Rime: An Emotional Journey

I lost someone undeniably important to me in November of 2011. I was only 16 years old at the time. At this age, in my junior year of high school, my main idea of fun was a balance of socializing with friends, and gaming. Rather, it would’ve been, had my family not experienced such a life altering loss. After what happened, I found myself having less energy for the highs and lows of friendships and girlfriends. Figuring out what to do next was my primary concern. Being there for my younger sister, who was 11 years old, was even more important.

Figuring out where to focus my energy was a struggle most of the time. I knew I couldn’t end my education, so in that regard, I had to move on quickly. There was no time to stop during the most pivotal year of high school. I knew that SAT scores and a high GPA were the deciding factors in higher education. Keeping that in mind, I focused on school and saved some time to goof off with newfound friends. I wouldn’t give up my memories with friends for anything. Looking back, I can appreciate how important it was to have that distraction. My friends were wild, even crazy at times, but that’s what I loved about them. I was the “mother hen” of the friend group. When someone decided it would be a good idea to do something questionable, I’d be the one saying, “Come on guys, maybe we should just stay home and chill.” That’s how I got the nickname “No fun Nick.”

When I wasn’t keeping my friends from going over the deep end, I reserved my time at night to escape into a digital world. Stress went away if only for a couple hours, but that was the beauty of my gaming experiences. I would curl up on the leather couch, grab a blanket, and slide in my copy of Uncharted. Shooting


Nathan Drake from the third Uncharted game | courtesy of Flickr

virtual bad guys was rewarding when I wanted some quick stress relief. What made it even better was having my dad on the couch next to me, watching my every move. Knowing he was there, enjoying a cinematic experience, made me try even harder. But every once in a while, a special game would pop up, making me set aside the AK-47s for a more delicate narrative.


The first game I ever played that made me look at games differently was called Journey. It was a story with no dialogue, no obvious missions, and no traditional combat. The game dropped me into a dry desert world as a humanoid character with a flowing robe. The only distinguishable thing in the distance was a tall-standing mountain. It looked almost out of place, so I decided to start my trek in that direction. What followed was a platforming and puzzling adventure that artfully detailed the ebb and flow of our own life’s journey. I’m glad My dad was with me every step of the way in my Journey gameplay. He still talks to this day about how amazing the ending was for him. I need not say any more about the finale.


The start of Journey |courtesy of Flickr

After Journey, I felt a deep appreciation for video games as an art form. It helped me realize how games had become a new platform for storytelling. From then on, I sought that same experience from a video game. One where you had to stop and reflect when the credits rolled.


In my seven years that have passed since Journey, I rarely found a game that I shared a personal connection with. One that stood out to me was a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Again, a beautiful game with an abnormal play-style that brought the narrative to an emotional close in the final act. But there’s a different game on my mind.


The brothers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons | courtesy of Flickr

Today, I went back to a game that I started at the beginning of the year. This game was called Rime. It was engaging enough, with a visually pleasing art style and tight controls.  I stopped this game on a couple of occasions for different reasons. Sometimes I would get to a tricky puzzle that made me put the game down and pick up something that required less brain capacity. (In other words, I would play Fortnite, to which I regret for the most part.) My drive to play that enraging third-person shooter game finally dwindled, and I found myself going through my library of incomplete games. Rime was in there.


I booted it up again, determined that I would figure out the game-halting puzzle that made me stop in the first place. Much to my dumb-founded surprise, the puzzle was simpler than it looked. So I pressed forward, continuing the story and finishing the game within one more hour. I was not prepared for what I’d feel in the final act. The feeling I only got from a game a couple of times before.


The first scene of Rime | courtesy of Flickr

To understand what I felt, I need to paint a picture of how the game presented itself. You start off as a young boy washed up on a quiet beach. He has no recollection of what happened to him. The only things that drive him further inland is a chirpy little orange fox that tries to get his attention, and a mysterious robed man. The man is the major question mark of the adventure. He had a tendency of appearing on high ledges, just out of reach, only to disappear when you got close enough.

The way the game tied loose ends when I finished my journey was ever-satisfying. I found myself just staring at the end credits, absorbing the peaceful music and reading all the loving notes from the game developers to their families.

I don’t want to give away any of Rime’s surprises so I’ll just say this. I found myself having an emotional connection to this game because it touched upon the theme of loss. After the credits finished, and the developers thanked you for playing their game, I looked back at the chapter select menu. That’s when the message really hit home. All the five chapters of the game had appropriately given titles.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Five words that simply sum-up the different stages of grief after losing a loved one. I can say that I experienced phases of each of these. Some were more extreme than others, and for other people it might not happen in this order. For that matter, I myself might not be completely out of the woods yet on my journey toward acceptance.

I want to leave you with this.

For anyone who just experienced a loss of your own, know that it’s going to be as hard as you make it. Your journey mirrors hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people experiencing similar trauma. That said, your special someone is and always will be yours. He or she means something to you that can’t be described with words. So what I can suggest, from personal experience, is to not hold those feelings in. Friends come in handy for this step.

Friends can listen and empathize with you in ways family might not be able to. Friends can lift your spirits in the worst of times. Friends can distract you from reality in the best of ways. Don’t shut out your friends. It’s easy pick up a video game controller, and there is a time for that, but sometimes the harder choice of calling up a friend is what would be best for your soul.

I thank the developers and partners of Tequila Works for making such a fantastic video game. Rime is very special. Thank you.


Beautiful. | courtesy of Flickr



Reviewing Death

A review of Adam Silvera’s “They Both Die at the End”

WARNING: Some spoilers follow…


The amalgamation of tragedy, homosexuality, and technology birthed a special novel incomparable to anything on store shelves. Author Adam Silvera pieced together a heart-wrenching fictitious tale of two young souls with nothing but death on their horizon. “They Both Die at the End” is heavily influenced by the old adage, live every day like it’s your last, but some other themes get more attention. The author argues that society puts too much value in social media by creating a world that is only a few years ahead of present day technology. Silvera invites the rising generation of teens to put social media aside to seek more precious human interactions. The only thing this story suffers from is its lack of depth and answers.


The author’s Twitter bio.

To give the plot of “They Both Die at the End” some context, it’s best to understand who Silvera is as a person. The millennial author is very in tune with social media. His twitter feed shows daily postings on the status of his latest book sales and signings. But even before the books, he engages with his over 26 thousand followers via tweets and short videos on a regular basis. He engages with nearly the same amount of followers on Instagram. It seems almost ironic that Silvera has such a large following on multiple social media platforms while also arguing against the use of said technology in his book. But there’s a catch to Silvera’s online presence. Even though he frequents social media, personal information about the author is rather scarce. Adamsilvera.com only lists his previous work experience and a vague description of where he grew up. Finding his age, or any personal details is virtually impossible. Silvera’s online presence, that’s devoid of any personal details, helps his book’s argument against social media misuse.

Adam Silvera’s first book, published in 2015.

“They Both Die at the End” is Silvera’s third published book. All of his books share similar elements: Two male characters, a question of their sexuality, and unavoidable sadness at the end. Even without the title, passionate followers of Silvera’s work can already expect heartbreak from his latest novel. That said, the title doesn’t spoil the plot at all. If anything, the title is what intrigued me to pick the book up in the first place. The dark curiosity of how the two characters die is more of a reason to turn the page than the fact that they die. It’s advisable to research this book before buying as there are some hidden elements worth noting.

Without doing your own research, it’s possible to pick up “They Both Die at the End” while being completely unaware that it tells a homosexual story of love. The front and back of the book make no mention of sexuality, and neither does the summarizing leaflet on the first page. At first glance, it presents itself as a story about two male friends. I actually had to read amazon user reviews to find out that the two protagonists got more intimate in the story. Let me set the record straight: Yes, there are homosexual elements in this book, and they accompany the story in a touching way. The mentioning of bisexuality, or two males kissing, never feels forced. Rather, it was a refreshing and emotionally climactic moment when the two protagonists finally kissed. “I kiss the guy who brought me to life on the day we’re going to die,” (308, Silvera). The sexual relations never get graphic, and that’s appropriate for the novel’s audience. Just as the boys in the story are 18 and 19, I believe this book is intended for teens of the same age. Even though the cover doesn’t outwardly make mention of sexuality, the author blends this topic into the story in a way that homosexuals and heterosexuals can enjoy.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover | Photo By: Nicholas Cordts

The book begins with a grim phone call to 18-year-old Mateo Torrez. A service called Death-Cast warns Mateo that he will die within the next 24 hours. The details of how he will die are left unknown. In the world that Mateo lives in, this phone call is unfortunate, but not abnormal. Death-Cast is a service that calls every reachable person at midnight on the day of their death. It’s considered a courtesy so the dyeing person has a chance to live up their last day. 17-year-old Rufus Emeterio receives the same call that night, and the two boys find each other on a phone app called Last Friend. The app is designed for people who are dying to spend their last day with a friend. With the foundation of the story out of the way, the rest of the book follows Mateo and Rufus as they go about their final day alive.

The surface theme of “They Both Die at the End” is to simply live every day like it’s your last. The book also suggests that going through life is more fun with someone by your side. The book goes about supporting this initial theme by characterizing its protagonist, Mateo, as an introverted shut-in who is afraid to leave his apartment. “I shake my head and slam the door shut. I’m not walking out into a world that will kill me before my time” (13, Silvera). It’s natural for Mateo to be afraid to go outside when he knows he’s going to die. But his character has a fear of living life, and it’s successfully balanced with Rufus’ character.

Rufus is the black sheep character of the novel. Rufus shares just as much time in the spotlight as Mateo does, since the book dedicates chapters to each character from their respective points of view. Rufus helps Mateo get out of his shell by exposing him to situations on his final day that he would’ve never had the courage to do alone. Even after surviving an explosion, the two boys get on Rufus’ bike and ride as fast as they can to a park. “We’re supposed to be living, period. We know how this ends for both of us, but I don’t wanna look back on any moment thinking we straight wasted it” (244, Silvera). Lines like this one prove how Rufus is the Yin to Mateo’s Yang. Finding each other helped both boys live their last day to the fullest. The hidden theme of the book took a little more digging.

Study by the Pew Research Center and the Berkman Center for Internet Society.

Silvera was masterful in how he wove a cautionary tale into the story’s plot. Thanks to the world Silvera created, where slightly advanced technology warns people of their death, the reader is given a look at the destructive side of social media. As Rufus and Mateo live out their final day together, Rufus takes pictures of places he’s been and puts them on social media. Unfortunately for him, he has a vengeful stalker on his tail, and giving up his location on social media is very dangerous for the boys. “I take a photo of the sign for Clint’s Graveyard and upload it to Instagram in full color. “Got him,” Peck says, hopping off his bed. Clint’s Graveyard. He puts the loaded gun in his backpack,” (297-298, Silvera). The character, Rufus, should have taken advice from the author in how Silvera never puts personal details on social media. What Rufus did seems innocent on the surface, but it’s a very real problem that children with access to the internet face today. See this Huffington Post article on how many children share their personal info online. This near-death experience for Rufus and Mateo was a powerful life lesson on privacy to the reader.

Silvera has a potential movie script in his hands with “They Both Die at the End.” The author’s vivid description of fantastical technology made me yearn to see it on the big screen. The boys go to a place called “Make a Moment” that’s basically a more advanced “Make a Wish” foundation. “Make a Moment” is a place for dyeing people to experience virtual reality in a way that makes them feel like they’re touring the world in a couple hours. Reading this chapter in particular was very fun, and offered potential for a future movie set. Naturally, the author slipped in a point that backed up his argument against technology.

When Rufus and Mateo finished their “Make a Moment” tour of the world, they shared a cathartic moment. The two boys agreed that their experience in virtual reality was something they shouldn’t have done on their end day. “That sort of risk-free fun isn’t really fun at all. We should’ve read reviews before dropping bank on it,” (186, Silvera). In the character’s realization of technology, the author made a strong point that technological experiences can’t compare to real-life. This is a consistent argument in “They Both Die at the End” that supports the author’s theme of living life without social media influence.

Silvera blends the themes of technological misuse and living every day like it’s your last perfectly in one final quote from an unlikely character. Occasionally, the author would write a chapter that diverged from the main characters. This was usually to foreshadow an event, or provide context for secondary characters. One of these characters, a celebrity named Howie Maldonado, delivered the single most powerful line that tied together all of Silvera’s intentions in writing this book. “Affection from millions and intimacy from that one special person are completely different beasts” (313, Silvera). Howie’s final words suggested that he could have lived a happier life had he not been a celebrity with millions of followers. To him, the fans on social media couldn’t offer him the same feeling of affection that a special lover could have. Silvera’s inclusion of this fictitious celebrity point of view ingeniously undermined the importance of love being the key to a fulfilling life.

Example of chapter structure from a secondary character’s point of view | Photo By: Nicholas Cordts

As briefly mentioned earlier, the book’s structure is unique and fitting. I was expecting a traditional numerical chapter format, but this old method of storytelling is thrown out the window. The author embraces telling the story through the two contrasting protagonists. The chapters are broken up by the character’s name and the time of day. If it’s Rufus’ turn to continue telling the story, the chapter will begin with his name and the time, to show a steady progression through roughly 24 hours. This constant shifting of perspective births two distinct voices. Rufus’ voice is distinguishable when compared to Mateo’s because of Rufus’ word choice. “I don’t go far from them, just closer to the entrance right as a priest is escorting a crying woman out the church” (30, Silvera). Rufus’ character is known to drop words and speak less proper English when compared to Mateo’s style of narration. This steady change in perspective helps to keep the reader engaged through the 368-page journey.

Up until this point, I’ve undoubtedly sounded like a fan of “They Both Die at the End.” On the contrary, there were unanswered elements in the plot that left me wanting more explanation. The author never gives explanation of who the real people behind Death-Cast really are. As previously mentioned, this is the company’s name that calls people in the middle of the night to tell people that they will die. “On behalf of Death-Cast, we are sorry to lose you. Live this day to the fullest,” (20, Silvera). These phone-calls from Death-Cast employees are the only glimpse the reader gets into the mysterious world of death. I imagine it would have been simple to add a short chapter from the perspective of some “higher-up” in Death-Cast. Secondary characters already get their own chapters to tie-up loose ends, and this is one huge loose end that needed to be tied.

In light of criticism, author Adam Silvera was mostly successful in writing a work of fiction with multiple universal themes and messages. The author’s own use of social media suggests that he supports the benefits of the Internet, yet he is clearly an advocate for maintaining privacy in the digital world. Silvera’s third book told an engaging story of two newfound friends who unfortunately didn’t live long enough to grow happy together. The title may be grim, but the message reigns supreme.


4/5 stars

written by: Nicholas Cordts


Silvera, Adam. They Both Die at the End. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. Print.

Bike Recycling One-Man-Band

Clearing bike racks of unwanted bicycles is more involved than it sounds according to Bike Program Manager and UGA student William Fox. If he’s not repairing broken bikes at the Office of Sustainability, Fox is using his own spare time to find every last discarded bike on campus.

As the linked video above mentioned, Fox is the only intern at the Office of Sustainability who does maintenance on the countless bikes found on campus. As part of his internship, Fox manages the reCYCLE program where he re-purposes abandoned bikes and gives them to applicants in need.

“When I’m restoring a bike I have to take it completely apart and put it back together because I have to get all the grit out of it and I have to put grease on everything again,” said Fox.

All the bikes collected from reCYCLE. | Photo by Nicholas Cordts.

Before Fox can get to work on fixing bikes, he gets notified by his boss and program coordinator, Jason Perry, of any old bikes that need to get impounded. Perry said that around five years ago, picking up bikes wasn’t an official job of the Office of Sustainability.

“Parking services was the default organization to deal with the problem,” said Perry.

Fox and Perry can’t just simply clip the lock on any bike that they think looks abandoned due to Georgia’s abandoned motor vehicle law. According to Fox, police have to be involved every time they clip the chain on an old bike.

“Any bike is treated the same way a car is treated if it’s locked,” said Fox. “They have the same waiting period to collect and impound as a car that’s left in the wrong spot or appears abandoned.”

The Georgia Code Title 40 on motor vehicles and traffic cites multiple situations where a vehicle is considered abandoned. These instances are listed in increments of at least 30 days before a vehicle can be impounded. Therefore, after getting police involved, Fox has to wait at least 90 days before working on the impounded bikes.

Untouched bikes due to the 90 day wait period. | Photo by Nicholas Cordts

“During those 90 days, the bike just sits still and no one touches them,” said Fox. “After 90 days, Bike Athens transfers ownership back to UGA where then I have the ability to go through the bikes and see which ones I like based on their condition.”

Bike Athens is a nonprofit organization that actually started the original bike recycling program 12 years ago. Their program is not to be confused with what Fox handles at the Office of Sustainability.

“The UGA Office of Sustainability modeled their program after ours to serve the campus specifically,” said Bike Athens executive director Tyler Dewey. “We work with social service partners in Athens-Clarke county to primarily get bikes to adults in need of transportation.”

Fox clarified that the reCYCLE program can only be utilized by UGA ID cardholders. Bike Athens is a separate entity that works to provide affordable transportation for any Athenians in need.

Bike Athens’ social media involvement with the community.

Bike Athens staff regularly engages with the Athens community via Twitter. Check out their latest involvement with charity organizations, and view pictures of their latest nonprofit projects. Their most recent Instagram postings notify their followers for the holidays. They have a growing  bicycle request list for donations to children.

written by: Nicholas Cordts

Bikers Give Back

The Athens Area Mountain Bike Team (ATHMTB) woke up extra early on Saturday, Oct. 14 to have a special practice before their big race. Instead of practicing drills or screaming team chants, the coaches and youth worked together in a different team building exercise. Their focus?… Trail preservation.

The Executive Director of the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling League, Dan Brooks, was very appreciative of the ATHMTB’s volunteer service to clean up the Heritage park trail.

“The Athens team has been wonderful to work with,” said Brooks. “They have an active group of volunteers that come out and take great care of this trail system.”

Cleared trail at Heritage Park | By: Nicholas Cordts

The Athens youth team used rock rakes and other hand tools provided by the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA). The President of the SORBA-Athens division, Michael Day, loaned a trailer full of tools to the youth team to help with their cleanup.

“We think it’s important that the kids know trails need to be properly maintained,” said Day. “It helps the kids see what the issues are, and how much work goes into building and maintaining trails.”

Team coach, Rusty Wallace, is also a member of SORBA-Athens where he helps do the “grown-up” version of trail maintenance. According to Day, members of the volunteer team get trained to acquire land from public and private landowners for new trail development. The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) provides all interested volunteers with the knowledge to do the “grown-up” trail maintenance.

“We learned how to properly build a trail so it doesn’t erode and so it can be used for hiking and biking,” said Day. “Building a trail straight downhill is about the worst thing you can do, because of rainwater erosion. So our training helps us distinguish the slope to build the trail properly.”

Coach Rusty Wallace | By: Nicholas Cordts


Building and preserving trails is all a part of the cyclist mentality according to coach Rusty Wallace. Wallace said that the Athens Area Mountain Bike Team that he coaches is all about character development.

“We’re a mental organization so we talk to the kids about decision making and how that effects them on the bike and in life,” said Wallace.

After the success of their trail maintenance day, the Athens Area Mountain Bike Team plans to finish off their season right with one last race in November.

–Find this story, and others like it, at envtjour.uga.edu

Nicholas Cordts- Grady News

Should Athens Ban Puppy Mills?

California is against puppy mills, and so is Georgia.

Puppy from Athens Area Humane Society | Photo By: Nicholas Cordts

In an exclusive interview with the Mayor of Canton Ga. on Wednesday Oct. 4, Mayor Gene Hobgood shed light on why he passed the first ordinance to discourage the sale of puppy mill animals in Georgia.

“My daughter was the one who brought this issue to my attention,” said Hobgood. “She works with the ASPCA, and she told me that the Georgia Legislature was trying to take preemptive measures to take authority over pet store ordinances away from local control. ”

What does this all mean?

According to bestfriends.org, an organization dedicated to a no-kill policy in animal shelters, only four cities in the state of Georgia have passed an ordinance to regulate the sale of puppy mill animals. These cities, in the order of when they enacted their ordinance, are Canton, Holly Springs, Waleska, and Woodstock. Canton was the first city to take action back in March of 2017.

“We wanted to pass the ordinance while we had the opportunity to prevent the sScreen Shot 2017-10-11 at 6.59.16 PMales before it happened,” said Hobgood. “We were able to do so because we don’t have any dog or cat pet stores in Canton. We have pet supply stores but no retail sales of dogs or cats.”

Hobgood said that Canton was number 223 in what’s now over 230 cities across the United States to have passed a puppy mill restricting ordinance.

“It would discourage puppy mills, and it would save tax dollars,” said Hobgood.

According to Hobgood, the ordinance would offer a break on tax dollars going to animal shelters because it would encourage the sale of animal shelter pets.

Who else is taking action?

Rescued kitten at Athens Area Humane Society | Photo By Nicholas Cordts

Actions to restrict the sale of commercially produced animals have been recently made at a much larger scale. According to the California Legislative website, Gov. Jerry Brown was presented with a bill to ban the sale of puppy mill animals statewide. The bill was enrolled and presented to the governor at 12 p.m. on Sept. 25.

The American Kennel Club has expressed opposition to the new California bill. They argue against AB 485, stating that the proposed bill will make “obtaining a specific dog breed increasingly difficult.”

In their web post, Why Californians Need to Worry About AB 485, the “Pet Store” Bill, they argue that this ban will increase chances of a person getting a pet that isn’t the right match for their lifestyle. Their stance is, “When governments attempt to limit the legitimate sources from which a person may obtain a pet… it increases the likelihood that animals will end up in a shelter.”

What about Athens?

When asked why the city of Athens hasn’t passed a similar ordinance to ban puppy mills, Clerk of Commission, Jean Spratlin couldn’t recall any past instance to incite a puppy mill ban.

Painted entrance to Athens Area Humane Society | Photo By: Nicholas Cordts

“We haven’t had a puppy mill issue in Athens to my knowledge,” said Spratlin. “There would have to have been a need for that particular ordinance.”

The Humane Society of the United States found that one Athens pet store had a history of buying puppies from a large middleman animal dealer cited with multiple violations. The now out-of-business Petland off of Epps Bridge Road allegedly received shipments of underage puppies from the violating broker back in 2009.

Aside from the closed Athens Petland, the Athens Area Humane Society and Clerk of Commission indicate that there hasn’t been an immediate need for an ordinance in Athens to restrict the sale of commercially produced animals.


-Nicholas Cordts, Grady Environmental Journalism

*Read this story, and my classmate’s environmental stories at: envtjour.uga.edu

Walking with a Young Filmmaker


Lights, Camera, Action! | Photo Credit: “Walking” crew

My dear son; by the time you read this letter, I will have passed into the hands of eternity. Do not be afraid. I have lived, I have loved, and I have hurt. I ask no more of life than this. You have been, are, and always will be forever mine. Please take these words as I pass them unto you, and nourish them into the depths of your spirit.                                                                                                            – Justyn Bell, “Walking.”

      These are the words of a 24-year-old baseball star. In his short film entitled, “Walking,” Justyn Bell began his story with heartfelt words from a mother who just left her son alone in the world.

Mary was the beloved mother of a young boy named Thomas. Unfortunately, Mary was ripped out of her son’s life too soon. Her death left Thomas angry, confused and impulsive. With an insufficient supply of dry food in his backpack, Thomas irrationally decided to pack his things and skip town to hike the Appalachian Trail. All he wanted was solace, and Thomas went to dangerous lengths to rediscover himself in the wake of his mother’s passing.


Justyn Bell, with a smile. | Photo Credit: “Walking” Crew

This was the synopsis I could gather after reading director Justyn Bell’s script. In all honesty, the eloquently written script threw me off guard. When I was invited to meet Bell, I expected to be shaking the hand of a roughly 40-year-old man. Instead, a young man greeted me with a big smile on his face and said, “Hey I’m Justyn, nice to finally meet you. Come on in!” My curiosity peaked, because after that surprising first impression, I wanted to know who Bell really was.

Bell is a young filmmaker who works for MBP Media Group in Roswell, Ga. In 2015 he started writing the script for “Walking.” A year and a half later he would go on to direct his low-budget short film with a rag-tag crew of about 15 people. Two months of filming, and three to four months of editing brought Bell to premiere his finished movie at the Plaza Atlanta Theater. After an emotional night and a packed-out audience, Bell was on cloud nine and couldn’t think of a greater honor than to have his passion project seen by so many people.

Bell has even more to look forward to, now that he’s one of the few directors from over 500 submissions to be selected to premiere his film at the 2018 International Christian Film Festival. In the short film category that Bell submitted for, “Walking” is one of only 15 short films to be selected to premiere at the ICFF. According to the official ICFF website, this particular festival is, “One of the largest Christian film festivals in the world, and it’s the only film festival with a screening in France during the Cannes Film Festival.”

After my first meeting with Bell, I was left amazed at how a young man had achieved so much. How did a 24-year-old end up writing and directing a festival-worthy film? To answer this question, I had to go back to the beginning of Bell’s life. As the old adage goes; mothers know best, and there was no better person to shed light on Justyn’s childhood than Connie Bell.

“Justyn was always the fun one. When he learned to ride a bike, he was the one standing on the seat instead of sitting,” said Connie. Call him the black-sheep brother. Between he and his twin brother, Josef, Justyn was the one who didn’t like to be told what to do. As his mother puts it, “He very much lives in the moment and wants to experience the consequences. He gets that from his mother.”


Justyn before a shot. | Photo Credit: “Walking” Crew

Despite the fact that Justyn had a natural born talent for baseball, he didn’t seek out the traditional sports scholarship upon graduation. According to his mother, Justyn’s humble character keeps him from even mentioning his life in sports. Perhaps this was because Justyn’s heart wasn’t in baseball like it was in film. But before his love for filmmaking came to fruition, Justyn was the performer.

Watching a movie at the theater wasn’t the end of the story for Justyn. After Peter Pan saved Neverland from the nefarious Captain Hook, Justyn would gather his family together and reenact the whole movie in the form of a play or puppet-show.

“He doesn’t like being the center of attention, but he does like being involved,” said Connie. This held true for Justyn when he picked up a video camera for the first time. Justyn was 13 when he began writing movie scripts to make short films with his neighborhood friends. Connie remembers coming home after work to a house full of kids. “Justyn would yell, ‘I’m going to the clubhouse to shoot a movie mom,’ and off they went,” said Connie. These were some of the most beautiful years of Justyn’s childhood that his mother holds on to. Some days she would clean her son’s room and the floor would be littered with crumpled papers, each one a new script.

Among the many kids that Justyn filmed with when he was 13, he could always count on his brother Josef and long-time friend David Nobles to film with him. The three of them would frequently switch roles when they made their fun Nerf gun videos. “I was in all of Justyn’s early films, and I would either act in them or work behind the scenes,” said Josef.

Nobles was also a regular star in Justyn’s early films like “San Diego Heights.” Nobles remembers having sleepovers and spending the whole afternoon filming. “Justyn would quickly edit what we shot, and at night we would grab snacks and watch the movie we made earlier that day,” said Nobles. Coincidentally, Justyn would end up recruiting Josef and Nobles as part of the crew in “Walking” about ten years later.


David with his Canon C100. | Photo Credit: “Walking” crew

On day one of the production of “Walking,” Nobles could be seen with his professional-looking Canon C100, ball-head tripod, and shoulder rig. Justyn had recruited Nobles as the director of photography, or DP for short. Nobles was a “shoe-in” to be the photographer, not only because of his history with Justyn, but because he had been honing his craft by filming weddings.

Josef was responsible for post-production graphic design, where he worked late nights with his brother. Justyn had a vision of a real-looking butterfly in his movie, serving as a spiritual guide for the main character. “Every time you saw the butterfly, that was me,” said Josef. Josef would model for about an hour and his brother would come to check on it. “Animating was really tedious,” said Josef. But animating wasn’t the only tedious part of Justyn’s filming journey.

Before casting the actors and choosing the crew, Bell and his girlfriend, Hannah McCune, had a big job on their hands. The script that Bell wrote was very visually demanding, meaning he needed to film in the most beautiful locations to set the tone for the movie. In November of 2015, he and Hannah began scouting locations all over the North Georgia Mountains. “Every other weekend, over a four month period, we hiked about 12 different trails,” said McCune. Bell had a vision for each scene, and he wanted each different background to be symbolic of the main character’s grief. That’s why he carefully scoured every last trail he could find.


A scouted location. | Photo Credit: “Walking” crew

The legalities of the film industry caught up with Bell and McCune when they realized they needed a permit to film in certain government-owned parks. “I really didn’t know how hard it was going to be to get the permit,” said Bell. The cost of a permit can vary depending on the size of a production. When selling permits, the Georgia State Parks website makes it clear that, “Primary consideration is given to protecting the natural resources, reducing disruption of normal public use, and recovering expenses incurred by the department.” Luckily, Bell and McCune got in contact with the USDA and were able to secure a permit at a low cost since their production was small and wouldn’t be disruptive.

With the hassle of scouting out of the way, the next thing Bell had to worry about was finding a skilled crew. He needed someone to handle sound, another person to diffuse and reflect light, and someone to manage props. On top of Nobles being the DP, he also needed a behind-the-scenes photographer, and a producer. Finding enough dedicated people to fill all of the roles is a tall order to fill for any filmmaker. But Bell had a reliable gang of old friends to turn to, thanks to some connections he made with a production company called Farmin’ Dreams Studios.

Bell’s connections with Farmin’ Dreams Studios traces back to 2013, when he met a guy named Dave Rajkumar. Back then, Bell had to start from scratch. He moved so much as a kid that he didn’t have any strong ties with like-minded filmmakers. So one day, Bell hopped on Facebook and saw an ad for a film called “Tonight is no Different.” Rajkumar had posted a casting notice for his film being produced at Georgia State College. Even though acting may not have been Bell’s passion, he thought auditioning for a part in Rajkumar’s film would be a good way to find a potential crew. He responded to the Facebook post with enthusiasm, even though the project would inevitably be scrapped down the road. But that didn’t stop Bell and Rajkumar from harvesting a friendship through Farmin’ Dreams. “I knew I had to prove myself to them. I was serious about my work so I auditioned for one of their films and we’ve been good friends ever since,” said Bell.


More crew members since Farmin’ Dreams. | Photo Credit: “Walking” crew

For the years to come after their first film, Bell and Rajkumar worked together to write even more scripts. Rajkumar would produce a movie and Bell would be DP. Then the next idea would be thrown on the table, and Bell would write a script while Rajkumar produced it. Bell and Rajkumar were partners for years, constantly filling new roles in their co-produced movies. “Justyn was always there to help me brainstorm projects,” said Rajkumar. From one of the earliest collaborations, to one of their most recent films, new friends were invited into Farmin’ Dreams Studios along the way. In fact, the woman who voiced the mother in “Walking” was cast after working with him in a previous Farmin’ Dreams film called “Lost and Found.”

Enter Valerie Menzel; The beautiful award-winning actor from Charlotte, North Carolina. After she met Bell on the set of Rajkumar’s “Lost and Found” film, Bell was happy to have Menzel be the lead in his own film called “Saving Sarah.” “Justyn is so actor-friendly. He has no ego, and there’s never any drama. It’s always a pleasure to work with him,” said Menzel.

When Bell wrote the part for the mother in “Walking,” Menzel was his natural go-to choice. Even though Menzel lived hundreds of miles away from Bell, the two of them collaborated to get all of the mother’s voiceovers over the phone. Bell would send her still images of some of the filming they did to help get Menzel in the right actor’s mindset. As Menzel recorded herself in her studio, she had Bell in her earpiece where he could listen to her and give her feedback after each take.

“It was tough because you don’t have the visuals, you don’t have anyone else there, and you don’t know what’s going on so it’s like you’re working in a vacuum,” said Menzel. Luckily for Menzel, music was her saving grace. Before each take, Bell would play the accompanying music for her to set the mood. Bell had appropriately chosen songs that reflected a young boy’s highs and lows after the loss of a mother. Menzel was that mother. But just as Menzel had challenges of her own to get in character, Bell faced new uncharted territory.

Bell knew he wanted an original soundtrack for “Walking,” but just like when he was looking for a crew, he didn’t know anyone who could take on the task. Facebook ended up being his safety net for filling the many roles that his movie required. Again, Bell typed up an ad and released it into the wild, unsure if he would get any bites. Though, Bell was pleased when he got a response from a young fellow from Florida. Bell happened to have ties to a boy named Conner Grubbs, who saw the Facebook ad and offered up his talents. “I don’t know what came over me but I just offered and said, ‘Hey if you want music for this, I’d love to be involved,’” said Grubbs. From that one post, a whole new chapter in the production of “Walking” came to Bell’s attention.

Initially, Grubbs sent Bell some samples of the music that his old band produced. Some songs featured a blended sound of mandolin and piano, but one element stood out to Bell. He gravitated toward Grubbs’ songs that featured nothing but stripped down guitar. It matched his vision of the film perfectly, so he packed his things and took a long drive down to Florida. While sleeping at Grubbs’ parents’ house, they knocked out the whole score in a week. Working alongside Bell was very experimental for Grubbs since all their recording was improvised. “Justyn was willing to take risks. He was okay with me playing a riff off the top of my head after getting inspiration from a scene,” said Grubbs. Even though “Walking” was Bell’s passion project, that didn’t stop him from taking chances every now and then. Other times, adverse circumstances forced him to try new things.


Lucas on set. | Photo Credit: “Walking” crew

For Bell, there was nothing worse than finding out that his lead actor was too sick to shoot during one weekend. The film was nearly wrapped and Bell only needed a few more shots, so he had to improvise. Bell’s girlfriend, Hannah McCune, had a younger brother named Lucas McCune who looked believably similar to the main actor. So Bell decided to use “movie magic” and trick the audience with some close-up shots of Lucas. “This role was thrown at me last minute, and I was little skeptical about it. I was honestly surprised how well it worked out,” said Lucas. Judging by the positive response from the audience, Bell agreed that Lucas’ scenes did their job at tricking the audience. Now only two questions remain: will the judges at the International Christian Film Festival notice the actor’s double? And how will Bell’s film perform in the long run?

In a market that doesn’t favor independent films, it was bold for Bell to devote so much time to his short film. Adam Leipzig, publisher of “Cultural Weekly,” analyzed a 2016 Sundance info graphic and concluded that big budget studio films account for 92.1 percent of the total box office. “This leaves approximately 550 independent films to fight for less than eight percent of the box office,” Leipzig writes. Although this is the case, Bell isn’t concerned about the return on his investment.

To the ever-humble Justyn Bell, walking away with an award is not his main concern. What matters to Bell is the two-year journey behind “Walking” that makes him firmly believe in his work. Kevin Powers, the sound guy for “Walking” and all around veteran in hosting film festivals had advice for Bell, “What’s great about these film festivals is that you get to be around other independent filmmakers who share the same interests in film.” Bell and Powers are in the same frame of mind. It was an honor for Bell to find out that he was chosen out of 500 submissions, but he’s in it for the networking.

Not even the reserved Justyn Bell could be kept out of the spotlight on the night of his first big premiere. Again, making reservations and contacting the right people to premiere “Walking” at the Plaza Atlanta Theater was completely spearheaded by Bell. On the night of the screening, Bell’s mother, Connie, remembered how nervous her son was. He took it upon himself to stand in front of the audience and hold a Q&A for anyone with questions. After watching the movie, the mesmerized audience gave Justyn their full attention. No matter how nervous Justyn was on the inside, his mother saw him glowing on the outside. “I can’t even use human words to express what I felt,” said Connie. “It wasn’t self-pride. It was me being as proud as a parent could be for her son. He was where he was born to be.”

[“Walking” video footage from day two of production. Shot on the War Woman Dell Trail.]


Written by: Nicholas Cordts

Print Citation: Bell, Justyn. “Walking.” Film Script. 2015. Print. 20 April. 2017.