News Column

Conley is a force on multiple fronts

July 16, 2014

By Nicole Auerbach, @NicoleAuerbach, USA TODAY Sports

Sitting inside a Georgia football office on a humid July afternoon, Chris Conley is not dressed up as a Sith lord. He's not wearing fiery-colored contacts or holding a lightsaber.

But that part of Conley is never too far from the surface these days.

The Georgia wide receiver pulls out his laptop and opens up Celtx, a collaborative script-writing software. He's working on directing his second Star Wars-inspired film, this one with a staff of professionals and a $10,000-$15,000 budget (and a Kickstarter funding effort).

He calls it an action drama and says the script fills 30 pages. He and his colleagues are working on trailers and promos, and they'll begin filming in earnest after the football season.

It's a far more ambitious project than Conley's previous one, but he hopes it will be as well-received.

Conley wrote and directed a 26-minute Star Wars fan film titled Retribution that was released last week and has been viewed more than 350,000 times on YouTube.

The film includes many fight scenes, taking place at Sanford Stadium and around the Georgia campus, with Conley starring as the villain. Georgia running back Todd Gurley makes a cameo, as does coach Mark Richt (who is shown listening to classical music, oblivious to a battle happening behind him).

"I'm not a film major," Conley says. "When I was writing the script (for Retribution), I didn't write in the correct script format. I didn't know about being a director, how you go about doing film. I took a crash course from November to March in being a filmmaker. No film school; I read things online, magazines, books. I said, 'If I want to do this, I want to do it well.' From there, I had to learn a lot, had to make a lot of mistakes.

"Before this, I wasn't really thinking about this industry that much. Now that I've had a little bit of work in it, I really like it."

Conley sits at perhaps the most interesting intersection in college athletics.

He's a star wide receiver for a Georgia team that has a realistic shot at participating in major college football's first playoff. He has been a representative on the NCAA'sStudent-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), pushing for reform that as soon as next month could bring meaningful change to the lives of athletes. And he's now a film director, a model example of a college student discovering his off-field passion and chasing it.

"The experience I have here with the football team helps me being a director," Conley says. "People ask me all the time, 'How do you work with so many different people? How do you have the patience to do that?' Because I deal with 135 knuckleheads every day as a team captain."

Conley smiles. He's enjoying this double life.

Last season, Conley led Georgia in receptions (45) and receiving yards (651) and caught four touchdown passes as a part of one of the nation's most prolific offenses.

Conley will play a similar role this season, albeit alongside a new quarterback in Hutson Mason, who started the final two games last season after Aaron Murray injured a knee. Conley says he and Mason have developed great chemistry, and he thinks this team can get to the first four-team College Football Playoff.

Conley keeps up with news regarding the playoff, saying he's eager to see how it's run. He's as well-versed in the happenings of college athletics as anyone else in the field. He spent the last two years as the Southeastern Conference's representative on the SAAC and is transitioning to an advisory role.

In January at the NCAA convention, Conley and the other SAAC representatives sat through meetings about the new NCAA governance structure. There were flow charts and ideas, talk of permissive legislation and debates about who could make which rules.

There was no mention of the players. Then Conley sent out a group text to his fellow SAAC colleagues: Let's do something.

During an open session, Conley stood in front of more than 800 administrators and asked why the proposed governance model didn't include student-athletes. After initially fumbling their answer, members of the steering committee changed their tune in the following days, talking about the need for student-athlete input.

"I felt like I had some say in some stuff," Conley says. "It is a pivotal time in the NCAA's timeline and in student-athletes' lives. There are a lot of things that will change for better or for worse. They will change in the next couple of years. I think change is needed. We can't stay where we're at.

"It's important people make sure their voices are heard. I think it's going to happen. I believe it will happen. Now, it's just a matter of time."

Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports

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Source: USA Today

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