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Alumnus goes from scarlet and gray to silver screen

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Scott Spears, a cinematographer and lecturer at Ohio State, owns a production company and has worked on more than 30 films throughout his career, including ‘Beyond Dream’s Door.’ Credit: Courtesy of Bill Dow

Scott Spears, a cinematographer and lecturer at Ohio State, owns a production company and has worked on more than 30 films throughout his career, including ‘Beyond Dream’s Door.’
Credit: Courtesy of Bill Dow

The movie starts, and the audience sees a black screen. White text draws your eyes to the words “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and then eerie music begins to bombard your ears. The opening scene begins, and the camera is perfectly lined up with the lights focusing on exactly what you are meant to see.

Months of hard work went into making sure you see just that, exactly what the director wanted you. Cinematographers, such as Scott Spears, are the ones behind it.

Spears, a 52-year-old Ohio State instructor and cinematographer, has worked on more than 30 films throughout his career. He not only works as a screenwriter and cinematographer, but he also owns his own production company: Production Partners Media.

Spears grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio,  with four older siblings.

“In Portsmouth, there’s nothing to do, so,  for me, it came down to either drawing comic books or making movies,” said Spears. 

Spears used to make short comedies and home movies with his siblings. He even talked a teacher at Portsmouth High School into starting a media production class.

He attended OSU to pursue his filmmaking dreams and now has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a master’s degree in cinema production. 

Now, Spears teaches a screenwriting class at OSU and is teaching a class on criticizing television for the first time this semester.

Spears broke into the movie business with the help of a couple internships he found while at OSU. He used to film the football games and cheerleaders. Once, while on assignment, he said he almost ended up trampled during the team’s rush onto the field but was saved by a friend who yanked him out of the way.

He also worked for a few network shows, such as “Unsolved Mysteries.” 

He made two feature-length horror films while in graduate school at OSU and one, “Beyond Dream’s Door,” was released internationally and sold in video stores nationwide. 

“I enjoy horror films, especially as a cinematographer, because you can really go crazy with the lighting,” he said. “I am going to light it as dramatically as I can, but I’m not going to take away from the story by putting weird lights up for no reason. I am a slave to the story.”

As a cinematographer, Spears had a lot of free time during the early weeks of project production, so he started writing scripts in his down time and selling them. He began simply , and as he got better, he moved in to more complex ideas and stories that he now uses in his production company.

Spears took over Production Partners Media in 2007. The company describes itself as “full-service,” meaning it can help from start to finish with a project.

“We can go from the ground up. If you come in and say, ‘I want to make a TV show about a vacuum cleaner,’ I can help you write the script, and then devise some shots, and then shoot it, and edit it and help you find some place to buy ad time for it,” Spears said.

The company mostly works with freelance employees who Spears brings in for certain projects from trusted circles. They work with mostly digital film and Panasonic cameras but also work with film on occasion. 

Spears also uses his writing skills to work on books and short stories. He and his twin brother Randy Spears — who also works at OSU as the associate director of educational technologies at the Fisher College of Business — co-wrote their first mystery novel together a few years ago.

“It was a pretty terrible novel,” Randy Spears said. “So we learned from our mistakes and got better and wrote another one.”

Randy Spears said he tries to watch what he can of his brother’s work and manages to see most of them to support his twin.

As for future plans, Scott Spears is still working on a few scripts but is also writing a book for his screenwriting class on how to write screenplays.

He also produces a television show on PBS called “Framelines” about independent filmmaking in Ohio. The show interviews filmmakers and actors, and takes audiences behind the scenes of local projects.

On top of the interviews, the show also gives “tech tips” to help cinematographers and movie-makers who are just getting into the business or just looking for some help.

As far as Scott Spears’ dreams for the future go, he hopes to work with Mickey Fisher again. Fisher is now working on a CBS series called “Extant” that stars Halle Berry and is produced by Steven Spielberg.

For Spears, working with Spielberg is a chance to connect with one of the Hollywood giants he looks up to. One of his earliest inspirations was his favorite childhood movie: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which Spielberg directed almost 40 years ago.

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