Communication professor Jamey Durham
is gaining practical experience in independent filmmaking, spending quality time with his family and seeking to influence children for Christ—all while making a movie in Orange City this summer.
Durham wrote the script for The Prairie Pirates this year and is producing and directing the full-length movie. He’s also acting in the show—along with his wife, Donna, and three children.
“My original goal was to do something as a family this summer,” says Durham. “I wanted to shoot something with my kids.”
Wanting to take advantage of Iowa’s beautiful prairie views and knowing that children enjoy hunting for treasure, Durham explored a question: What if pirates came to Iowa? No one would ever look here for a pirate’s treasure—which is exactly why the bad guys might bury their ill-gotten gain in the Hawkeye State.
In The Prairie Pirates, a boring summer takes a turn when a group of children finds a map leading to a buried treasure in Mrs. Meanly Greenly’s yard. Remembering the biblical story about the man who found a treasure in a field and sold everything he had to buy that field, the kids work to buy the land.
Durham seeks to present a Christian worldview through the movie, although he plans to seek distribution of the show in both secular and Christian arenas. “I want kids to be entertained and to understand that the choices they make have consequences, both good and bad,” he says of his goal for the film.
Durham, who earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in screen and scriptwriting from Regent University and has written over 20 half-hours of national television programming, is being joined by two friends in developing the movie.
Mike Anderson, who also earned an M.F.A. at Regent, is serving as director of photography. He quit his job as video editor at CBN to move to Orange City to shoot the movie and begin a video production company with Durham.
Rik Swartzwelder of Burbank, Calif., whose work has won over 40 film festival awards, is serving as assistant director.
Nearly 100 people are involved in making the movie, including a number of Northwestern students as actors and production crew and theatre professor Karen Barker as Mrs. Greenly.
Durham is making the movie for under $20,000, which includes funds raised from family and friends as well as from Northwestern’s Lilly Grant, Vocare: Find Your Place.
Durham’s students will benefit from his hands-on involvement in The Prairie Pirates. “This is the first time I’ve done a film this big from start to finish,” he says. “I will be able to share my experiences with students—what to avoid, what to expect. And I’m learning more about equipment and lighting as I work alongside two professionals, so I’ll be able to apply that to my classes.”
The communication professor plans to keep learning and growing in the movie-making business: Next summer, he and Anderson hope to film one of Anderson’s scripts.