Go West Happy Cow

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Tyler Knowles ’05 headed to Hollywood after graduation to make movies, but he had to return to Wisconsin to realize the dream of directing his first film.

Tyler Knowles directs Go West Happy Cow on the first day of filming. Photo: Jeff Miller

It was only fitting. As a communication arts major at UW-Madison, Knowles learned the basics of movie-making while shooting student films on campus, and along the way, he mastered the fine art of doing a lot with very little.

Knowles called on those skills throughout the making of Go West Happy Cow, a movie he conceived and directed. Filming started in Madison last September and wrapped when the cinematic road trip ended in California just over a week later. (See story.) He had plenty to be nervous about from the get-go. He met one of his two lead actors for the first time the night before shooting started — and he wasn’t sure if either of them could act. But along the way, he drew from both the academic and extracurricular experiences he had on campus.

When Knowles was weighing colleges as a high school student, he visited Los Angeles and looked at schools renowned for film studies, but found them lacking. When he chose the UW, it was for its atmosphere and opportunities, not because he thought it was a place he could learn how to be a filmmaker. But that’s what happened.

While he was a student, Knowles was manager for the MadHatters, a UW men’s a cappella group. He organized gigs, including a West Coast tour that followed almost the same route that his movie does, traveling through Denver and Las Vegas, and on to Los Angeles. As it turned out, keeping track of sixteen singers was far more difficult than leading the team making the movie. Knowles also managed the now-defunct University Square Theater during his last year at the UW, which helped him learn about the business end of film production and showed him firsthand how a filmmaker’s vision can directly touch audiences.

But the most important message Knowles took with him from Wisconsin was the encouragement from professors, friends, and family to go west and pursue his dreams.

Published in the Spring 2010 issue

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