On the one hand, short films tend to get short shrift. Aside from a few Pixar animated shorts, they are rarely seen in theaters outside of a film festival setting. But on the other hand, thanks to YouTube, short films have never been more popular — even if most of them are cat videos. Distributors are usually reluctant to take on shorts, which makes it remarkable that one of the best Memphis-made short films of the past few years, Fresh Skweezed, is getting an internet release by Music+Arts on December 16th.
The 22-minute film stars Haley Parker as Maggie, the 11-year-old spelling-challenged proprietor of a trailer park lemonade stand. Writer/director G.B. Shannon created the role specifically for Parker after seeing her act in another short film at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival. "She was fantastic," he recalls. "She just had a small part, but she stole every scene she was in. She had such great command of the screen, and I think at the time they shot it, she was just 8 years old. So I turned to Ryan Parker and said, I'm going to write something for her."
He came up with the concept for what would become Fresh Skweezed while driving to work at Beale Street Studios one morning. "I thought, 'A crooked lemonade stand! She's the flim flam man of the neighborhood.'" He wrote the screenplay over Soul Burgers upstairs at Ernestine & Hazel's.
"When I first read the script, I cried," says Parker. He is an amazing writer."
Parker's portrayal of Maggie, a tough little firecracker who uses her wits to fight off a bully named Cody (Caleb Johnson), is remarkably poised and expressive. Even with a cast of some of the best screen actors in Memphis, including Lindsey Roberts, Billie Worley, Kim Howard, and Shannon himself, she owns the screen. The audience thinks they know exactly what's going on in her mind, right up until the script pulls the rug out from under them. "When we started casting the other parts, I got worried," says Shannon, who co-directed the piece with cinematographer Ryan Parker (who is no relation to Haley). "Did we put too much on this little girl? It's 20 pages long, and she's in every scene."
But Shannon was amazed when she came into auditions with a fully realized character. "I had worked on it quite a bit before the audition process rolled around because I didn't want to let anyone down," Parker says. "Maggie was a lot like me. She was easy for me to play, and I really had fun with her."
The script originally called for a suburban setting, but the crew had trouble finding a suitable place that looked good and would allow filming. Then they stumbled upon a trailer park in Millington that had been evacuated during the floods of 2011. "It was like we had our own sound lot," Shannon says. "Everything was there."
Filmmakers love to regale each other with stories of onset disaster, but Shannon says "it was one of those magical shoots where nothing went wrong."
The film was shot on a few consecutive weekends. "I wished it had lasted longer, because we had a really great time on the set," Parker says.
Editor Eileen Meyer was brought in for the cut, because, Shannon says, "we wanted a female perspective. She added a couple of elements that we never would have thought of."
It was during the sound mixing and scoring that Ward Archer's Music+Arts became involved, supplying music by Amy LaVere, Robby Grant, Rick Steff, and Roy Berry. "Because he has these great artists at his disposal, it's pretty great how it works out," Shannon says. "Having that here is pretty amazing."
The film won both jury and audience awards at its Indie Memphis premiere and went on to play in 18 festivals across the country, winning several more accolades including a Best Actress award for Parker at the Newport Beach Film Festival. After its almost two-year festival run was over, Shannon reconnected with Archer at the premiere of Mike McCarthy's Cigarette Girl, which was Music+Arts' first film release, and they worked out a deal to distribute Fresh Skweezed on internet streaming video services such as iTunes, Amazon, and VUDU. Shannon says they are enthusiastic about the possibilities: "If he can keep doing this — having a cinematic sound mixing operation and then releasing as well — it will be fantastic."
Parker, now 15, has acted in several more films and is currently trying her hand at writing. "I am so proud to be a part of Fresh Skweezed. It's just been an amazing experience all around — the filming, the production, the film festivals have just been amazing."