Humans of UK: Matt Dunlap shoots his shot at filmmaking

Hunter Shelton

A UK student is seeing his dream of filmmaking come true before he even graduates.

From home movies to mini projects, all the way to his upcoming short film “Burning in Trial,” Dunlap has immersed himself in the world of cinematography as he pursues his goals.

A senior at UK, Dunlap has always had the creative itch to make movies, long before he arrived on campus in 2018.

“Ever since I was young, my cousins, my sister and I would make home videos, just acting things out and filming it,” Dunlap said. “Ever since then, it’s been fun for me to make stuff.”

Born and raised in Frankfort, Illinois, Dunlap began his hobby of filming around the age of eight, where he, a VHS recorder and whoever else was around were subject to be featured in his next creation.

From the get-go, Dunlap recalls he and his sister, who now works in the same field as an editor, having the complete support of their parents to chase their objectives, no matter how lofty.

“My parents just love watching our stuff,” Dunlap said. “They’re all so supportive of it, so it’s pretty cool.”

While Dunlap had always pondered about filmmaking as a career growing up, he points toward the beginning of high school as being a catalyst to him giving some serious thought into pursuing his aspirations.

“I remember always slowly thinking about doing it. Then in my freshman year, I was making movies with my friends, and I thought ‘Hey, I want to do this,’” Dunlap said.

Fast forward four years, and Dunlap was making the move to Lexington, attending UK with a major in Media Arts and Studies and fully committing to studying what he’s passionate about.

“I wanted to really do this, so I got a major in it and surrounded myself with friends who also love doing that, and that’s how I led to making [‘Burning in Trial,’]” Dunlap said.

With the help of his friends, Dunlap got the idea for “Burning in Trial” off the ground, beginning the writing process in January 2021 and finishing the script in the summer.

Dunlap and his crew shot the film over the course of four days at an abandoned cabin by the Red River Gorge in Slade, Kentucky. Being the biggest shoot of Dunlap’s young career in film, there were plenty of hoops to jump through along the way.

“The cabin had no electricity, no water, so we had some challenges trying to figure out things like how to have batteries the whole day and using lights,” Dunlap said.

Fighting through the occasional struggles, Dunlap wrapped in August, proud of the production he and his peers were able to make.

“I’m very thankful for all of them coming out to help,” Dunlap said. “Everyone going out there, spending time to be on the production, it was really awesome.”

Following the four days of filming came five long months of editing for Dunlap. Multiple hours of editing in front of a laptop everyday proved to be the most strenuous in the filmmaking process, he said.

“It’s tough, I’d never edited something that big,” Dunlap said. “There’s so many different steps that go into editing that you don’t really think about.”

From shooting to doing the sound design to editing the project, Dunlap has sacrificed countless hours into polishing up his short film, which is finally ready to be shown to the world.

“Burning in Trial” is a 27-minute thriller about two people stuck in purgatory, losing their memories and trying to survive the horrors of the outside world. The film is set to premiere at the Worsham Cinema in the Gatton Student Center at the University of Kentucky on Friday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m.

Despite the jitters that come with showcasing one’s art to the public for consumption, Dunlap is hoping that viewers will come away with an enjoyable, memorable experience.

“I just want people to enjoy it, have fun with it,” Dunlap said. “When you watch a movie, the most important thing is you had a good time watching it, so that’s what I’d like people to hopefully get out of mine.”