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Tom Quinn's Colewell Premieres at San Francisco International Film Festival

Karen Allen in Colewell

Karen Allen in Colewell

April 11, 2019

Film & Television Program Director Tom Quinn’s feature film Colewell premieres at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFilm) this week. For Tom and the film’s team, it’s the culmination of countless hours of development, production, fine-tuning and promotion—to the great benefit of the work itself and to Westphal students.

Starring Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Animal House) as beloved small-town postal clerk Nora, Colewell paints a picture of rural American life. When news comes that Colewell, Pennsylvania’s post office—and community gathering place—is to close, Nora and the residents of the town reflect on their future. We spoke to Tom last year about his inspiration for the film, and he described an agricultural map of Pennsylvania he’d seen in a friend’s home. The friend had preserved it because “the town where he grew up is no longer on the map because they lost their post office. A lot of towns… that's their only identifying marker, and they get absorbed by the neighboring town. He started talking about the woman who ran their post office out of a twin home, and when she retired, the town lost its identity.” 

Tom and his crew made a conscious effort to cast real people in the film—people who had seen this type of change in their own hometowns and therefore brought a sense of shared experience and authenticity to the onscreen community. Karen Allen was brought in to center the piece with gravity, warmth, and vulnerability. SFFilm says of Allen’s turn, “a marvelous Karen Allen… infus[es] Nora with integrity and grace.” Colewell also stars Hannah Gross (Mindhunter, The Sinner) and Kevin J. O’Connor (The Mummy, There Will Be Blood).

Colewell generated early buzz, ending up on Filmmaker Magazine’s 50 Most Anticipated Films of 2018, alongside such films as Halloween and If Beale Street Could Talk. During the summer of 2018, the film was accepted into the Sundance Film Institute’s Film Music and Sound Design Lab, which encourages collaboration between filmmaker and composer fellows to develop music and sound for film projects. Sound design and audio post was completed at legendary Skywalker Sound—located at Skywalker Ranch. In March, Colewell was selected as the winner of Sun Valley Film Lab by producer and actor Jay Duplass. Tom traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to screen the film for a test audience and receive the award, which includes $185,000 in in-kind post production services through The Farm Group in California.   

Through every step of the process from pre- to post-production and beyond, Tom’s experiences served as valuable industry insight for students in the Film & Television program. While in the early stages, he shared look books, budget breakdowns, and casting proposals with students, all while offering a revealing look into the challenges and triumphs of independent filmmaking. Juniors in the two-term Production Workshop have seen the film’s journey to distribution unfold in real-time; a 15-minute case study at the start of each Wednesday class since September paid off tremendously with the announcement of Colewell’s SFFilm premiere in the final class of Winter term.

But the journey doesn’t end with a premiere, and Tom has big plans for Colewell’s next steps. SFFilm will fly in distributors to see the film with the best possible projection and sound at the Dolby Theatre, Tom has a panel discussion in the works with members of Skywalker Sound, and the team is now fundraising to cover publicity and promotion costs. For Tom and the Colewell team, this is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the film; and for Film & Television students, it’s an opportunity for an exclusive inside look at a career in independent filmmaking.