Film Fest 8 tomorrow at 7:30 and 10 p.m., 12:30 a.m.

Where: McConomy Auditorium in CMU's University Center.

Admission: $2 students; $4 non-students.

Information: 412-268-2107.

Reel competition at film festival

"Out of Courage 2: Out for Vengeance" is one of about 20 films and videos from "Film Fest 8," the annual festival competition of Carnegie Mellon University's film club, called "filmmaking@cmu."

The student-made short works were selected from about 45 submissions. Seats for the festival -- about 440 in McConomy Auditorium in CMU's University Center -- fill up fast. Tickets are $2 for students and $4 for non-students, and will be available at the door.

Depending on turnout, an encore showing may be next week. For more information, call 412-268-2107.

-- Bob Batz Jr.


Judging from the climactic fight scene and explosion, they have succeeded with this feature, which picks up the story five years later with some really bad news for Fletcher's character, Brock Jacobs. Manganiello is the new bad boy, a fanatical Russian named Ruslan Zmeyev. He buys a bomb from Luck's IRA terrorist so he can pursue his own evil designs for world domination -- once again, via the renowned Pittsburgh campus.

"A ridiculous plot," Wilson says proudly.

The way this movie came together is even more unreal.

Wilson says, "I wanted it to be as big as possible," but he's gone beyond his overblown hopes.

Thanks to "OC1," "OC2" (as they're now known by insiders) attracted so many would-be actors that he held auditions. And unlike the first time, JEBCO actually had a crew -- even a "best boy grip" -- thanks to other students who volunteered to do whatever it took.

Manganiello: "There were people who agreed to do makeup for six or seven weeks just so they could get a line."

During shoots, held mostly in University Center -- the student union -- this January through March, extras stood around into the wee hours for nothing more than pizza.

"You put a little blood on them and they'll stay forever," says Fletcher, who really poured himself into this role.

Others contributed various talents. One student cast all the Russian rifles from plastic. Fletcher helped build, from plaster, the detailed 1/48th-scale model of University Center, which they wired with staggered charges to blow up so spectacularly (watch that park bench fly!).

Actors with speaking parts include Mary Kate Schellhardt, a drama major who has appeared in "real" movies such as "Free Willy 2" (and who got permission from the Screen Actors Guild to play the female lead in this one). Playing her father and CMU's president is professor Gregory Lehane, who in real life is associate head of the School of Drama as well as a twice-Emmy-nominated director.

"At this school," Manganiello says, "there are so many brilliantly talented people."

A recent edition of CMU News ran photos of the filming under the headline "Wonder Boys of Our Own," a reference to the real Hollywood film that's been shooting on campus this winter and spring.

"OC2" had a bit smaller budget, of course, but it still has a professional feel, thanks in great part to one huge break Wilson got: Through a drama alumnus he met, a New York camera company rented him a top-of-the-line camera package for free, instead of the $50,000 it would have cost to use it for seven weeks.

The filmmakers did have a bigger budget than they thought they would this fall, when Wilson and Waite were awarded undergraduate research grants of $1,500. .

As the OC2 excitement built, so did donations from other university sources, including President Jared Cohon and College of Fine Arts Dean Martin Prekop. The filmmakers ended up spending about $12,000 -- three times what they spent on the original.

This is not your typical student-made art film.

They're all having a blast with it, trying to be as authentically action-flick-oriented as they can. The movie already is listed on the Internet Movie Database (, where an anonymous reviewer has breathlessly described it as "a true masterpiece of action, and suspense. The non-stop pacing of the film gives it an energy that pulses on the screen. "

There's even a realistic preview -- "approved for all audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America" -- that you can view at

You have to hear Waite's swelling music score, which he recorded in the Alumni Concert Hall with a volunteer orchestra and choir. Computer science major-turned-sound man Matt Sheby used the latest technological wizardry to help put it all together.

The highlight may be the rock anthem that plays while the credits roll, crooned by Luck in such dead-on style that it could go into rotation on Pittsburgh radio.

In fact, the filmmakers plan to eventually sell a soundtrack CD -- complete with a techno remix of that song, "(With You Girl) I Can Always Fly" -- and they'll be taking orders for videotapes, which they may even package with a copy of the full-color movie poster that yet another student created.

As for tomorrow's premiere, they're having family and friends in, and they want everyone to wear gowns and tuxedos.

What's next? "OC3: Student Loans Come Due"? Action figures? Fast-food kiddie meals?

"I'm still trying to figure out what to do with this," says Wilson, who is graduating. "I suppose I could send it out to agents."

They joke about sending it to Cannes, but they might be able to enter it in other festivals.

Meanwhile, they may try to get it shown to broader alumni or local audiences, who'll appreciate the scenes shot on location at familiar places like the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland (the movie credits "the staff of the 'O' as themselves").

Manganiello, for one, thinks as big as his evil character:

"Look at 'South Park,' " the crude TV cartoon that became a huge cultural phenomenon. "I'm not saying that'll happen, but you never know."

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