School of Communication Mass Media Professor Brent Simonds has received honorable recognition for his documentary Sweet Dreams Do Come True: Verlon Thompson, a Musical Memoir for Best Feature Documentary award at the Red Dirt International Film Festival, an Award of Excellence at the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts, and was nominated for Best Music Documentary at the Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival.
The documentary traces the life of veteran Nashville songwriter, Verlon Thompson.
“Perhaps no other songwriter has committed his life’s story to song as fully as Thompson has,” Simonds said. “I think the film is unique in that the songs carry the narrative thread.”
Simonds filmed the documentary in Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, and Missouri. Along the way, viewers meet Thompson’s family, friends, and musical peers, including Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Shawn Camp, Wayland Holyfield, Billy Dean, Suzy Bogguss, Doug Crider, and Jon Randall. Finally, the film introduces audiences to the love of Thompson’s life.
Simonds said that he has always been interested in creating a feature-length music film but knew it would be a challenge. Simonds successfully ran a $20,000 Kickstarter Campaign last September to defray some of the costs related to the film.
“I’ve been working on this documentary for four years. I knew that licensing so much music was going to be expensive,” he said.
“Earlier in my academic career, I wouldn’t have tackled a project so large that it took years to complete. That would have jeopardized by-path toward tenure and promotion,” Simonds said. “I am excited for all of Verlon’s fans to see this film, and I am anxious to introduce others to this extraordinary musician and even better man.”
“I first met Verlon Thompson in 2012, when he attended an acoustic jam that my friend, Jack Secord, hosts at Lake Bloomington in central Illinois each year,” Simonds said. “Jack became friends with Verlon when he was a student in a songwriting class that Verlon and Guy Clark taught at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in southeast Ohio.”
A couple of years later, while listening to a live recording of Thompson’s songs, Simonds said that it occurred to him that Verlon had already written the script for a biographical music film.
“If I could capture some of his performances, interview the people close to him, and visit the places he vividly describes, I could create an interesting blend of concert film and biography,” Simonds said.
Before his academic career, Simonds spent several years as a producer/director at local television stations (NBC and Fox Affiliates, plus independent stations). He has produced more than 60 training and educational films for the United States Postal Service, Prentice Hall, Houghton-Mifflin Co., and St. Martin’s Press. Two grant-funded educational films are being distributed by Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Simonds holds B.A., M.A., and Ed.D. degrees and is the mass media program coordinator in the School of Communication.
Simonds’ interests include visual communication, media ecology, and digital filmmaking. He has won Telly, Aurora, and EMPixx Awards and the Broadcast Education Association, the National Broadcasting Society, and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters have all recognized his productions.
Next stop for the film is a screening at the University Film & Video Association’s annual conference, which will be held on the campus of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces this July. Simonds is also hoping that other festivals will accept his films.
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