Duke Fire (Yes, Duke Fire is actually on his birth certificate) is called the backbone—the very heart and soul—of Cape Fear Community College’s (CFCC) film program. A lead instructor for the past 12 years, this man’s charisma is credited with increasing the student population from 12 to 150, with not an empty seat to be found in any of his classes. Fire’s goal is to get his graduates jobs. Eight of the original 12 are still working in the film industry today.
“Duke has contacts everywhere,” Public Service Department Chair David Conklin says, “and that‘s one of the main strengths of our program. Prospective students call from all over the state, and from Connecticut and New York. It’s hard to get in. Every single class is over-enrolled. It’s just amazing!”
Fire worked in Los Angeles as an assistant director for television during the ‘80s. He had good and bad times but was known for keeping a crew moving in the right direction. He signed up to work in film and was willing to have a nomadic lifestyle; he never knew where his next job would be. Getting married and having kids made him more responsible, so he took the position at CFCC for better job security.
“It’s been great!” Fire says. “I feel fortunate that I am involved in film every single day. I love this school and this community because opportunity is here. I think our film program is the best thing going for us. We are blessed with state-of-the-art equipment: camera, light and sound. And [it’s great having] Dave [Conklin] as a boss; he just gets it!”
Conklin marvels at the starry-eyed excitement of new students who anticipate the thrills of working in the movie industry. “They don’t realize how hard it is,” he explains. “Just making the light right—being sure there are no shadows—is such intense work.”
Students who step up to the plate get jobs. They often bypass the lowest entry position as a production assistant. CFCC grads are highly sought out as camera assistants, grips, electricians, and set dressers.
“These kids have to learn how to get out there and sell themselves,” Fire states. “All our adjunct instructors are professionals, and many friends in the business—including John Ferguson, W.C. Chunky Huse, Erica Dunton, and Sydney Penny—are willing to help out and work with our kids. If our students listen to them, they can get past wearing the Band-Aids that go with learning showbiz. You have to hone your skill sets, but the industry is a lot of who you know!”
A highly awarded graduate, instructor John Marchioni—who listened well, showed dedication on the job and ran CFCC’s TV studio—now assists Fire in teaching film. Adiair Parker, one of his pupils, describes Marchioni as having a sense of humor in the classroom. He says it helps students retain new information. Marchioni understands the importance of telling a good story and has submitted feature films to 20 different horror film festivals and won 17 awards.
“Our students have created public service announcements for the police department, training videos for PPD and news reports for TV stations,” Marchioni tells. “Wedding videos are big business in Wilmington. We also teach how to create websites, which show commercials, short films and web series (TV shows on the Internet). It becomes an online résumé.”
Babette Siobhan and Jordan Ray Allen’s site (www.royalcourtcinema.com) is a good example. They have created a prototype trailer, which is featured on the website, for “Murphy’s Law,” an ‘80s coming-of-age comedy in which a high-school student must return his principal’s porn rental by four o’clock in order to graduate. The purpose of the trailer is to build an audience and attract investors to fund the feature film. “CFCC’s film and video program is the best experience of my life,” Allen says.
“It’s a much more personal program,” Siobhan adds. “Our instructors are familiar with our work. It meant so much to me when Duke said, ‘I think this is your best film yet!’”
“There’s something magical about taking an idea from your imagination and transferring that to film,” Fire states. “How do you tell a story in 30 seconds that people want to hear? If you can do that, you’ll be doing Super Bowl ads one day.”
Katherine “Kat” Hazelton has an idea that’s longer than 30 seconds, but it’s definitely magical. She began as a novice, but has already created her own short film, “Imperium” (Latin for ultimate rule). It was nominated for Best Local Film at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival this year.
“The film is a dark comedy based on the premise that the devil wants to start the apocalypse,” Hazelton describes. “The first horseman approached is Death, who lets the devil know this is his last bloodbath. He will be God’s janitor no longer. I have really appreciated the tips and tricks I’ve learned from Duke and John.”
“We have such a wonderful program [that’s] so well thought of; we want these young grads to take jobs here, not out-of-state,” Conklin says. “[The possibility of film incentives being taken away] scares those of us who work with these young people who shine and have a desire to work hard and succeed. Apparently, there is a lack of understanding [about] what the film industry requires to thrive, and we hope that will be turned around.”
Fire recently received a text from a student working in the sound department of the upcoming ABC TV series “Secrets and Lies.” It read: “Ha, ha, ha—there are 12 kids from your program working on this movie.”
Conklin and his staff hope there is no legislative bucket of water thrown on the blaze that is burning bright in CFCC’s film program.
CFCC Film Program