Filmmaker Ryan Parker's sure technical hand has guided a lot of notable local features in recent years, among them Eli Parker Is Getting Married? (which he directed with producer/writer Mark Jones), The Book of Noah (cinematographer), and Live Animals (ditto). But it's turned out to be a short film that's become something of Parker's local-film-scene coming-out party.
Woke Up Ugly, a collaboration between Parker and writer/performer G.B. Shannon, won two awards at Indie Memphis in October: a Hometowner Award for best local short and an overall Audience Award for best short film. It followed that up a couple of weeks ago with a jury prize for best narrative short film at the Red Rock Film Festival in Utah, where it was one of only nine U.S. shorts accepted into the festival.
Parker and Shannon each have their fingerprints all over the 21-minute film, co-producing and co-editing, with Shannon as screenwriter and star and Parker as director and cinematographer.
The film, which nicely establishes its mid-century period on the cheap via music, costumes, mannerisms, and judicious locations (using the downtown trolley while obscuring the background landscape), stars Shannon as Herbert Thibadeaux, an insurance executive of some sort with a nervous office relationship with mousy-yet-comely receptionist Sallie. The next day, he wakes up with what he perceives to be a grotesque facial deformity ("My appearance is in disarray," he tells the milkman, hiding behind the door). A trip to the doctor and another night later, he wakes up blindingly handsome ("I've gone full circle. The world's not ready," he declares). But while Herbert is undergoing these transformations, he hasn't noticed a related problem his dream girl is having, the final recognition of which prompts a daring act of sacrifice.
Elegantly written (choice exchange: "My husband died," the girl says, explaining a change in circumstances. "Ah, the web of convenience has ensnared us once again," Herbert says) and handsomely shot, Woke Up Ugly is everything a filmmaker would want a short film to be: entertaining and engaging in its own self-contained way, but also an impressive calling card that suggests what the talent involved might do with a bigger project and more resources.
Notes: A couple of special screenings at Studio on the Square this week. Second Chance, a local film from Michael Tabor's Word-Up Productions about the unlikely union of an illiterate thirtysomething felon and a homeless 12-year-old girl, will screen Thursday, December 3rd, at Studio, with showings at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. On Tuesday, December 8th, On Location: Memphis will continue its monthly screening series with Still Bill, a 2009 documentary about soul singer Bill Withers, best known for hits such as "Lean on Me," "Ain't No Sunshine," and "Just the Two of Us." Still Bill will screen at 7:30 p.m. ... Congratulations to Indie Memphis, which received a $10,000 grant last month from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, one of 24 film festivals around the country to get a grant this year from the organization.