Beth Deacon’s first film features Southeast Iowa students; her upcoming projects promise future opportunities.

A Burlington Community School District math teacher is bringing big-screen opportunities to Iowa students.

Beth Deacon teaches high school math at VIBE Virtual Learning Program. She also recently celebrated the release of her first screenplay, “Intent Unknown.”

“Intent Unknown” is a psychological thriller written and produced by Deacon and Terence Gordon, and filmed in Fort Madison and Keokuk.

It stars Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts and Best Actress nominee Julianne Michelle alongside Burlington High School graduates Breanna Porter and Analysa Jackson, Keokuk High School graduates Cameron Muston, who now attends Iowa State University, and Lucy Deacon, who attends the University of Iowa and Cedar Rapids radio host Ricky Bartlett. Students from both Keokuk and Fort Madison high schools acted as extras.

Beth Deacon
Beth Deacon

“We’re able to give opportunities to people in the area, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Deacon said. “Put these new actors up against a seasoned actor to give them a start on their IMDb pages. That’s a little bit of credibility for them.”

The film centers on the Trolley Dilemma, a philosophical dilemma examining the choices made in morally challenging situations, as examined through the lens of four students who find themselves in an unexpected and dangerous situation after an experiment for their psychology class goes terribly awry, thanks in part to social media.

While social media didn’t do the characters in the film any favors, it’s how Deacon met Eddie Luisi, the stage manager for “Good Morning America” with whom she connected on LinkedIn. Their friendship developed from their common background in prison education.

It was through Luisi that she met Gordon, the CEO of TNG Films LLC whose works include “What’s in a Name — A Versace Story,” “Uncle Rufus’ Last Request,” and other feature films.

It was while Gordon and cinematographer Devon Smith were at Deacon’s home working on a surprise project for Luisi that the idea to film a psychological thriller in small-town Iowa arose.

“They both kept saying, ‘Man, this would be a great house for a psychological thriller,’ ” Deacon recalled.

Once Deacon committed to the idea, it took her and Gordon five days to write the 90-page screenplay. They filmed it over spring break of last year.

“The kids had to go back to college,” Deacon explained of the time frame.

“It was different from what I’m typically used to, filming in bigger cities out east,” Gordon said. “I do like filming out here, because in the Midwest, it feels like less intrusion from the outside. It’s faster and easier to get things done. … It felt like a family gathering. There’s no egos around, there’s none of that type of stuff. It was a lot more of a nurturing environment than what we would typically have.”

The bulk of the movie was filmed at Deacon’s home, but viewers also likely will recognize scenes from Keokuk High School, including the basketball court, a scene Deacon said wasn’t vital to the film but was included to expand opportunities to students.

Also in the movie is a shot of a drawing done by a student in Taiwan named Elin, whom Deacon is tutoring.

“I wanted to do something special for her, because she’s just a great kid,” Deacon said. “She’s a fantastic artist, so we put one of her drawings in the movie also and I named one of the characters after her, and I cannot tell you how much this has meant to her. That’s the best feeling in the world when you’re a teacher to show kids they’re valued, and I could see how she felt valued after I did that.”

“Intent Unknown” is available for rent at Deacon said it will be available on other streaming platforms in the coming months.

Future projects

Deacon and Gordon have several other projects in the works, including an adaptation of Deacon’s book, “Seven Doors In: One Teacher’s Mission in a Prison;” a sequel to “Intent Unknown;” a movie about Lynn Rippelmeyer, the first woman to fly a 747; and a short series based on the legend of Burlington’s very own Stony Hollow Road.

“I can’t put it out there until I can find a way to make it a learning experience, because everything I do, I want it to be a learning experience,” Deacon said when asked about her plans for the Stony Hollow film plot.

She does intend, however, to include Burlington students and community members interested in film production, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera.

“Any way we can help, we’re more than willing to help, and so is TNG Films,” Deacon said. “It’s about helping people see that they’re valued and have the opportunity to do something they love.”

Mask group

Read the latest issue of The Burlington Bark

The Burlington Bark is our district newsletter.