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The Dead Gentlemen filmmakers return to PLU

May 10, 2010

The Dead Gentlemen return to PLU – Ben Dobyns ’01, Don Early ’00, Matt Vancil ’01 and Steve Wolbrecht ’99.

The Dead Gentlemen filmmakers return to PLU

By Barbara Clements

Once upon a time, there were five Lutes, who had a passion for gaming, and making up silly stories and movies when they should have been studying for finals in 1999.

While looking for another excuse to not study Matt Vancil, Ben Dobyns, Don Early and Steve Wolbrecht, created a video using scraps of story lines from the Godfather and the Mario brothers to hold for “ransom” a favored stuffed toy of Matt’s called “toad.”

Or something like that. These guys have a tendency to talk over each other in the telling the story, as they gathered last week for a mini-reunion of sorts on the PLU campus.

They had so much fun making the film, when again, they should have been studying for their classics or engineering finals, they made a film – Demon Hunters (think Buffy meets Monte Python) which quickly became a cult classic among the gamers of the time. Remember, this was the time before YouTube and the Internet. The DVD was passed around totally by word of mouth and friends burning copies for friends.

In 2001, the group made another film “The Gamers” which became another hit among the gaming community. Dead Gentlemen LLC was created in 2002. The group graduated between 1999 and 2001, but the Dead Gentlemen lived on and continues to make movies, although only one of the group works full time at the venture. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve left film making behind has a passion. Quite the opposite.

Ben Dobyns, ’01, works as a freelance film maker now in Seattle, working on films ranging from “no budget” to films with budgets in the millions. Don Early, ’00, is the general manager of Dead Gentlemen LLC, and also works for Thrivent Financial Lutheran as a financial representative in Bellingham, WA. Matt Vancil, ’01, work in Los Angeles on as development director for Epic Films and plans to move back to Tacoma soon. Finally, Steve Wolbrecht, ‘99, works as an engineer for Honeywell and helps decode black boxes on airplanes (a job he insists is not as sexy as it sounds.)

The group now makes films (ten so far) that are regularly rated on Netflix and still more popular than ever among the gaming community and national events, such as Comic-Con in LA and Seattle. To wanna-be filmmakers, they  have this advice – persistence and passion.

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Early.  To which Vancil adds, “It’s not going to make you rich.”  On this they all agree, when they aren’t interrupting each other to make a point, as they gathered in Red Square before talking to interested film students in Ingram Hall last Friday.

Technology has only made the film craft easier. A decade ago, it took forever to edit even 10 minutes of film.  Now the ease of editing on computers and shooting on Flips has made the craft much more streamline and intuitive. But you have to have a good story in the first place, they all stress.

“You have to collaborate in this business. The idea that it’s all auteur is b.s.,” said Vancil.

And oh, if PLU ever wants to have them back to make another film on campus, they’d love to. For a fee of course.