Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Indie Memphis' Greatest Hits 2: Triumph, Tragedy, and Restaurants

Posted By on Wed, Nov 1, 2017 at 2:43 PM

The countdown of our Best Of Indie Memphis poll results rolls on! In case you missed it, here's part 1.

"Above God" (2005)
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Brett Hanover is one of the best talents to emerge from the Media Co-Op scene. He was still in high school when he made a big splash at Indie Memphis. From the beginning, it was clear he has a knack for finding exactly the right subject for his documentaries. In 2005, he fielded two short docs: "Shaivo", an experimental treatment of the line between life and death, inspired by the conservative cause celeb Terri Shaivo case, and the now classic "Above God". One of the crazier sites that went viral in the early days of the internet was Time Cube, which presented an unbelievably extensive theory of the universe that made flat earthers look like pikers. Hanover managed to track down and get an interview with Time Cube guru Gene Ray, who described his mental powers as being "above God". Hanover didn't take the easy way out and just point and laugh at Ray—he tried to understand him. And that's what made the first short film on our list something really special.

"Brett Hanover made this in high school and it featured one of the best scenes in a documentary ever. When the main subject falls asleep on camera. And being 15 or however young he was at the time, Brett was already smart (and ruthless) enough to keep that epic shot in his final cut rather than view it as a misstep. Brett's style was both antiquated, yet somehow very fresh, and when I first saw this strange film I instantly knew Brett was one of the most promising filmmakers around, and I couldn't wait to see what he would create in the future." -Morgan Jon Fox

What Goes Around... (2006)
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2006 was a banner year for local filmmakers at Indie Memphis. After Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow made a big splash at the box office in 2005 and at the Oscars in 2006, it seemed that anything was possible. The first generation of digital rebels were making their second features, and a whole new crop emerged as both the technology and know-how got better. In 2006, there were seven Hometowner features ("And all of them good!" said Les Edwards in my Memphis Magazine history of Indie Memphis.) Since the very beginning, the Indie Memphis crowd had been diverse in terms of sexuality and gender, but it was overwhelmingly white until Rod Pitts and his crew stormed into Indie Memphis 2006. PItts was a University of Memphis film student when he followed the Poor & Hungry blueprint and got his friends together for What Goes Around... The film is a sex comedy with a big heart featuring outstanding performances by soon-to-be local indie film legend Markus Seaberry, Christina Brown, Arnita Williams, and Domino Maximillian. Pitts also contributed heavily to that year's Hometowner winner Just The Two Of Us by Keenan Nikkita.
click to enlarge Rod Pitts on the set of What Goes Around...
  • Rod Pitts on the set of What Goes Around...
Pitts threw himself into helping others with their projects, most notably DeAara Lewis' 2007 film Tricks. But he never directed another film himself. He faced a series of escalating health problems, including a stroke, and was diagnosed with lupus. He died in May, 2012; that fall, he was awarded Indie Memphis' first ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Rod Pitts was a brilliant filmmaker, and What Goes Around was an interesting love story."- Markus Seaberry

"Rod Pitts, man! Damnit it breaks my heart when I think about what a beautiful soul he was and how much he had left to offer the world with his incredible talent. He knew how to capture real humanity on screen, something that it seems you either have in your arsenal or you don't. He had it, and he was just getting started." -Morgan Jon Fox

Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island (2006)
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The biggest box office hit of 2017 so far is It, which finally brought Stephen King's Pennywise to the big screen. But eleven years ago, Memphis producer/director Mark Jones was way ahead of the game. Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island, Jones' first feature, was a slasher movie parody whose villain was, you guessed it, a knife-wielding clown. To add a little social satire edge to the comedy, Jones' lead character decided to confess his love for another fraternity brother at the same time they're being stalked. Which one is scarier to toxic masculinity, Jones asks: Serial killers or coming out of the closet?

"The only film I've ever known of to be shot almost entirely on Mud Island. Killer clowns, adventure, hilarious and a great cast." -Anonymous


Eat (2006)
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Here's a pro tip for you: If you're a low-budget filmmaker, don't write a film with 54 speaking parts. Still, if I could go back in time and tell my 2006 self what a logistical nightmare it would be to keep track of all those actors on a production that cost less than most used cars, I would have probably done it anyway. Heady from the success of Automusik, my then-girlfriend Laura Jean Hocking and I wanted to do something more ambitious. We had met while working in restaurants together, and we collected funny waiter stories for years. It's the perfect venue for comedy, so we decided to write a screenplay mashing up our story file. Our setting was three restaurants—a fine dining establishment, a corporate fast casual, and a dive bar—each with a girl named Wendy on the floor. I would direct and Laura, who had been working as crew on Memphis productions for years, would use the opportunity to learn to edit. We held auditions and got together a huge cast to simulate the crush of people you meet working in the service industry. Among our Memphis a-list acting crew were two then-unknown musicians named Amy LaVere and Valerie June. The shoot was an extraordinarily difficult two weeks—especially considering we were all working full time day jobs. We made many lasting friends on that shoot, and soon after our sold-out premiere at Indie Memphis, Laura and I decided to get married.

"A generation from now, Eat will be the film people look to for a Who's Who of the mid-'00s Memphis film scene." - Adam Remsen

clip from EAT (2006) from oddly buoyant productions on Vimeo.


The Book of Noah (2007)

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Hardcore punk musician Patrick Cox made his debut in Eat before becoming the breakout star of Drew Smith's first directorial feature, The Book of Noah, and he capitalized on it in a big way. He soon left Memphis behind for the wilds of Los Angeles, where he was cast in a series of bit parts and heavy roles (including Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rising) until landing a major role in Two Broke Girls. Now he's got 48 IMDB credits under his belt and will be appearing in the new DC movie Aquaman.

"There were a lot of "firsts" in that movie for all of us," says Smith. "It was the first time I wrote a feature, the first time I directed, the first film Ryan Earl Parker shot, and the first that Pat Cox starred in. It was intimidating, not only for the amount of work we had to do, but more so for the amount of people that believed we could do it. We spent just about every weekend together for two years shooting it. I was terrified I'd let them down, but I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to help get the film done.

"We had no budget, so everything you see in the film was donated: actors, locations, gear, crew, editing. That is with the exception of Noah's van. It had been abandoned, and I paid a tow truck company $300 for it. It was a piece of junk, but it ran, and we used it to haul gear to the locations. It finally died with about five scenes to shoot, so we shot those scenes by towing in with a rope to the location, or Ryan shooting while I bounced on the back bumper to simulate the motion. When we were finished, we left it in front of Ryan's house until someone reported it as abandoned and the city towed it away.

"Because I wanted the dialogue to be as natural as possible, I told the actors to reword the script to fit their speech patterns. Apparently for me, that meant cursing a lot more. When we screened at Indie Memphis, my family came along with a lot of folks from my church. I must have counted myself saying the F-word about 40,000 times. At the end of the movie, I was embarrassed and already trying to figure out how to cut out some of my cursing. My priest came up and shook my hand, and he leaned into my ear and whispered "Great F-ing Movie." It was kinda my proudest moment. Indie Memphis gave me that moment, and that's why I still try to help with the festival as much as I can. It's a great F-ing Festival."

The Book of Noah from Drew Smith on Vimeo.

The American Astronaut (2007)
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Filmmaker Corey McAbee created The American Astronaut in 2001, and it slowly spread through the festival circuit for the next decade. Festival director Erik Jambor brought it to Indie Memphis as one of his first acts, and its mix of sci fi and musical comedy made it a cult favorite. In the years that followed, McAbee returned to Indie Memphis with Stingray Sam and Crazy and Thief.

The American Astronaut / Trailer from Cory McAbee on Vimeo.


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