In Memory of Film Connection student
David Thor Swanson
It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we remember David Thor Swanson, a Film Connection student who passed away suddenly on March 7th, 2018 from complications arising from diabetes. We recently spoke with David’s parents Deborah and Glenn Swanson as well as his mentors, Drew Hall, Jeff Worley, and screenwriting mentor Ron Peterson, so that we could share our memories of the young aspiring filmmaker and celebrate his life and passion for film. By the time David Thor Swanson joined Film Connection, he’d spent a lifetime reading, learning, and absorbing everything he could about the art of filmmaking and the industry in which he would make his mark. His mother Deborah says, “That was his whole passion. Since he was a little child he would memorize films, he would memorize cartoons, he would memorize the previews before the movies. He read books about all the directors, producers, actors and actresses, and scriptwriters…He would throw out names of producers and directors. He knew every film they ever did, the camera angles they used and why they used that camera angle…This was just his passion, and he wanted to write plays and he wanted to write movie scripts, and he talked about being a director.” Speaking of his son’s talent as a visionary writer, Glenn says, “He would be awake at all hours of the night writing, and was a voracious reader…He’s literally got thousands of pages of writing. I came across something where he was talking about his movie, and it was based on his conception that graffiti is actually an underrated art form that’s been somehow taken over by mass production now. He had a whole page on just graffiti and how this movie came about.” David had recently completed the final draft of that screenplay Graffiti Sharks under the direction of screenwriting mentor Ron Peterson. During his apprenticeship with Ron he trekked the long journey from idea to page, and ultimately delivered a compelling project and pitch that was ready to go. Speaking of the time they spent working on the project David referred to as “Enemy of the State meets Diva,” Ron says, “I told him the real writers don’t give up. He stayed with it and we worked, and he eventually got the hang of it…At the end, he did it. He finished that screenplay, he got it down, we got the one-pager, he went through the beginning, middle, and end. And I said ‘That’s how you write a screenplay. You battle through it’ and he did it.” While apprenticing at Frame 29 Films with Drew Hall and his production partner Jeff Worley in Mobile, Alabama. David was able to put much of what he’d read in books into practice. He quickly became “one of the guys” who often dropped in even when he wasn’t on schedule. He also became a regular addition to their web series CRFTSHO, where he got the nickname “Dawson.” Even for the team of seasoned pros who worked with him, his passion for filmmaking was downright contagious, his knowledge impressive. Jeff remembers the jolt of energy he and Drew got from working with David. “He provided a big spark to both of us… That’s kind of what CRFTSHO came out of, just so we could get some type of spark. Dawson coming in really made that spark happen for us.” Drew says, “David and I would talk about films, and I would talk about shooting film because I grew up on the film side of things before digital was a big deal. He knew about filmmaking, like the word ‘film’ meaning what it means, not just digital filmmaking…He understood that better than anybody I’ve ever met.” The young apprentice even became the driving force behind numerous projects including a Panasonic job which Drew and Jeff decided to turn into a narrative project, partly in order to put David’s writing and direction skills to the test. Drew says, “We spent all of the money we could on the set, the production design, and travel in order to make it a narrative so David would have a chance to learn more about filmmaking…I was like, ‘Well, he’s done these commercials, but let’s give him a taste of a film set.’ The stunt actor we hired has some of the biggest credits in Hollywood right now…” Drew recalls David jumping right in, undaunted “shooting his very first thing on a $73,000 piece of glass, and he’s just playing out there like the rest of us, and he gets it and he understands the framing, and pretty soon I’m just working as DP, I’m not doing anything more than letting him dictate the shot, and I’m consulting with him on a professional film set level of, ‘Well, if we do this we can create this, and here’s the lighting element,’ and he would challenge me on that. David got onto the set with real players and held his own and did it…He just rolled in and made thing happen. It doesn’t make any sense, but he understood exactly what to do and he did it with as much professionalism and charisma without ever once really making a mistake. Even being the greenest person on the set, the kid still had knowledge and he would challenge the shots. It was insane, and in post he was questioning all the right things the director should question, not the editors… David has a full writing credit on that. Not a gratuitous writing credit. David has a legitimate credit. To me it’s always going to be a very big deal. One of the greatest joys of my life will always be that project.” That first paycheck and writing credit meant a great deal to David, who framed his check after he’d deposited it electronically. His father Glenn says, “He was always so proud that he had actual credits, that he was the writer.” Today, it hangs on the wall of the CRFTSHO office. His mother Deborah continues, “Every person that has known David has said that he was an old soul. When David was just a toddler, he used to tell us that he was born at 26, and he was just waiting to catch up.” Glenn adds, “He was compassionate, he would talk to strangers and make them feel better just on a whim. [And] he was proud of his Norse heritage. We named him David Thor, and he would always tell people that he was David Thor Swanson.” Drew then shares the statement which steels everyone’s desire to ensure David’s name and passion for the art lives on: “His love of film was so broad, so deep, and so real that, you know, aside from the Earth missing him and his family and friends missing him, the film universe is going to miss David.” Glenn and Deborah hope to see Graffiti Sharks produced. In doing so, they can help fulfill David’s dream of seeing his screenplay actualized into a full-fledged movie. Inquiries about David’s movie may be made directly to our office.
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