Trinity 309

A few semesters ago, Trinity College offered an unusually ambitious film production class with the unassuming title “Film 309.” Not listed in the course catalog, students applied to take the class in person and were selected via an interview process. In the end, eleven students were chosen and challenged to conceive, script, shoot, finish and market a cinema-quality short film in one semester.


The student filmmakers of Coaching Colburn.

The class started with an accelerated version of the story development process, in which each student created or evaluated a dozen story ideas, either original concepts or existing scripts. Among the 130 story ideas considered, one student pitched a profile of her cousin, who suffers from a developmental disorder called Fragile X. The idea won the day, and the students tentatively entitled their project “The X-Factor.”

Breaking into teams, students began training on two Canon DSLR cameras, lighting and sound equipment, and also conducted pre-interviews with their subjects, the Colburn Family, via phone.

Two weeks later, the students loaded their equipment into cars and traveled to the Colburns’ home in the seaside town of Newburyport, Massachusetts, for a three day shoot. Functioning as an eleven-person crew through long, intense days, the students formed personal and professional bonds with each other, as well as with their subjects. They grew especially close to James, who had the time of his life as the “cowboy movie star” he had always wanted to be.

Returning to Trinity, the first job was to transcribe and log the hours of footage the students had collected. A script was quickly generated, and picture editing began in parallel on eleven Final Cut Pro workstations. The result was sound designed, mixed, and color graded into a 16 minute serio-comic memoir infused with the larger-than-life personality of James Colburn and the caring family and friends that surround him.

As a final task, the students created a logo, title treatment, poster, website and press kit to promote the film to festivals, as well as to a general audience.

The students of Film 309 and proud student creators of COACHING COLBURN were:

colburncafeSachika Balvani
Katherine Brandl
Briana Chang
Avery Dwyer
Benjamin Green
Alexander Hirschl
Alexandra Kozar
Avery Paskal
Denicia Peterson
Rebecca Smith
Paroma Soni

The original, 15-minute version of COACHING COLBURN premiered at the prestigious Big Sky Film Festival and has been passed around the world within Fragile-X support communities, inspiring and comforting families of the newly diagnosed and influencing families to get tested for the disease.

In 2017, Jeff Bemiss conducted additional filming with the Colburn family and expanded the film into a 27-minute version.

Poster Landscape NEW

Despite a diagnosis of autism and Fragile X, James Colburn has an explosively joyful outlook on life’s possibilities. Part memoir and part slice-of-life, COACHING COLBURN is a fresh, uplifting portrait of a family who uses humor to deal with the challenges of raising an autistic child. We dare you not to laugh on this hilarious joy-ride with James and the Colburn family.