College of Technology alums Bella Dontine and Travis Brown are earning their stripes as Hollywood producers — and in Tinseltown, that’s no easy feat. Released in May, their feature film, “Devil’s Hollow,” earned serious buzz at its West Coast premiere in February at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
A southern Gothic crime thriller, the film centers on a man on house arrest at his farm attempting to save his estranged daughter from his former partner-in-crime.
Scoring Official Selection designations at Louisville’s International Festival of Film and the Golden State Film Festival and hitting the SOHO International Film Festival, among others, “Hollow” has been fueled by reviews from A-listers like Octavia Spencer and Hugh Jackman. Spencer complimented the film’s “rich cinematography and powerful performances,” while Jackman called out star Shuler Hensley’s
The nods, Dontine says, “were surreal, but it feels wonderful to know it’s getting out there and being seen after all the hard work everyone put into it to bring it to fruition.”
Brown agrees, calling the attention humbling. “It certainly helped with landing a lot of eyes on our film, as well as attracting a solid distributor, Lion Heart Distribution, to help get our movie out there,” he says. “Octavia Spencer actually posted about the film to her Instagram page on the day it released, which I know gave us massive exposure and greatly helped with the overall sales of the film.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Dontine and Brown met at WilmU while working on a student film called “The Average Guy,” says Dontine. “Our professor, Calvin Hill, directed. I auditioned for the lead role, and Travis was working on the project.”
Both attribute their chops to WilmU.
Brown, who in 2010 earned his undergrad in Studio Production with a minor in Digital Film-Making, says WilmU offered “a very hands-on learning environment, which was extremely vital and helpful in preparing me for a career in film and TV. I’m more of a visual learner, so being able to actually see how it’s done versus being told how it’s done helped me a great deal. WilmU taught me about editing, cameras, and the overall art of narrative storytelling.”
“WilmU taught me about editing, cameras, and the overall art of narrative storytelling.”
— Travis Brown
By the time he graduated and made his move to LA in 2015, he adds, “I knew I was ready to work professionally as a filmmaker due to the preparation and foundation I received at WilmU.”
He has since received multiple awards as a producer, director, and writer. For his short film, “The Norwalk Witness,” Brown took home the Narrative Short prize from the International Independent Film Awards in 2020. He also founded the LA-based Browntown Studios, a production and media services company.
Dontine, enrolled as Michelle Williams, graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Video and Motion Graphics and a minor in Digital Film-Making. Also an award-winning producer, actor and writer, she has appeared in numerous films and television shows and is equally comfortable behind the camera. She’s been the assistant director on the award-winning film “Delaware Shore” and assistant director and writer on Brown’s “The Norwalk Witness.”
“WilmU has been such an integral part of my journey in the film industry because it taught me so much, from the smaller, hands-on classroom to the connections I made that have been sustained since being a student,” says Dontine. “There are so many little things I remember while on set from my days at WilmU, like, audio is the most important thing. That was drilled into me in audio class. An audience will forgive you for bad camera angles, a bad storyline, etc., but what sets an amateur apart from a professional is the audio.”
She grew up performing around the East Coast, but when she attended WilmU, she says, “I got to see behind the lens, so to speak. As much as I love being in front of the camera, I always knew I wanted to know all the ins and outs of film-making to be the best storyteller I could possibly be, and WilmU really helped give me the foundation I needed to begin my career as a writer, producer, and one day, a director.”
“WilmU really helped give me the foundation I needed to begin my career as a writer, producer, and one day, a director.” — Bella Dontine
Next for the pros is the feature film “A Lion’s Game,” which they co-wrote and produced. Brown directed, and Dontine has the lead role. Post-production wrapped this past summer. Info, including release dates, can be found on Instagram (@alionsgamemovie) and Facebook.
“Bella and I also have several other feature films that we co-wrote and will be producing together,” says Brown.
The world sees Hollywood as one big, glitzy red carpet, but succeeding in the intensely competitive enter-tainment business can be brutal — anything but glamorous. It takes passion, perseverance, and buckets of sweat and tears. Brown and Dontine are aware of the hardships. They have tough skin. And they’re just getting started.
Dontine and Brown’s major is now called Video and Film Production. To learn more about the undergraduate program, visit wilmu.edu/technology.
— Maria Hess