Penn may be soon be able to boast an Emmy–award winning documentary producer among its alumni.
Stephen Robert Morse (C' 07) has just been nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Documentary or Non–Fiction Special for producing "Amanda Knox," which is now on Netflix. If he wins, Morse will become the first Penn alum ever honored for this category in the Emmys, which recognizes excellence in the TV industry.
Several other Penn alumni have appeared at the Emmy Awards, including Elizabeth Banks (C' 96), who received three Emmy nominations, Dick Wolf (C'69), who has won two Emmys, and Candice Bergen (C' 67), a five–time Emmy recipient.
"Amanda Knox" details the investigation, trial and worldwide media frenzy surrounding the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher. The documentary features Amanda Knox, then Kercher's roommate, describing her conviction for the murder and eventual acquittal on appeal. The film also includes interviews of Raffaele Sollecito, Knox's ex–lover and co–defendant, and Guiliano Mignini, the Italian prosecutor in charge of the case.
As a graduate student studying journalism at Aarhus University in Denmark, Morse decided to look into the case more closely after booking a flight to Italy to research for his thesis. Although Morse said he was always interested in the case, he had no idea it would lead to a documentary.
"I thought that maybe there would be a story," he said. After reaching out to Knox in early 2011, Morse and his team began filming the documentary, which was released on Sept. 10, 2016.
Morse started his filmmaking career right on Penn's campus.
After interning his junior year summer with Ben Katz Productions in Los Angeles, Morse formed Morse Levin Productions with his friend and fellow Penn student, Jeff Levin (C' 07).
Together, they created Duet, a short film about Philly subway performers. The film, which was directed by Morse and produced by Levin, later won best film in the college house festival and won the best student film category in the 2007 Philly Film Fest.
Levin said Morse had an early talent for producing films.
"He’s this rare person who can find personalities and put them on the screen in a captivating way," Levin said.
At Penn, Morse majored in English and history. Morse also minored in Women's Studies and was, at the time, one of the only men to do so. He was also a columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian and a Food Editor for 34th Street Magazine.
For his senior thesis, Morse created a 90–minute–long documentary called “Ain’t Easy Being Green” about the 2006 Pennsylvania senatorial election. It documents the efforts taken by Sen. Bob Casey (D–Pa.) and the Democratic Party to oust Carl Romanelli, a Green Party candidate, from the race.
"Stephen did an incredible job putting together a film that portrayed Pennsylvania treatment of third party candidates," Romanelli said, adding that "having the video documentary allowed people to understand the story."
While producing this Emmy–nominated documentary, Morse's full-time job was in the tech industry. He encouraged students passionate about filmmaking but want to work in a different career to continue to produce films.
“Don’t think if you have a side hustle that it can’t be cool."