An early gem of the Memphis indie movement is getting a rare screening on its fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen years ago, Eli Parker Is Getting Married
was a hit at both Outflix and the Indie Memphis film festivals.
The screening is a benefit for local LGBT causes. "I wanted to do something for the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center," says Mark Jones, who wrote and produced the film. "After the Orlando shooting I thought, what can I do to help raise money here locally?"
Jones says the idea for the film came from a trip to a wedding. “I wanted to make a coming out story," the writer says. "I had been to a wedding earlier that year with some friends from school who were about the same age as the characters of the film...I just started writing. I wanted to make it a situation where the best man came out to the groom, and he has to deal with it right then and there. He’s handcuffed to the guy. He can’t say ‘I’ll talk to you later on.’ He has to deal with it that day.”
After a wild bachelor party, Eli Parker (Jonathon Lamer) and his friend Ronnie Smith (John Schoenfelt) awaken naked in a cotton field, unsure of how they got there. "The main character is like the Spencer Tracey character in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,"
says Jones. "The Spencer Tracy character is a liberal guy in San Francisco. Our hero, Ely, is a somewhat liberal guy in Memphis, but it’s kind of a shock to have his best friend say he’s gay.”
To direct, Jones tapped Ryan Earl Parker, who today is the most sought-after cinematographer in Memphis. “I wrote the script and I went to Ryan, who was a student finishing up a degree at the University of Memphis. He and I had worked with Channel 10 for a few years, maybe four years or so. He kept saying, ‘Make it a short film,’ but finally, after the third or fourth time, he said 'OK, I’ll direct it.'...He was incredible, the way he handled the actors and the entire set. It was great to work with him.”
Lamer and Schoenfelt are joined by some familiar Memphis actors, such as Kim Justis, Michael Gravois, G.B Shannon, Jim Elkner, and Kacky Walton. “I watched it last week for the first time in years," says Jones. "It was like hanging out with an old friend. It was so much fun!”
Eli Parker Is Getting Married will screen at 7 PM tonight, June 28, at Studio On The Square.