For the past few years, the University of South Carolina has been home to an event called Campus Movie Fest, a student film festival that highlights on-campus filmmaking talent. It was participating in this event that convinced Fen Rockwell, a fourth-year media arts student, to turn his attention from engineering to a filmmaking career.
After discovering his passion for filmmaking, Rockwell found production partners in Max Joseph and John Slice. The three worked together as resident mentors in the McBryde Quad and now live together in a house, where they collaborate on films under the collective name Soapwater Productions, according to Joseph.
Under this collaboration, Soapwater Productions has released several short films on its YouTube channel. This past weekend, the team released “A Fair Life,” a 27-minute film Rockwell said is about “divine chocolate milk" and how it turns a man’s life around.
An unusual premise like this is normal for Soapwater, Rockwell said, as they often create strange and abstract worlds and characters within their films.
“It takes a little bit for you to think, like, 'Oh, what does that actually mean?' So it’s not just put right in front of you," Rockwell said.
Slice, the writer and director of "A Fair Life," cited David Lynch and his 1990s show "Twin Peaks" as a major source of inspiration when creating a film.
“He’s a little out there from time to time, and I would say a lot of our films are out there," Slice said.
Slice and Joseph, who both said Lynch was their primary influence, mainly work on the creative side of Soapwater, writing scripts, acting and composing scores, while Rockwell serves as the producer, organizing and structuring the process by which they create films. According to Slice, Rockwell has said he and Max seem to share a brain.
“It’s really, really nice. Because we’re friends, we know what we want,” Joseph said.
All three members said the others were their best friends.
During their collaboration together, Soapwater has also produced short genre films, such as "Georgian Lens," which was released in October 2020. Joseph wrote the score for that film, which he called their “first horror movie attempt.”
More recently, they released two more short films alongside "A Fair Life," "Quite Mistaken" and "May We Be Ever Present," the latter of which Joseph said is “totally, like, a Lynch kind of thing.” The film has weird dialogue and strange soundscapes, keeping in tune with the rest of the team's work.
“It's always hard to describe our films in a synopsis, 'cause it's more about the experience,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell isn't the only member of Soapwater who didn't come to USC looking to pursue film.
While Rockwell came in as an engineering student, Slice started in the sport management program before switching to media arts. Similar to Rockwell, it was participating in Campus Movie Fest that made him realize, he “should have been doing this all along.” While they were working as resident mentors in McBryde, Joseph showed them his music, and they realized they all shared similar ambitions, Joseph said.
“When you have that team where you can kind of, like, pass ideas back and forth, you're not hitting that wall as much,” Rockwell said.
Based on this experience finding their passion together, Rockwell and Joseph shared similar advice for young filmmakers looking to make their first project: Find like-minded people to work with.
“Don't be afraid to be to be different and weird,” Slice said. “Embrace the part of you that you might be scared to have people see.”
Soapwater Productions has released eight films to date that are free to watch on its YouTube channel, and it has more coming this semester, according to Slice.
“Max and Fen are seniors, and I'm a junior,” Slice said. “We're trying to get as much done while we're all together in this, you know, convenient place on campus, but we're definitely hoping to stick together."