Dozens of Troy University theatre students are gathered inside a classroom affectionately known as the “Black Box” thanks to its coal-colored floor and walls.
The class is on creativity, but on this day in August the focus is on someone who has put his creativity to work producing movies—alumnus D. Scott Lumpkin.
Lumpkin told the class that each script he picks ups is a new puzzle waiting to be solved.
“I’m not a writer,” Lumpkin said. “I find other projects and develop existing projects. So, a lot of it has to do with me reading a script and thinking ‘This is a cool challenge, I think I can put this together.’ I’m working on a film right now, and the challenge for me is, I want Hollywood to say, ‘How the hell did he do this for that much money?’ That’s sort of the challenge or the Rubik’s Cube for me.”
Lumpkin, a 1995 TROY graduate and Mobile native, has gained a reputation as one of the best in the movie business at putting together the pieces needed to bring a script to life. He has more than 50 film credits under his belt, many of which were shot right here in Alabama, including 2002’s Sundance-winning “Love Liza” starring Phillip Seymore Hoffman and the Stephen King adaption “Gerald’s Game” which debuted in September on Netflix. His latest film, the supernatural thriller “Mary” starring Gary Oldman, started production this month on the Alabama coast.
Lumpkin describes his role in filmmaking as being much like a general contractor. He plans the finances, hires cast and crew, and makes a plan to bring the movie in on time and on budget.
“I break down all the elements, hire the cast, negotiate a deal with the director and put [the film] in the model that I have designed,” Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin’s visit to the Troy Campus was his first time back since graduating as a speech a theatre major. He spoke to students about filmmaking and how he got his start in the business. He started working on movies while still a student at TROY, spending his summers on movie sets.
His earliest jobs were loading film into cameras, but in time he was being asked to do more behind the scenes. His first time working as a producer was at age 19, when a director asked him to hire the crew for his next film.
“That’s when it kind of clicked and I thought, ‘I could do this,’” Lumpkin said.
Today, Lumpkin has worked on films ranging from small independents to the $90 million globetrotting epic “The Foreigner” starring Jackie Chan, opening Oct. 13.
Lumpkin said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is the importance of building relationships. He pointed to the example of the 2016 comedy “Masterminds” about a small-town bank heist. Lumpkin was able to draw in some top names in comedy, including Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig thanks to his friendship with Will Ferrell. Lumpkin had previously produced a pair of Ferrell flicks, the dramedy “Everything Must Go” and the Spanish language telenovela spoof “Casa De Mi Padre.”
“That’s a good example of how one project leads to another project, which leads to another project,” Lumpkin said.
He encouraged students interested in a career in art or filmmaking to stay committed to their dreams even when facing hardships. Recalling his early financial struggles, Lumpkin said he once took a “real job” for a few months, but quickly realized that money was not worth sacrificing his happiness.
“Once I got the mentality that this is what I was going to do and this is how I’m going to do it, nothing was going to stop me,” Lumpkin said. “It was cruise control.”
For anyone interested in making movies, Lumpkin had one simple piece of advice—just do it. In the age of social media, aspiring filmmakers have no shortage of ways to get their work in front of an audience.
“If we had YouTube when I was in college, watch out world,” Lumpkin said, “The whole thing about being a filmmaker or being an artist is getting an audience, and you’ve got every outlet in the world right here.”