An interview with Warlords' founder Matt LePage in the early years...

"Battle for Existence"
Universal Journal · The Association of Young Journalists and Writers · SPRING 2004
Written by Julie Polovina · Link to original article:

A light snow flutters down onto the ground of a tranquil forest. Two sparrows soar silently through the air and land on a pine tree. The tree's thick branches thwart any sunlight from filtering into the forest, which makes the area seem sleepy and dormant. Everything is calm and peaceful until two men, dressed in long trench coats, pounce onto screen. They pull out red and green “Star Wars-style” light sabers and the duel begins. Their light sabers omit red and green rays of light that illuminate the once-dark forest and agitate the sparrow. The once-peaceful forest comes alive with activity.

Creating combat scenes in movies like “Light Saber Duel,” which he filmed, edited and starred in, has been 21 year-old Matt LePage's passion since he was in middle school and created his first video production. But LePage's pursuit of his lifetime goal of becoming an action movie director set him up for a different kind of duel with Emerson College's Student Government Association (SGA).

LePage discovered during his freshman year that there were no groups on campus geared towards making action movies. “Action isn't melodramatic or artsy enough for Emerson students,” said LePage, who was wearing a Guns N' Roses t-shirt, a long black jacket, and a skull bandana over his shoulder-length blond hair. “It's also really expensive to produce.”

Costumes that are inevitably ruined by fake blood and high-tech props, such as the light saber, were too expensive for him to buy on his own so he decided to found the action movie group Warlords in 2002.

In order to be recognized as an on-campus group, organizations must meet with the Organization Recognition and Review Board (ORRB), which is comprised of a representative from each class and chaired by the Vice President of the SGA and Associate Dean of Students.

The most important qualities an organization should possess in order to be recognized are: overall student interest, lack of overlapping organizations already on campus, amount of resources required, the ability of the SGA to support the organization, its future viability and the quality of responses given during the board's inquiry, said Hadley Klein, vice president of the SGA.

Groups normally have one month to prepare for their meeting with the ORRB. In this time, they must fill out an ORRB application, which includes writing a constitution, finding a faculty advisor and getting at least 20 people to join the group. LePage said the SGA handed out the application one month late, however, leaving him only one week to meet their requirements.

“It was a frustrating hell from day one because they were habitually late and unorganized,” LePage said.

Associate Dean of Students Sharon Duffy said the SGA didn't know LePage had trouble with the application process. “I am not aware of them having any issues,” she said. “To my knowledge, they were approved by the ORRB and have had no complaints since.”

When LePage met with the ORRB, there was a 3-2 vote in favor of recognizing Warlords. “We almost didn't become recognized because they had never seen a group like us before and wanted proof that we could survive,” LePage said. “I told them we would give them the proof when we became an organization.”

Duffy said after a group becomes recognized, it is allocated $500 for startup and can put forth a budget proposal to the Financial Advisory Board (FAB), which develops the yearly budget for organizations, after one year.

Warlords made 15 short movies on digital video in their first year. But LePage said the 40 members of Warlords, along with the cast and crew of the movies, had to use their own money to fund these films because the $500 the SGA allotted was not enough.

Even with these financial difficulties, Warlords was acclaimed by Emerson students and faculty. To showcase their films, Warlords had a sold out screening in the Bill Bordy Theater and Auditorium on May 1, 2003 that was met with a standing ovation in the end. Their film “Of Light and Darkness,” which explores interpretations of conflict through different kinds of fight choreography, also won best in show at last year's Digital Media Show.

Now in its second year, Warlords has already begun production on a new light saber film called “By the Sword” and a comic book spy film entitled “Danger Girl.”

But to fund these longer and more expensive movies, LePage needed more money from the school. “We have survived for as long as we did because we sacrificed and paid out of our own pockets,” he said. “I am not sure if we will be able to keep making the kind of movies we do though if we don't have more help from the school.”

In his budget proposal, LePage asked for $20,000 from the SGA. With this money, he hoped to build an editing studio and buy a digital camcorder, props, costumes, transportation and food.

At the FAB meeting held at the end of last year, only Duffy and the Treasurer showed up. LePage said he was able to prove to those at the meeting why he needed the money. The other seven members, however, didn't hear his presentation and voted against giving it to him. They decided to give Warlords $500 more.

“My group was seriously cheated out of our funding,” LePage said. “I am frustrated and angry because this school has a general policy to not give money to so many groups who need it to survive. They didn't even have the decency to show up, which I see as a personal insult.”

LePage will be appealing this decision during this Tuesday's SGA meeting and expects an answer within two weeks.

“They know how successful we were in our first year and if they don't give us additional funding, I will seriously question who they are willing to give it to,” LePage said.

Duffy said budget requests are often inflated and there are not enough funds to give each organization what they request. “Organizations typically do not get everything they ask for in their budget proposal,” she said. “There is only a finite amount of funds to give to the 75 student clubs on campus.”

Vice President Hadley Klein said the amount the SGA allocates each year is not a finite amount of money. “The money we have is extremely high as compared to most private and even public colleges,” he said. “We have an abundance more than most.”

Annually, the SGA divides $350,000 among these organizations. Divided equally, this would give each club about $5,000. But Treasurer BJ Warminski said the money is broken down based on what they have spent in the past and what their plans are for the future.

“It is not possible to allocate a flat rate of five thousand dollars to each group,” he said. “When determining student organization funding, we have to strike a balance between providing for the larger, established organizations, and the smaller organizations whose greatest expense is copy paper for flyers.”

Warminski said five thousand dollars would do a lot less for an organization like the television station EIV that needs more than that just to maintain its equipment and receives over $30,000 a year, than it would for singing groups like Noteworthy who can accomplish its goals with six hundred dollars.

He also said that established clubs are given preference in how much funding they receive over the 20 new clubs, such as LePage's, formed annually.

“Groups are asking for roughly $150,000 more than SGA can provide each year in the FAB process,” Warminski said. “It is a tough decision to accommodate even the current standing groups. If each of the new groups asked for an additional $15,000 this year, we would have to double student activities fees to three hunderd dollars to provide the extra $300,000 to meet the requests.”

Warminski continued, “Last year's FAB was a complex and thankless job. Even if we won eight million dollars in the lottery and donated it all to the SGA, it would still not be enough to provide for all of the student organizations.”

Other on-campus organizations such as the comedy group Chocolate Cake Factory are also struggling to receive more funding from the SGA. “I think some of these problems effect other groups,” said LePage. “But some of them are unique to us due to our standing as the first group of its kind.”

LePage said his goal is to keep Warlords running even though he is graduating at the end of this year. “The best way to learn about action movies is by doing it and Warlords gives Emerson students the perfect opportunity to practice,” LePage said. “It is just such a good time making action movies and I hope money won't stand in the way of it continuing once I am gone.”

© Julie Polovina