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Discover with SEU — Shawn Tapias

Shawn Tapias Decision Day

Belong with SEU Student Highlight — Decision Day

Wonder what it’s like to be a film major at SEU? Shawn Tapias, class of 2024, takes us on his journey through the last four years of his SEU experience in studying film production. 

Why Film?

Shawn had various hobbies growing up, but none of them compared to his love for soccer. With hopes of becoming a professional soccer player, he used to record progress videos of himself. However, before Shawn graduated high school, he realized that soccer might not be the focus of his future. 

Despite Shawn’s soccer career ending, the videos he took would unknowingly become the catalyst for his decision to earn his degree in film production. “When I lost my passion for anything soccer related, I was wondering ‘What do I do with my life?’ So I started vlogging,” he said. “And they were pretty bad vlogs…I’m not going to lie!” he laughed. “But then one day, I made this video called Create.” 

The video showcased Shawn’s video editing skills. Along with video editing, Shawn was inspired by the movie Interstellar to write his first script. “That movie changed everything,” he said. But despite never making the script into a film, he began to see a film career as his future. Excited about this journey, Shawn kept writing and eventually made his first film. To remember the pivotal change in his life from soccer to film, Shawn got a tattoo in morse code of the phrase “stay” from Interstellar.  

Choosing SEU

When it came to deciding which college to apply to, Shawn knew he wanted to stay in his home state of Florida, but was unsure which school to choose. At the first school he toured, he recalled them making it a point for students to understand the connections they had to the film industry, making it the reason for them to want to attend their university. But to Shawn, it was not the connections he was looking for. “I wasn’t feeling internally connected to it. I knew in my head I wanted to do film, and it was a cool film school, but personally I didn’t feel like it was for me,” he said. 

As Shawn continued his search, he received an unexpected email from SEU saying, “Do you want to finish your application you started 2 years ago?” In shock, he began to remember that he had toured SEU when he was a sophomore in high school, and never followed through on completing his application. While waiting to hear back from other colleges, he decided to apply to SEU as well. “So I applied, and I got more financial aid than I thought was possible! I give thanks to God for that,” he said. 

When he applied, Shawn wanted to learn more about SEU’s film program and was put in contact with film professor Bethany Miller, who explained the program to him and got him excited about it. Not only did SEU have the industry connections he was looking for, but he felt an internal pull toward SEU that he hadn’t felt elsewhere.

Shawn’s First Showcased Short Film

Prior to attending SEU, Shawn had made a few of his own films.  Most of them were short, but eventually he created a 12 minute one called Paperweight. It’s a period piece (set in 1975) about  a boy named Ceyhlo Rodgers who applies for a restaurant job and starts on a journey of self-realization. Paperweight was shot in Shawn’s hometown of Davenport, and some of it in Haines City. “I live in the old part of Davenport, so the perfect places are right nearby me, like a restaurant and a hardware store from that era. It was a big project, that 12 minute film, but I completed it with God’s help,” he said. 

Every year SEU hosts a Film Festival and a Senior Capstone Showcase. Before Shawn’s freshman year of college, he submitted Paperweight to the film festival, and it was chosen to be displayed. “It was a really cool experience for me to integrate into the community, because I got to see something I made on the big screen along with the other students’ works. It was super awesome.” 

Navigating Film at SEU 

Since Paperweight was Shawn’s first big film, he had limited help and participated in multiple roles. When he transitioned to SEU’s film school, it was difficult for him to focus on one role at a time. Eventually, Shawn understood how to navigate roles and had the opportunity to work on various films while being at SEU. 

His favorite has been with his friend Johnny Villegas, a recent graduate of SEU. They made the school’s first original musical called, The Man Who Wanted Everything. Shawn was a co writer and cinematographer for this film. “It was the most fun we ever had,” he said, “And it was a crazy experience to get an actor for it and also create the choreography.” 

Shawn graduates this spring (2024), so he’s been in the process of creating his capstone film, Eric the Auteur. It’s a film about an Elvis-styled musician who is on a path of self-discovery. “It’s completely different from when I started writing it five months ago,” he said. But with the encouragement of professor Bethany Miller, Tapias was able to “bring out his voice” in this film. “She always cares about what’s under the surface of a film rather than it just being cool,” he said. “She cares about what’s at the heart of the story. But I think that goes hand in hand with her really caring about the heart of the person too. That’s how our professors are here — they care about us as people.” He’s looking forward to seeing the film played in April at the Senior Capstone Showcase in the Buena Vida auditorium. 

Thanks to SEU

Throughout the last four years, Shawn has been grateful for the development of not only his skills in film, but in the confidence he’s gotten for this gifting. From teachers like Dr. Annette Graves, Professor Christopher Clark, and Professor Bethany Miller, he knows he’s been equipped for his future in the film industry. “The teachers just care so much about the students. At bigger schools you probably wouldn’t get that,” he said. Shawn has learned about finding vision through Dr. Graves’ creative writing classes. From Professor Clark, he’s learned that relationships matter and that it’s okay to ask for help. “He’s been there for me during really hard times and has made time to meet up with me and talk,” Shawn said. 

And if it wasn’t for Professor Miller’s Zoom call with him before he decided on SEU, he wouldn’t have been able to complete the projects and grow as he has. “Sometimes I get in my head and wonder, ‘does my art even mean anything?’ But through my teachers, I’ve realized I’m making this art for a reason,” Shawn said. 

Plans After Graduation and Advice for Incoming Students 

After graduation, Shawn plans to move to New York for a few months to intern with Adult and Teen Challenge, a Christ-centered rehab program, where he will be creating video content. “Writing and directing are my main focuses, but I also love cinematography and writing short films,” said Shawn. “I learn from every experience, all by the grace of God.” 

As Shawn graduates he leaves some words of advice for incoming students of any major. “Get involved in campus life and things related to your major as much as you can; that’s where you really learn.” It was from working on film sets that Shawn was able to increase his skills, and is now able to help others learn the skills he’s been taught. “The artistic level is really high here at SEU,” he explained. “We have so many students who are good directors, writers, artists, and cinematographers. We learn from each other and build our portfolios together.” 

Shawn has enjoyed his journey as a film student at SEU, but emphasizes that along with building your portfolio, you also need to prioritize your health. “There were times where I was on set every weekend. I learned that it’s best to also make plans for breaks.” 

Shawn’s final piece of advice is to build relationships and put yourself out there to seek opportunities. “When you create meaningful relationships, amazing art will come from that.” 

By Alexa Estevez, Student Worker for SEU Creative

Edited by Mia Golding and Emma Stern, Student Writers

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