In the media: Mike Leonard column

On June 23, 2005, Bloomington Herald-Times columnist Mike Leonard published this interview about my time at Indiana University:

Thomas recounts how Bloomington sparked his interest in filmmaking

George Thomas Jr. jokes that he attended Indiana University for so many years he’s got to be a contender for most undergraduate hours accumulated before earning a degree.

He’s likely greatly underestimating what others before him have done. The stereotype of the professional student didn’t rise up out of thin air.

The Pittsburgh native attended IU from 1980 to 86 and wasn’t a full-time student for roughly half of that time.

But the Seattle-based filmmaker still feels a strong connection to IU. So much so that he’ll be returning to Bloomington this weekend to show three of his films and gather with old friends for their annual Collins residence hall reunion.

The feature film that will be screened in The Ryder Film Series is called “Something Between Us.” When it was newly completed in 2000, it won the prestigious Gold Award in Independent Video at the long-running WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival.

Five years later, Thomas acknowledges the production values are a bit crude in parts, and there are sound issues in a few places that he’d dearly love to correct.

“There’s a really good reason why even the lowest- budget films have hundreds of names in the credits,” he said from his Seattle home. “You need all those people, and I was pretty much a one-man crew.

“The flip side of that is that somebody like me can do what I did and win a major award at a major film festival – even with a film in which everyone is not a professional actor,” Thomas said.

Previous winners at the Houston festival include Steven Spielberg, John Sayles, the Coen brothers, Ridley Scott and George Lucas, so that puts Thomas in good company.

A telecommunications and political science major at IU, Thomas got the filmmaking bug by taking an introductory class in instructional filmmaking at IU. He’s worked full time and on a project-by-project basis as a Web site manager for Microsoft for the last several years while pursuing his dream to become a full-time filmmaker.

In addition to screening “Something Between Us,” which as been described as “an existential romantic comedy,” Thomas will show that first film he made at IU, a six-minute short, filmed at Collins, titled, “The Last Class.” He’ll also show a three-minute piece he just finished called “Faraway Sheila.” He describes that film as an unusual departure for him, “visual imagery set to poetry.”

The filmmaker’s pie-in-the-sky project, however, is a college trilogy that would be filmed at Collins and locations around IU and Bloomington.

“I’d love to film in Bloomington. It’s such a photogenic town. There are a lot of reasons why ‘Breaking Away’ looked so great on the big screen, and they don’t have anything to do with the photography or editing.”

Thomas would like to cast IU acting students and use local talent as much as possible. Everything’s iffy, though, he acknowledged, because it will take a pretty fair investment to even get started on the first film, and despite winning a prestigious film award, it’s always difficult to raise money for independent films.

In the meantime, he’s happy to have a reason to get back to Bloomington to screen his films and see longstanding friends. He’s also pleased to have his films shown in the Ryder Film Series.

“The Ryder Film Series had a lot to do with my interest in film. When I was in Bloomington, it seems like I was always dragging someone to a Ryder film, or they were dragging me.”