Webster alum returns to St. Louis to shoot latest documentary
Phillip Andrew Morton has lived in Los Angeles for eight years. The Webster alum returned to his hometown to film a documentary about the inevitable, as his hometown slowly crawls to decline since he left.
Morton is finishing editing his recent film “Spanish Lake,” a personal documentary about the social and economic downfall of Spanish Lake, the northern St. Louis County community where he grew up.
“Spanish Lake” begins with the story of a once prime example of suburban living — the population consisted of mostly white, middle-class citizens — and its slow decline into poverty. Shifts in the economy caused Spanish Lake to slowly lose its good reputation. Racism, violence and population changes have since deteriorated the image of the community.
Morton saw this decline and felt the need to tell this story to the world.
“When I began investigating, I found some fascinating stories that clued me in to why this scenario was happening,” Morton said. “It was like finding out your heritage — the heritage you grew up in. It takes you by surprise. It opens your eyes to what you were blinded to before.”
The early videos of MTV inspired Morton to pursue a career in film.
“When I was young, I loved pop music and I loved the combination of dynamic pop songs and the short films attached to them,” Morton said. “My imagination was set off by those videos. I wanted to be involved in that process at some level.”
After his parents’ divorce, Morton moved with his mother to Kirkwood. There, he discovered Webster University and began his studies in film production.
While at Webster, Morton’s advisor and professor Kathy Corley took notice of Morton’s unique talents.
“He had a level of creativity and sensitivity to his subject matter that was outstanding,” Corley said. “It does not surprise me in the least that he is having a successful career as a documentary filmmaker.”
During his studies, Morton said he gained experience in collaborating with groups.
“When I made my student film at Webster, it was the first time I worked with a crew,” Morton said. “I had to learn to take control of those environments and to create your vision. That was something I never experienced.”
A couple years after graduating in 2002, Morton moved to LA to pursue his filmmaking career.
He landed a few jobs in editing, including a position as a production assistant at mOcean — a creative agency — where he organized footage and edited trailers for blockbuster hits such as “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “The Prestige.”
In LA, Morton met his friend and future producer of “Spanish Lake,” Matt Smith.
“He started telling me about his hometown and it sounded so interesting,” Smith said. “He got into the research for the film and we started to piece things together.”
Smith recalled how prepared Morton was on the set of “Spanish Lake.”
“He knew exactly what he wanted with everything,” Smith said. “It’s rare to find a director who has so much vision. I was impressed by the work he did.”
After the completion of “Spanish Lake,” Smith said theatrical distribution has begun to come through. He has high hopes of the film’s outcome.
“We would like to see it ride the Oscar train because we feel it’s that powerful,” Smith said. “We’re shooting high with this film. We think we have something amazing here.”
Morton said he wishes to continue in filmmaking, but wants to pursue feature films. He finished writing a script last year, which he would like to make into a film.
“More than anything, I would like more to give back to the people,” he said. “Having light bulbs go off in their heads and make them think and feel. That’s what film was for me. I could relate to the people on the screen and I want to be able to do that to audiences today.”