Alumni Profile: Stephen Robert Morse

Green Templeton College alumus Stephen Robert Morse (MBA, 2015) uses his MBA to direct and produce social issue documentaries. He also founded his own film production company called OBSERVATORY.

Here, he writes about how he believes his films tackle some of the most important issues of our times.

Stephen Robert Morse

“It’s all about thinking ahead. When we make films, we try to think beyond what are the big issues the world is dealing with today. We want to make films about issues that we anticipate the world will deal with down the road. For example, in 2017 people were already talking about Black Lives Matter, but when my team and I started filming In The Cold Dark Night, the movement was just a fraction of the size that it is today.

In The Cold Dark Night has been available on Sky and NOWTV in the UK since October, and is also available on ABC and Hulu in the USA. The film tells the story of the lynching of Timothy Coggins, a Black man who lived in Griffin, Georgia, and the 35-year aftermath of this brutal crime. The documentary is a multi-layered story of one town in two different eras. Set in the heart of the American South, the film examines both the 1983 and 2018 investigations into Coggins’ racially-motivated murder. The film highlights how one era enabled this crime to go without punishment and how the other attempts to bring justice decades later.

“When I entered Green Templeton, I was a hobbyist filmmaker. But by late 2016, when I left the University of Oxford, I had already produced Amanda Knox, the Netflix Original documentary that earned me an Emmy nomination in 2017.

“Creating Amanda Knox from a thought in my head until it was a complete film was an endeavor that lasted over five years. From going to Perugia in 2011 until the documentary was released on Netflix in 2016 was a challenge. It took tons of grit and perseverance to understand and get through the filmmaking process. Even when you have access to a story, and have put together an ultra-talented team to tell that story, in the film business people say ‘no’ to you 99% of the time. Luckily, Netflix ultimately said yes to this project.

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“Filmmaking still presents challenges. That’s why I made the focus of my MBA studies at Oxford on creating more efficiencies within the film business.”

“Following my Oxford graduation in 2016, I opened OBSERVATORY, a film production company, alongside my fellow Oxford MBA alumna, Maria Springer. Under the OBSERVATORY banner, named for the Radcliffe Observatory at Green Templeton which I stared at out my Oxford bedroom window, I directed and produced EuroTrump, about far right wing politician Geert Wilders in 2017, and also executive produced Freedom For The Wolf about the global threats to liberal democracy. The former wound up playing at many film festivals and on Hulu in the US, the latter won the Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival and was nominated for a Cinema For Peace Award.

“As my career has progressed, it’s gotten a bit easier, but filmmaking still presents challenges. That’s why I made the focus of my MBA studies at Oxford on creating more efficiencies within the film business — an industry that is usually filled with scattershot ideas and lacks the scientific method used, logically, in other industries. My goal is to bring order to the creative process.

“For example, in 2019, Showtime, the American broadcast network, commissioned another documentary that I produced, Bad Hombres, about the Tecolotes, the world’s only binational professional baseball team whose home games are played in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The film follows the team as their season unfolds, revealing what life is like in a border city besieged by divisive rhetoric and policies, all in the shadow of America’s favorite pastime. The film also broadcast in October, 2020.

“Along with my business partner Max Peltz and our company Lone Wolf Studios, we are continuing to pursue important issue-focused documentaries while also expanding our remit to tackle scripted projects too. I will continue to implement many of the learnings from my time at Oxford, as we increase our output.”

If you would like to feature in a future Alumni Profile please contact alumni@gtc.ox.ac.uk


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