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Staffer makes movie about a man and his fish
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Staffer makes movie about a man and his fish
By Dixon Cartwright

NAChurch of God DOCHES, Texas--A member of The Journal's staff (and son of publishers Dixon and Linda Cartwright) presided at the March 30 premier of a feature-length movie he and fellow cinematography students had worked on for a year and a half.

Trey Cartwright, a 25-year-old graduate student at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, came up with the story line and, along with another SFA student, wrote the script.

Mr. Cartwright also served as director of photography and editor of the movie, American Goldfish, an all-digital production.

Trey Cartwright
Trey Cartwright, sitting in a device called a tulip crane, directs photography on location near Nacogdoches for American Goldfish.

[Photo by Jeremy Hall]

In the beginning

Mr. Cartwright, who attends with the Church of God Big Sandy, was beginning a course of study toward a bachelor's degree in art back in 2001 and almost by accident stumbled onto an SFA cinematography class.

"I really enjoyed the class," he said. "I had fun and found out I was fairly good at it, and I've stuck with this course of study the whole time."

He earned his bachelor's of fine arts from SFA in December and is now a graduate student working toward his master's.

His wife, Brandi, is also a recent university graduate. She was awarded a bachelor's in photography from the University of Oklahoma in June 2004.

American Goldfish draws inspiration from several incidents and people in his past, Mr. Cartwright said, including Church of God members and at least one Church of God ministry.

Three guys

The story also has a little bit of Bob Hope's and Bing Crosby's Road pictures (especially Road to Morocco), Homer's Odyssey and the Three Stooges.

It even features the King of Rock 'n' Roll, who, according to the Goldfish script, didn't really die in 1977.

"American Goldfish is a movie about three guys, a redneck, a greaser and a gunfighter, who set out with a common dream of living out the rest of their days at a place called Suggins Home Farms," Mr. Cartwright explained.

The three adventurers had seen television commercials that depicted a pleasant pastoral setting with cute animals and a happy family sitting down to dinner.

So Hubert, the redneck, decided that's where he wanted to go. He sells his two friends on the idea, and off they trek, not down the yellow brick road but across scruffy-looking pastures and along dusty Texas farm-to-market roads.

"Goldfish" in the title refers to a magical pet owned by the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Somebody steals the fish at the beginning of the movie. The thief quickly meets with an untimely death, but Hubert finds the fish and befriends it, not realizing at first it has magical properties.

"It's a story about someone going on a journey who's a little bit delusional about their goals," Mr. Cartwright said. "There's some Easy Rider and perhaps Don Quixote in there too, and it's sort of Three Stoogesesque."

Recovered memories

Mr. Cartwright said his Church of God background directly inspired the gunfighter character, Ruddy. Ruddy reads (and interprets) his Bible and decides that someday a fiery chariot will swoop down from the heavens and pick him up and take him to a safe place.

"Growing up as I did in the various Churches of God," Mr. Cartwright said, "I remember stories about one of the Church of God groups waiting for the fiery chariots to come pick them up. So I wrote a bit about the fiery chariots. When Ruddy's wife left him unexpectedly, he explained it away by saying she had been picked up by a fiery chariot."

Even the reference to the King of Rock 'n' Roll could possibly refer indirectly to a friend of the Cartwright family who is a Church of God member and close relative of Elvis Presley.

"I just started thinking: What if Elvis really was alive?" said Mr. Cartwright. "How could I work him into this movie?"

He also acknowledged that the world of the goldfish, Hubert and their ragtag friends may have a little bit of Terry Pratchett's discworld books in it as well.

"Terry Pratchett writes stories that take place in what he calls the discworld," Mr. Cartwright said. "It's a world unto itself and a mirror of other worlds. He gives himself license to satirize or draw similarities to this earth and its pop culture.

"Likewise, the world of American Goldfish is a world that looks a lot like the southern United States, but it's also a world that would never really exist. For example, you've got a man walking around with a gun on his hip in public places and no one bats an eye."

Were any goldfish harmed in the making of the movie?

"Well, actually, 35 fish made the ultimate sacrifice," Mr. Cartwright said. "We also lost a red Rodeo SUV and three cell phones. But we didn't lose any humans."

Contact info

The cinematography department at SFA has a limited number of DVD copies of American Goldfish that include an eight-minute documentary about its making. The DVD is available for $10, all of which goes to the university to help defray the costs of production.

Mr. Cartwright said Journal readers can order a copy of it from him for $12 (which includes postage) by writing him at P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A. E-mail Mr. Cartwright at

The movie is not rated, but if it were it would be a "very mild PG," Mr. Cartwright said.

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