CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Rob Raffety owes a lot to the digital revolution.
While he was growing up in West Virginia, during high school, and then college, money was tight.
Despite his longstanding desire to try his hand at filmmaking, he couldn’t justify the costly investment. It’s easy to chalk up your dreams to a lofty goal when even the price tag for equipment seems out of range.
But times change and so does the cost of technology.
Raffety can still remember when he realized that he could actually afford a video camera.
“I remember walking into Best Buy in the early 2000s. I saw a video camera with desktop editing software. … It’s like $250. What?!”
He said he thought, “I might just give that a shot.”
And he has.
Over the past 10 years, Raffety has been trying his hand at filmmaking in his spare time. He has produced, directed and acted in a number of short films and now owns a production company, Tragedy Plus Time.
“Basically, I’m the story of what I think is happening all across the industry. The barriers to entry are very low now. There are still some costs, but there is absolute truth in a sense that anybody can make a movie.”
His films “Game Night” and “Retirement” won back-to-back grand prize awards in the Speakeasy Shorts Film Challenge held in Washington, D.C., in 2013 and 2014. To participate in the challenge, Raffety and team members were tasked with creating a short film from a provided story in the course of 72 hours.
For the George Mason University adjunct professor, every film project is a project of passion, each building upon previous experiences and knowledge gained.
Beginning Saturday, Raffety and his cast and crew will begin filming his newest short film, “Muck,” in a place that he fondly calls home — Buckhannon.
Gaining inspiration from the hugely famous “Serial” podcast, “Muck” tells the fictional story of a young, talented journalist sent out on his first field assignment to solve a missing-person cold case that took place in Buckhannon more than 20 years ago. Just like “Serial,” the protagonist creates podcasts to document his progress and track the case.
“It’s ‘Fargo’ meets ‘Winter’s Bone’ through the lens of a ‘Serial’ podcast,” Raffety explained.
A 1993 graduate of Buckhannon-Upshur High School and a 1997 graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Raffety said he always wanted to tell a story and shoot a film in his hometown.
“I think there is something about the sort of community culture of a rural area, particularly West Virginia. You know your neighbors. Everyone is generally supportive of everyone else. I like that feeling, and I wanted to explore that in a story from the perspective of a person who hasn’t been to that part of the country.”
Like many people he’s encountered, the film’s protagonist first comes to Buckhannon “feeling a little superior to the townsfolk.”
“Hopefully over the course of this [film] he’s not only trying to solve this mystery or trying to understand what happened in the ’90s, he’s also hopefully … learning to appreciate the culture of the area that is different to where he’s from and anything he’s been exposed to before.”
The “Muck” cast and crew will film at some of his old stomping grounds, including the Wesleyan campus, the roller skating rink and the nearby bowling alley. The film’s storyline is entirely fiction and will run approximately 25 minutes in length.
The screenplay is an outgrowth of a pilot episode assignment that Raffety completed for a television writing class at GMU. The film’s editor and cameraman, Travis Edwards, and the soundtrack composer, Satya Thallam, are major collaborators on the script.
The low-budget film — operating on an estimated $10,000 budget — is Raffety’s biggest effort to date. He’s hired professional actors and a trained crew for the filming and editing process. He’s supporting the film financially without using any online fundraising campaigns, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Although they have yet to start filming, Raffety and crew have already completed a tremendous amount of pre-production work.
Raffety and Edwards visited Buckhannon recently to spend time with Raffety’s parents, J.C. and Cynthia Raffety. While there, the two filmed shot-for-shot an opening video that pays homage to Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan.”
The short film, which they dubbed “Buckhattan,” even features an original arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” performed by West Virginia quintet T.K. Swoop & The Taylor Ave.
Also accompanying the film is an actual set of podcasts that are being created in conjunction with it. Viewers of the film can listen to the storyline play out in podcast episodes theoretically created by the film’s main character.
Raffety said he plans to submit “Muck” in a number of film festivals. If the film is accepted into some well-known festivals — such as Sundance or South By Southwest — he’s hopeful that it will gain the attention of producers interested in developing “Muck” into a feature-length film, an occurrence that is not uncommon — “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Office Space” and “Sling Blade” originally were short films.
He’s hoping that one day folks will look back and say, “Hey, did you know that ‘Muck’ was once a short film?”
“You never know,” he said, “unless you give it a shot.”
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4881.