SHSU Creates: Garrett Sheaffer on Writing and Film

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Fiction is viewed in many different lights. Some consider it a useless distraction, most engage in books or films as a harmless pastime, while others believe it develops perceptive minds and empathetic souls. Despite these views, or perhaps because of them, fiction has entertained across centuries. It appears in miscellaneous forms, such as poetry and film, and genres spanning from the historical to the fantastical.

Garrett Sheaffer, a senior film major and creative writing minor here at Sam, has walked hand in hand with fiction since early childhood. He is still inspired to create unique and complex works of his own.

“My older brother and I were obsessed with reading as kids,” Sheaffer said. “We didn’t have cable television or anything like that, so the library and comic shop were really big for us. It really all started for us there.”

Yet books were not the style Sheaffer preferred to explore. Instead, he turned to scriptwriting and filmmaking – especially when it came to sci-fi – until the times changed.

“After getting some of my basics out of the way at Galveston College, I went to the University of Houston to try to pursue film, but little did I know that – this was in 2003 or 2004 – the film era was coming to an end and the digital era was taking over,” Sheaffer said. “So I got out and did my five years in the Marines.”

Surprisingly the Corps reignited his interest in the field. While stationed overseas for two and a half years with little to do for entertainment, he engrossed himself in movies.

“You can look at [movies] in multiple ways,” Sheaffer said. “It can be an escapist mechanism to help you get away from all the problems…for a few hours to relax and reassess, [or they can be] informative and tell us of a higher truth, and some movies can be just an amazing display of artistic originality.”

His friends suggested he go back to school to study writing and filmmaking, and he did. Sheaffer was accepted into UT but decided the quiet, conservative environment at SHSU – which already possessed a reputable media department – would better suit his journey to find perspective on life.

Last semester he produced two short films and worked on about five other student film projects, switching roles with his group members for each assignment.

“For the last class project I did last Fall, I was the producer and I wrote the script…but for Ray’s movie I was the light guy, and for Ken’s movie I was the boom mic operator,” Sheaffer said. “So we would just switch roles, and that’s what we’re supposed to do because we have to learn everything.”

In Sheaffer’s mind, one group project that semester stood out among the rest. The assignment parameters, though vague, proved valuable in promoting creativity. Their guidelines included making a three minute video containing elements similar to a book by Peter Burzynski, who peppered dark subject matter with bits of satire.

Sheaffer wrote a poem about a man living in a mine and how he suffered daily. A friend caught onto the idea and suggested they go to a state park, since it was felling season, and take pictures of the dead trees.

“We got some really interesting photo pieces: deadwood, ants, and I used a black and white filter to make it look all smoggy and filthy,” Sheaffer said. “It tells two stories. There’s the poem [for] narration, but then there’s the second story [told by] the camera, [which] is telling you that he’s escaped from the mine, but now he’s realizing all the damage they did underground is starting to seep upwards.”

Despite the breadth of instruction for each assignment, the inspiration for stories such as these stemmed mostly from everyday life. Shows on TV and watching people interact on the street often provided source material for his works.

“You always hear about…writers being horribly agoraphobic, but that’s not me at all,” Sheaffer said. “I like being outside and around people…I would always have those thoughts like, ‘What is that person thinking? How do they feel? Are they telling the truth?'”

Except, time for people watching is a luxury not often available. Deadlines exercise a nasty habit of sneaking up on students of any major.

“You really have to network on the fly,” Sheaffer said. “In the military, we call it a high-optempo, so you have to be willing to change on the move, pack up your gear and get going; that same mentality can be applied to writing.”

Sheaffer is thankful for his creative writing class this semester and its assitance with his films.

“I kind of lucked out this semester with my advanced creative writing class,” Sheaffer said. “I was able to take time during the winter break to explore, and it became a lot easier when it came time to submit.”

Challenges like writer’s block, deadlines and even equipment quality aside, the results are worth it. Sheaffer’s poetry film was featured at an art gallery in Galveston called Senpai. The event wasn’t a competition, but rather screenings of various short films where students could get together and have a good time.

Sheaffer is not currently involved in The Film Society, but in the coming Fall and Spring semesters he plans to charge, full steam ahead, and he looks forward to working with Dr. Lee and his peers. With these projects and the ones to come tucked under his belt, Sheaffer builds upon a foundation toward not only a degree but a lifelong career in film.

“It’s creative freedom,” Sheaffer said. “There’s nothing better than writing what you want to write, and then connecting with people who are of the same mindset.”