A child wearing a suit and sunglasses poses for a photo in front of a backdrop reading "Plotline"
Plotline student Castle Kilburn walks the red carpet during the 2022 Student Film Showcase at the Alamo Drafthouse Springfield. (Photo by Jim Bultas)

This story is part of the Arts and Culture Reporting Corps, sponsored by the Springfield Regional Arts Council.

Each spring, dozens of filmmakers flock to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Springfield, walk down a red carpet and pause to take photos with adoring fans. Their short films are shown to a packed house, and every filmmaker goes home with an award worthy of displaying on their parents’ refrigerator. 

The average age of these filmmakers? Thirteen years old. 

Plotline, a nonprofit film and media school based in Springfield, hosts this annual event, showcasing student films from the past year. This year is Plotline’s eighth annual Student Film Showcase,  taking place Saturday, May 20, at 5 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse. 

“It’s glitz and glam,” said Plotline’s founder and Executive Director, Jim Bultas. “Friends, family, and members of the community are welcome to come see the students’ work on the big screen at a movie theater. We make the night very special for our students by having a red carpet, paparazzi photos and individualized awards for each student that is specific to the contributions they’ve done in the program. This year, we’ll have a special award presented by (Missouri State University) called The Next Generation Filmmaker Award.”

People sit in a movie theatre, watching a film
Audiences fill the Alamo Drafthouse Springfield auditorium to watch Plotline students’ short films during the annual Student Showcase in 2022. (Photo by Jim Bultas)

Bultas went from creating to instructing

Bultas got his taste for the film industry as he pursued music in Los Angeles.

“I dabbled a bit in film with friends and colleagues,” he said. “I got some experience, then wanted to do it for myself, to make a movie.”

After spending time in Los Angeles and “missing the color green,” as well as his friends and family, Bultas said he moved back to Springfield and began working on his own creative projects, including a feature film called “Rock And Roll Space Patrol” in 2005.

As Bultas worked on his own projects, he started to see the importance of teaching students different elements of filmmaking.

“There are a lot of life skills learned through filmmaking,” he said. “There’s a collaborative aspect and a great team-building component, especially for kids who haven’t been in team sports.”

Bultas added that students also learn how to compromise, pitch ideas, develop persuasion tactics and, most importantly, follow through.

“If we don’t finish the film, it won’t get screened at a theater.”

Plotline was established in 2017 and conducted programs at over a dozen locations such as the Springfield Art Museum, Boys and Girls Club and Robberson Community School. Now in its sixth year, Bultas says they’ve served more than 300 students and currently hold semester classes out of The Creamery Arts Center.

“Being a small but growing nonprofit leaves a lot for me to juggle, along with several interesting hats to wear,” Bultas said. “So now I’m off to the last class of the semester and I am giddy with excitement to be one of the first to see the final class films. We’re finishing editing them in class tonight. If you’re worried about the next generation, then you haven’t seen what these students can do.”

A group of children prepares to record a scene from a movie
Plotline students create original short films, learning to pitch ideas, write scripts, act, direct, operate sound and camera equipment and edit films. (Photo: Jim Bultas)

Students develop skills like problem-solving

One of Bultas’ longtime film students, Jonas Matlock, 18, now counts himself as a Plotline alumnus, having taken multiple classes with Plotline and creating films in his free time.

“There’s something about making a movie that feels like an environment I belong in,” Matlock said.

One of the biggest takeaways Matlock has noticed from learning filmmaking is how much problem-solving it requires.

“There’s a lot of things that you run into, even just making a movie with your friends,” Matlock said. “I’ve learned to keep a roll of duct tape on standby at all possible times.” 

This summer, Matlock is collaborating with friends on another film, which he hopes will culminate with a public screening once it’s finished, as he did with his 25-minute film “Gabe and Bill: The Quest of Great Importance!” which he showed at The Moxie in March 2022.

YouTube video

“That blew me away,” Matlock said, about being able to show his film at a theater. He worked with The Moxie to sell tickets and screen the movie. “I was surprised about how easy it was.”

Moxie Cinema also creates space for young film lovers and makers

Moxie Cinema, a nonprofit movie theater located in downtown Springfield, provides multiple opportunities to empower young film lovers and makers, in addition to being a space for screening locally made films. 

“Kids are sponges, and it’s so eye-opening to see how they connect to film as a visual language,” said Mike Stevens, Moxie Cinema Executive Director. “Even if you aren’t going to be a filmmaker, learning how to use sound and image to create meaning is essential for a modern citizen and makes you a stronger critical thinker.”

New in 2023, with a $6,000 Springfield Regional Arts Council Arts and Culture grant, The Moxie developed a filmmaking-focused field trip for Pleasant View sixth-graders.

“We wanted to tie it in with our third-grade visual literacy field trip experience,” Stevens said. “For the sixth-graders, we’ve centered the field trip around the idea of the five stages of filmmaking.”

He said this includes learning about outlining a story, pre-production, production, post-production and marketing and distribution.

“Even if they don’t become the next Steven Spielberg or Ari Aster, they know that these creative people have to have a system they work within and take one step at a time,” Stevens said.

Children sit in a movie theatre, eating popcorn while they watch a film
Moxie Cinema provides educational experiences for third- and sixth-grade students to learn about visual literacy using film. (Photo: Moxie Cinema)

Show MO Act could bring more projects to Missouri

On a larger scale, filmmakers are keeping an eye on Senate Bill 94, the Show MO Act, which will provide a base 20% tax credit incentive to qualified motion media production projects filmed in Missouri. The state has not provided any tax credit incentives since 2013.

“When we had tax incentives, we had a lot more films made here,” Stevens said. “There is enough money to be saved that people are hunting where to film for the best price.”

According to Film in MO, an advocacy group working with Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg on this bill, Missouri lost out on multiple major motion pictures adding to millions of dollars in lost economic impact.

Bultas believes tax incentives will keep talent in the Show-Me State

Aside from the economic impact this bill could have on the region, Bultas is thinking of his current students and their futures, like Matlock’s.

“Having these tax incentives will keep our talent here instead of going to other states and pursuing industry talent,” he said. 

Matlock, who hopes to attend Missouri State University as a film student, says he really loves Missouri and wants to continue making movies here.

“I feel like filmmaking has opened the door for putting every bit of love and passion into anything I work on,” he said. “Honestly, those are the most important things to me when it comes to any kind of media, knowing and seeing that the people who made it had real passion and love behind it.”

For more information

Learn more about Plotline and its mission on the nonprofit’s website. You can also find them on Facebook.

View student films from previous years on Plotline’s YouTube channel.

Nicole Chilton

Nicole Chilton is a Springfield-based artist, writer, and arts advocate. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism and writes for a variety of online and print publications. Her most recent work, “How Dreams Speak,” is available where books are sold. More by Nicole Chilton