Lander student, two-time film festival winner, enters third time

Travis Diffenderfer has won his category at the Lander Film Festival the past two years. So this year, he’s entering again.

“I want to write and direct feature films,” said Diffenderfer, a junior in mass communcation. “I grew up watching comedies. It’s sort of my thing.”

He said he finds comedy inspiring and something he “really wanted to do.” His favorite comedy film is Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

“It’s powerful,” he said. “A little bit of laughter can affect someone’s day. It’s a great way to spend time.”

Paul Crutcher, general manager for XLR Lander radio, is an adjunct teacher of radio production and advanced radio production. He also is the festival director.

According to Crutcher, students have had two weeks to work on their submissions. Their deadline was 5 p.m. Friday.

“They had a line prescribed that must be used in their film,” he said. “The lines were written by professional screenwriters.” The screenwriters have worked on such productions such as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Lost,” “Smallville” and “The Clone Wars.”

“The more creatively you use that line, the better the judging will be,” Crutcher said.

Diffenderfer’s prescribed line this year is, “It was 3:30 in the morning for chrissakes! Who does THAT at 3:30 in the morning?” The line is from Paul Zbyszewski, who has written for “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Daybreak.”

Crutcher said there were many judging criteria.

“It has to be under five minutes. It has to tell a good story, and you have to develop the story around the prescribed line,” he said.

There is an open division, a college division and a high school division. Crutcher said there are entries from Lander and Saluda and Greenwood high schools.

Diffenderfer hasn’t taken time off from working on his submission. In fact, he took advantage of Lander’s recent spring break to learn more about his trade by going to a screenwriting workshop in Rockport, Maine.

“Mom has connections,” he said, adding his mother went to high school in California and now knows people the film industry.

Diffenderfer worked at the workshop with Wayne Beach, who has written for “Murder at 1600,” “The Art of War” and “Slow Burn.”

Crutcher said he knew Diffenderfer had the required skills when Diffenderfer started classes at Lander.

“He was a talented storyteller,” Crutcher said, adding he thought Diffenderfer “clearly had a plan,” as a freshman.

“Travis had his own radio show (as a freshman) called ‘Diffenderfer was here,’ ” Crutcher said. “He (also) produced it. He also entered the film festival and blew away the competition. Seniors wanted to come in on his project.”

Diffenderfer said he remembers that experience.

“It was kind of confusing,” he said. “There was a big, intimidating guy actively trying to talk to me. By the end of the year, he was in the film.”

Diffenderfer said he sees his progress.

“I’ve come a long way,” Diffenderfer said. “I see problems I didn’t think about before. My storytelling has evolved.

“I let the characters be the emphasis (now).”

Crutcher said it’s fun to watch students during the festival, as professional screenwriters come to Lander to give suggestions and feedback.

“It is a unique, distinct feature,” he said. “Not many students can sit down with Craig Titley (who produces “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and say ‘Here’s the idea I’ve always had.’ ”

“This is probably the coolest thing we get to do all year,” Diffenderfer said. “It’s my favorite part.”

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