It’s a tough of fact of life for most toddlers to discover that Disney movies are not quite an accurate reflection of existence. More likely than not, the stepmother probably isn’t evil, and Prince Charming could use a few more tips on talking to women.
Still, for 2007 Virginia Tech graduate Tim Leaton, Disney was more than a vestige of childhood idealism — it’s the company that had the magic to make his dreams of a career in film come true.
As a student at Tech, Leaton won the 2006 “Film Your Issue” film competition and with it, the grand prize of an eight-week paid internship with Disney. Years after his big break, Leaton now works as an assistant editor for shows such as “The Marriage Ref,” “World’s Strictest Parents” and “It’s Me or the Dog.”
Originally, Leaton got involved with film in middle school when he was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
POTS causes orthostatic intolerance, which occurs when an excessively reduced amount of blood returns to the heart such as when an individual stands up from a lying down position. The end result is lightheadedness, fainting and a rapid increase in heart rate.
Because of this disorder’s detrimental effects, Leaton quit all his sports and activities. He realized that he needed to find a different hobby to have fun. Inevitability, he found it in film; Leaton was given a toy video camera in the seventh grade and began making movies.
“Something that seems like a big obstacle or adversity at the time can kind of turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. For me, looking back, that’s exactly what happened,” Leaton said.
At Midlothian High School in Richmond, Va., Leaton made sports music videos presented at the athletic award ceremonies before he entered college.
Leaton graduated from Tech in spring 2007 with dual honors degrees, receiving both a bachelor’s degree in business management and a bachelor’s in communication. Jerry Scheeler, a TV/Film supervisor and one of Leaton’s former professors, explained that the knowledge and experience Leaton gained during his time Tech got him his big break.
While attending Tech, Leaton created his first film, “Fruitopia,” in the Introduction to Film Production class taught by Scheeler. The class was an introduction to professional film techniques and was designed for someone who had never made a film before. It was in this class that Leaton first started getting instruction in film.
Scheeler described Leaton as a quiet student that asked good questions while soaking up all the information provided to him. He explained that he didn’t know what to expect from Leaton’s first film.
“I knew he had talent when he was in the class,” Scheeler said, “and then when I saw his work, I was absolutely convinced that he had talent.”
Scheeler remembers actually asking Leaton how he executed some techniques.
“At that time, editing on a computer was still relatively new. The software we were using to edit the films was Final Cut Pro. Literally, probably 99 percent of the students hadn’t worked with it before that class. ... He was an experimenter,” Scheeler said. “He found ways to manipulate color and special effects. He did some interesting animation and stop frame photography. In the editing, he sort of enhanced certain things.”
“Fruitopia” won Best in Festival at the Progeny Film Festival in April 2005, beating out 46 other film submissions.
“I was not expecting to win so it was a very pleasant surprise,” Leaton said. “It allowed me to put a solid film award on my resume, so that was really exciting.”
In 2006, Leaton created his second film, “Uganda,” a half hour documentary about how his church Stony Point Presbyterian in Richmond, Va., was supporting children at an orphanage called Canaan Children’s Home in Uganda.
“I made it just for my church to show them how big of a difference their money was making,” he said, “how a small amount of money goes so far in Uganda. It’s amazing.”