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VCU to produce feature film starring cast of AMC’s hit show 'TURN'

“Macbeth” adaptation advances new model for independent film production, with university acting as lead producer and financier

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Virginia Commonwealth University today announced that its School of the Arts is producing a feature-length film adaptation of “Macbeth,” starring a cast of actors drawn from the popular AMC series “TURN: Washington’s Spies.”

Written and directed by “TURN” star Angus Macfadyen (“Braveheart”), the project marks the first instance of a university effectively acting as the production company for a major feature film, with VCU School of the Arts’ Cinema Program overseeing all aspects of production—from script development to final cut. This unprecedented production model offers a unique opportunity for VCU arts students to collaborate with a cast of established film professionals on a project whose scale far exceeds that of a typical student film.

The budget for “Macbeth” is approximately $600,000, a figure that comprises an equity investment from VCU School of the Arts and in-kind donations of production resources and staffing, as well as support from the Virginia Film Office. The majority of the crew consists of VCU cinema undergraduates, working under the guidance of university faculty. Reflecting VCU School of the Arts’ distinctively interdisciplinary approach to creative collaboration, students from various departments including Cinema, Theatre, Music, Fashion Design and Merchandising, Sculpture and Extended Media, and Communication Arts, are participating in different aspects of the filmmaking process.

“We are thrilled to work with Angus Macfadyen and his colleagues on ‘TURN’ to advance this exciting new model for independent film production, which will provide our students with a transformative professional development experience that is unique among our peer institutions,” said Joseph Seipel, dean of the VCU School of the Arts. “With contributions from students and faculty in six different academic departments, this project exemplifies VCUarts’ interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to arts education.”

When ‘Macbeth’ hits screens later this year, it will be infused with the vibrant energy of VCU’s exceptional student artists, whose work on this film suggests that they’re well on their way to becoming successful creative professionals.

Macfadyen first approached VCU’s Cinema Program about a potential collaboration this summer, while he was in Richmond filming the first season of “TURN.” The university acquired the rights to Macfadyen’s screenplay, a present-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Macfadyen stars in the title role alongside several other members of the “TURN” cast, including Taylor Roberts, Kevin McNally and Samuel Roukin.

“It’s been a pleasure to make my directorial debut with the support of VCUarts, which has offered me a caliber of institutional resources that most first-time directors can only dream of,” said Macfadyen, who portrays Robert Rogers on “TURN.” “When ‘Macbeth’ hits screens later this year, it will be infused with the vibrant energy of VCU’s exceptional student artists, whose work on this film suggests that they’re well on their way to becoming successful creative professionals.”

“Macbeth” is currently being shot in and around Richmond on 35mm cameras—increasingly a boutique format even for many Hollywood productions. Principal photography is set to wrap in mid-February, at which point the film will enter post-production in anticipation of festival engagements in the second half of 2015. The film is executive produced by Rob Tregenza, director of the Cinema Program at VCU and an award-winning director and cinematographer (“Talking to Strangers,” “Werckmeister Harmonies”).

“Our collaboration with Angus Macfadyen (right) has given VCUarts students an incredibly rare opportunity: the chance to work alongside distinguished professional filmmakers, not as interns or assistants but as fellow collaborators in the creative process,
“Our collaboration with Angus Macfadyen (right) has given VCUarts students an incredibly rare opportunity: the chance to work alongside distinguished professional filmmakers, not as interns or assistants but as fellow collaborators in the creative process," said Rob Tregenza, director of the Cinema Program at VCU.

“The VCUarts Cinema Program is committed to providing our undergraduates with a firsthand experience in film production so that they can cultivate the skills they need to succeed as future film professionals,” Tregenza said. “Our collaboration with Angus Macfadyen has given VCUarts students an incredibly rare opportunity: the chance to work alongside distinguished professional filmmakers, not as interns or assistants but as fellow collaborators in the creative process.”

The project draws on the eclectic talents of students at every level of production, from filming and editing to marketing and craft services. Fashion students are collaborating on the film’s costume design; communications arts students have created storyboards for the shooting process; sculpture students are crafting human skull replicas for the prop department; music students are performing the orchestral score; and a theatre student has been cast as one of the witches.

“The VCUarts Cinema Program is a major asset for the film industry in Virginia,” said Virginia Film Office Director Andy Edmunds. “Numerous graduates and current students, artists, craftspeople and illustrators have worked on several high-profile films, and will now have an even greater opportunity to gain skills and experience through their participation in ‘Macbeth.’ The Virginia film industry is committed to Governor McAuliffe’s workforce development initiative, and this innovative public/private/academic partnership supports that mission.”

“This unique partnership is a perfect example of putting my workforce initiative into action,” said Governor McAuliffe.  “Talent development is a key component of economic growth, and programs like this, which provide students the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals, are the kind of groundbreaking initiatives that build skills, create jobs and grow a new Virginia economy.”  

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

About VCUarts Cinema

VCUarts Cinema is a three-year, production-intensive undergraduate program that prepares students for careers in the professional commercial and independent film industries. Students self-produce 35mm dramatic short films, and work hands-on with state-of-the-art filmmaking equipment under the guidance of a seasoned faculty. A member of CILECT, The International Association of Film and Television Schools, VCUarts Cinema is headed by Dr. Rob Tregenza, who has written and directed three features including "Inside/Out" (1997), which was produced by Jean-Luc Godard and screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.