BYU professor’s award-winning film gets theatrical debut

2014
BYU photography professor Robert Machoian and his crew of students film a scene from “The Killing of Two Lovers.” The award-winning film was released in theaters May 14. (Robert Machoian)

BYU photography professor Robert Machoian Graham’s film “The Killing of Two Lovers” was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival and is now in select theaters across the nation.

Machoian said getting accepted into Sundance was very exciting. “It’s always been a dream of mine to have a feature there,” he said.

The award-winning film was shot in only 12 days with limited budget and equipment and a crew of only students. The film was shot in December of 2019, accepted into Sundance in January 2020, and won the 2020 Jury Award for “Best Narrative Feature” at the Atlanta Film Festival.

Studio Neon bought the film in February of 2020 but when COVID-19 hit, Neon decided to delay the release of the movie so it could have a theatrical release. Machoian said he was very appreciative that Neon was willing to delay the release so viewers could have the theatrical experience of the film that he intended it to have.

“You always hope it will happen and we shot it very much for the theater,” Machoian said. He said that having the film bought by a studio, accepted into Sundance and released in theaters in 35 cities was a huge accomplishment for him.

“The Killing of Two Lovers” is Machoian’s first solo feature and officially debuted in theaters on May 14.

It started out as a short film Machoian had written about a dialogue between a couple. But through connecting with Clayne Crawford, the lead actor in “The Killing of Two Lovers,” Machoian expanded it into a feature, got some funding and was able to film the movie all within a few months.

The movie explores the difficulty in marriage and how couples sometimes drift apart as they grow older. “It’s a very vulnerable thing to be married,” Machoian said. He wanted to explore the rawness, nuances and hardships couples might go through while also opening up a dialogue about divorce and separation.

Machoian said he wanted his film to connect with the audience and he wanted to address family “because it’s a crucial part of the gospel.” When he makes films, he tries to find ways to intertwine gospel ideas while still creating a story people outside the religious faith could connect with.

Machoian tries to involve students in his projects as often as possible because when he was an undergraduate, experiences like that were the most impactful for him. His crew for “The Killing of Two Lovers” was entirely students, or former students of his. One such student is Oscar Jiménez who was the cinematographer of the film.

Jiménez first worked with Machoian in 2018 on a short film titled “The Minors.” This film was also accepted into Sundance and won a jury award. Jiménez said he was so excited and his goal to make it into Sundance in 10 years was completed in two years.

Although “The Minors” didn’t go much further after the Sundance festival, it put both Jiménez and Machoian on people’s radars in the film world. Jiménez said his collaboration on this project with Machoian also built a foundation of trust that led to them working on “The Killing of Two Lovers” together.

During Jiménez’s last semester as a media arts student at BYU, Machoian gave him the script for “The Killing of Two Lovers” and asked Jiménez to be the cinematographer.

Jiménez said when he first started working on the film, he felt a lot of pressure to do well and was worried he could ruin the film. Jiménez also had to take his final college exams during the filming period which added extra stress.

Despite the challenges, Jiménez said being the cinematographer was a “super rewarding experience” and he grew confident in his skills, especially in working with limited production gear. He said he is grateful for the opportunity to work on a film that is doing so well.

“It’s a very rare experience to not only shoot a film at my experience level, but also to win and to see it grow and to have it rubbing shoulders against other films who have directors and cinematographers who are waiting 20 or 30 years to get that,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez said he helped Machoian’s aesthetic vision of the film become reality, giving it a “worn out family album” look. The film feels like a series of photographs or moving portraits that show the characters’ lives. They achieved the look through static, long, wide shots, he said.

Beyond “The Minors” and “The Killing of Two Lovers,” Machoian and Jiménez completed another film project together in December of 2020 and are excited to see where it will take them.

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