Consequences of student debt captured in upcoming film “What Now?”

Winslow Crane-Murdoch films over a quarry during his trip with Sam Silton documenting student debt across the nation. (Photo Courtesy of Winslow Crane-Murdoch and Sam Silton)

Winslow Crane-Murdoch and Sam Silton are nearing the end of their cross-country road trip. During their continent-spanning journey, they have been meeting with recent college graduates, discussing the issue of student debt for a film titled “What Now?”

“If you look at the news now, there’s a new article coming out all the time about how student debt is affecting the housing market or how it affects students,” Murdoch said. “It’s all very based in numbers, though. They talk about how we are close to $1.2 trillion in debt, the average debt is $30,000 and how this is going to affect the statistics of our economy. I think that when you treat it like numbers, it’s easy for people to look at and brush off. Behind these numbers are real stories of people who are struggling.”

Murdoch and Silton met while attending Connecticut College, rooming together their sophomore year and becoming close friends. Upon graduating with $26,000 in debt, Murdoch realized he was not interested in sitting at a desk with an entry-level job — he needed a more immediate way to pay off school.

“I was kind of starting to stress out about the fact that I didn’t have a job after college,”Murdoch said. “[The film] was really my crazy idea. I came up with it my senior year — the idea of driving across the country and seeing how hard it is to find work.”

After connecting with a young entertainment company that was hiring in Boston, Murdoch pitched the idea for the film, “driving across the country and trying to talk about the current state of the economy, student debt and the way it’s affecting young people getting out of college.”

Confronted with the issue of funding the project, Murdoch started a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $25,000 in about a month, a task he felt was a bit overreaching, but ultimately succeeded.

Murdoch invited Silton to join him. Starting in upstate New York, the duo piled into a Toyota SUV and zigzagged across the country, heading to the Deep South for New Orleans and up north as far as Chicago. Murdoch said that after starting in New York, they drove through Boston, down to their old college in Connecticut, back through New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., then over to the small town of Appalachia, Va.

“We were staying with friends of my sister, who had lived in Appalachia for a year and a half on a journalism fellowship,” Murdoch said. “That part of the trip was less student debt and more looking at this idea of the traditional American Dream. So I think what’s interesting about a place like Appalachia is that it’s a part of the country that’s given so much to the rest of the country in terms of natural resources, such as coal and young kids to fight our wars, yet hasn’t seen much in return.”

With the United States moving away from coal, the foundation of Appalachia’s economy, and toward more sustainable fuel sources, the town is faltering.

“Appalachia had maybe one open business on their main street,”Silton said. “The other open businesses are McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, which aren’t providing much for that community.”

As they traveled further, the filmmaking journey began to take on a deeper, more meaningful purpose.

“For me, the trip started out with us being pretty young and wanting to go out instead of getting an entry-level job, and creating something for myself,” Murdoch said. “We grew out of that as we heard the stories of these people and started to realize the way this is affecting people’s lives. We want to build a community with the people we are meeting and try to guide the conversation the right way. We want people to get fired up about this because it’s pretty serious. Everything is connected. This affects the future of our economy and the future of our country. It’s a serious issue that people who aren’t in debt should also care about because it will end up affecting them as well.”

Murdoch and Silton stopped in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kan., eventually ending up in the Denver-Boulder area. While in Boulder, they interviewed a CU anthropology professor.

“The teacher we spoke to from CU Boulder had no idea that people were this much in debt,” Silton said. “It’s not her fault; the issue has not been publicized enough.”

The two also spoke to a recent graduate of CU Denver, who attended the university to train as a 3D animator after over a decade in the music industry.

“Over the span of four years, she took out close to $100,000 in federal and private loans,” Murdoch said. “Towards the end of her schooling, she was in some sort of accident and is now permanently disabled [because] she cannot sit for more than 30 minutes at a time…so she got out, wasn’t able to get a job along with ten out of 14 other students in her program, and the interest from her loans kept piling on.”

Murdoch and Silton plan on going south through Colorado and into Arizona to “see the Grand Canyon, because we’re on an American road trip,” Murdoch said. “Then back up through Salt Lake City, Jackson, Wyo. into Southern Montana, then across to Seattle. Then from Seattle down to Portland [and] San Francisco, and the trip is going to end in Los Angeles, where a bunch of big question marks will be waiting for us once we get there.”

During their travels, they said listening to countless stories of insurmountable debt has helped them consider solutions to the problem.

“I think across the board there has to be a discussion about the purpose of education,” Murdoch said. “When there is such a tangible cost attached to education, there has to be some sort of a tangible result. The price of education needs to drop. Maybe our country will follow other countries and actually decide that education is something we believe in and start subsidizing it.”

As they continue west, the two approach a number of questions mirroring those faced by the recent college grads they profile in their film. They said they have no idea if a major production company will pick up their film, and as a result, they’re unsure if the immense amount of time and energy they put into the trip will pay off.

Murdoch and Silton plan to end their trip in April and “edit all summer, and if we really push it…there’s a possibility it could be released at the end of August, but that seems pretty crazy,” Murdoch said. “Maybe a 2015 release date, but I’m not sure.”

“We’re hoping to create some kind of warning for future generations,” Silton said. “If not that, we want to bring about change that might affect them positively.”

Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Winslow Crane-Murdoch and Sam Silton attended College of Connecticut, but both went to Connecticut College.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Luke Ilardo at 

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