One good way to smooth out the polarized emotions around Ashland’s aggressive deer crisis is to make a fun little movie about it, exaggerating the attitudes and proposed solutions — all the while giving Southern Oregon University students a chance to work with professional filmmakers and get a taste of real life in that potential career. 

Such was the mission this past weekend as Emerging Media & Digital Arts students took on jobs in sound, lighting, grip, makeup, art and even shooting the camera for a 10-minute “mockumentary” that will be entered in Ashland Independent Film Festival and many other festivals.

It may be a spoof, but students say they took it with the seriousness of a real documentary — and it helped Senior Communications Professor Howard Schreiber realize a dream of his 16 years of teaching to produce such an upbeat and hands-on film.

“It’s got all the elements,” he says. “You have this beautiful little town of Ashland overrun with deer and the town is split into an intense conflict of opposing forces. Then appears this grizzled old-timer, the Deer Whisperer — that’s the title of the movie — who teaches people to interact with the deer, walk like them, eat flowers like them, poop on lawns like them. So everyone loves him. He saves the city. In the end he gambols off from the Plaza into the forest, but events conspire to give us a dark ending, which I won’t reveal.”

The film has a $10,000 budget, which came from Schreiber, with plenty of in-kind donations from SOU. It’s a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) registered film, using SAG members in all the roles and providing students with cachet on their resume. 

“I think it’s the best possible learning environment, working on a real shoot with professionals,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Communications sophomore Sophia Miller worked art and makeup, set up a classroom and found props. She notes, “I really like working with professionals and building rapport with actors. You get to see what it’s really like behind the set. I realize this is what I’m passionate about.”

“It’s one of the most formative learning experiences I’ve had, working under professionals in the industry,” says Communications senior Michael Bryant, “as my hope and dream is to be a filmmaker.”

Emerging Media Senior Ben Collins, who worked as grip and gaffer, helped well-known local professionals, noting, “It was awesome to get field training and hearing their anecdotes and history of their career. I’m really excited. There is lots of opportunity for jobs, even as a student. It’s a real reality check for us students, really cool.”

Schreiber notes the university did a lot of collaboration on the film, as well as in production of “The Jeffersonians,” a magazine show produced with Southern Oregon Public Television, with half-hour segments already in the can on the cannabis industry, the film industry, trails and the food industry.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.