Robert Mahaffie: Building Sets, Bettering Worlds

Robert Mahaffie, the secret behind many Film and Media students’ success, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. “It’s an interesting place to grow up,” Mahaffie said, reflecting on a society somewhat centered around the federal government. “It just meant that I had so many friends that were just transient, because their parents were coming and going out of town.” Mahaffie attended a public elementary school, and then moved to Georgetown Day School before entering Colorado College as a first-year in 2011. Mahaffie has lived in Colorado Springs ever since, and during his time here, Cornerstone Arts Center has become his true home. 

Photo by Becca Stine

It was prior to Colorado College, however, Mahaffie became interested in theatre and film; he dedicated a significant part of his time at Georgetown Day School to the arts. “I started trying to act, and I just realized this is not really what I want to do,” he said. “My most memorable role to this day that I feel like confident in my performance of, was I played a cave man in a middle school play and I didn’t have any set lines, I just improvised them whenever I was supposed to be making noises.”

It was this production where Mahaffie remembers standing bored backstage, waiting for his cue, and speaking with the tech people who worked on the show. These backstage conversations caused Mahaffie to begin  work with set design and production. He also mentioned a friend in high school who asked him for help on a film project, opening Mahaffie’s eyes to the world of set production within film in addition to on stage.

Upon his arrival at CC, Mahaffie convinced himself that his theatre days were over, and he would instead major in biology. “I think everyone comes to college and is like, ‘I’m going to restart, it’s a fresh chance for me to reimagine who I am.’ And maybe that does happen, but me thinking I was going to be a science major was such a joke,” said Mahaffie. Almost from day one as a first-year, Mahaffie began working in the Theatre Department and Taylor with other students and faculty, designing shows, and building “monstrous sets,” all for various productions throughout his four years at CC.

Mahaffie graduated from CC with a film and media studies degree and a theatrical design minor in 2015, but neither of these programs existed until his sophomore year. “I did it all in such a flurry,” he said. He remembers sitting one day looking at the list of possible majors, and thinking, “what can I finish here?” The decision came down to theatre or film as a major. With less experience and knowledge in the realm of film, Mahaffie chose to pursue that path. He talked about not taking basic filmmaking until his junior year, and taking advanced filmmaking at the same time as writing his thesis. The last minute-ness of his work with film at CC, however, did not hinder his success: upon graduating, Mahaffie was asked to come back and work as the paraprofessional for the Film and Media Studies program.

His passion for the arts resides in “world building:” the power to place an audience and character into other worlds, taking people and actors to places that are almost unbelievable. Not only does Mahaffie work to create new and beautiful worlds, he also contributes to the betterment of this world. Alongside his full-time job as a paraprofessional, Mahaffie also manages to do freelance work for two major organizations on the side. He makes promotional videos for Big Dog Brag and their annual Mud Run — a 5k experience of running and crawling through mud, climbing over nets, etc. — where all the money collected goes to various charities. Robert also works with an organization called Angels of America’s Fallen, which provides support for children who have lost their parents in the military. Mahaffie puts together profiles on the kids, helping the organization get more outreach in their process of moving from local charity to national charity.

After two years existsting as a kind of “man behind the curtain,” assisting students to create their own worlds through film, Mahaffie has decided it is time to re-create his own world. He finishes his job as the Film and Media Studies paraprofessional at the end of May, and plans to move to Los Angeles in June. “I’m going to work every contact I know, and network really hard,” he said. “I want to work in big Hollywood film and television, or independent film and television too. I want to do it, and I want to do it there and give it a try.”

Looking back on two years of work with the Film and Media Studies department, Mahaffie expresses nostalgia, as the department evolved from nothing to one of the more popular majors on campus. He described the evolution of technology and opportunity within the program, smiling as he mentions attending the Sundance Film Festival several times through CC. Mahaffie has existed as the sole paraprofessional of the department, working from day one to make it what it is today, and is excited to see how the department will grow upon his departure.

Mahaffie leaves for L.A. with a dream to create “some kind of time travelling epic of characters moving through as many impossible worlds as possible,” as it is the perfect combination of his love of period films, sci-fi, and fantastical worlds.

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