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cast & crew Archives - Filmstigator

Michael Curtis


March 7, 2015

Filmstigator Selects New Film Project

March 7, 2015 | By | No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 11.04.13 AM

GIFT, the inaugural Filmstigator project, has been successful – screening at almost a dozen film festivals in the US & Europe as of this writing.  The film has been invited to screen next month in Los Angeles as part of NewFilmmakers LA.

While we’re pleased with how our first film has done thus far, we want to keep moving forward with new films that challenge our collective.  That’s why we’re excited to announce the next Filmstigator project:  a short called Gravel Heart.

We encourage anyone interested in working in independent film to contact us and get involved. Some of the GIFT  team will undoubtedly return to work on Gravel Heart, but we also expect many new faces on this production.

We are looking for producers, production assistants, members of the sound and camera teams, lighting crew, fight choreographers, animal trainers (canines), crowdfunding gurus, location scouts, props masters, caterers, and a number of other positions.  So if you want to get involved in independent filmmaking in Georgia, this is your chance.

We will be workshopping the Gravel Heart script with actors in Milledgeville this month to make final screenplay tweaks before moving directly into pre-production.

Principal photography is loosely slated to begin in October 2015.  A crowdfunding campaign is planned for this summer.  There are many ways to engage and take ownership of various parts of this film, so we encourage you to step up and take on this new project with us.

A few things about the Gravel Heart story…

Logline:   A 14-year-old puts his life in jeopardy when he confronts a neighbor for killing his dog.


Based on actual events, Gravel Heart is a gritty coming of age story exploring loss and the limits of retribution.  We plan to film in rural and semi-rural locations as close to Atlanta as possible.

Tentative plan is to shoot the film in 4K on a Canon C500.

The film requires a 4-person cast and extras.  Actors interested in auditioning should contact us immediately.  We will also put out a general casting call online.

Are you interested in being a part of this project?  Contact us today for more information.  And please sign up here on the site so you’ll get email blasts when we crew up in late summer for filming.  So much needs to be done prior to that, however. So don’t hesitate to contact us if you have a passion for indie filmmaking.


Michael Curtis


July 12, 2014

Awards & Festival Update

July 12, 2014 | By | One Comment

The Waiting Game

Waiting to hear back from film festivals can be a trying process for a “not-so-patient” filmmaker. It deprives him of the chance to receive one of the most important learning tools he can hope for: feedback from general audiences.  Films are not made in a vacuum or for a vacuum.  I think most directors are making films to make some sort of impact on other people.  And that’s hard to do or to gauge when the film is tied up for months (or years on some films) making the rounds for festival consideration.

So it was with some relief this week that I learned ‘GIFT’ has been honored by several award competitions and has been accepted into its second festival. It was nice to get at least some limited feedback on the project via the awards, and it makes me look forward even more to being able to screen the film soon for festival audiences.

Awards for ‘GIFT’ as of Today:

2014 CINE Golden Eagle – Independent Short Film

2014 Best Shorts Competition – Award of Excellence – Short Film

2014 Best Shorts Competition – Award of Excellence – Trailer

2014 Accolade Awards – Award of Excellence  –  Short Film

2014 Accolade Awards – Award of Excellence  –  Directing

Current Festival Selections for ‘GIFT’ as of Today:

Isle of Wight Film Festival (August 12 – 18, 2014)

Festival de Cannes – Court Métrage (May 2015)

EDIT –  New Festival Selection for ‘GIFT’ just announced (July 28, 2014):

Napa Valley Film Festival (November 12 – 16, 2014)

Thanks to My Team

Any awards ‘GIFT’ receives are undoubtedly due to the creativity, perseverance, and effort of my stalwart cast and crew of fellow collaborators. You all gave so generously of yourselves to make the film what it is.  So congratulations and thanks again to all of you!  


Michael Curtis


February 26, 2014

Listen to the ‘GIFT’ Soundtrack FREE!

February 26, 2014 | By | One Comment

Today we have a special treat in celebration of the completion of ‘GIFT,’ our first narrative film.  We’re sharing the entire music score from the film for free!

Ben Goldberg, a great friend and collaborator, has done an amazing job writing some truly gorgeous music.  We are honored to have his work present in so much of the film.

I hope you’ll love and enjoy the score as much as we do!


If you like what you hear, please comment, share with friends, and give some love to Ben in the comments section below!



Alex Whitmer


February 24, 2014

Guest Post: Screenwriting for Filmstigator

February 24, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

by Alex Whitmer

As there are many bits and pieces of my own childhood in the screenplay and story, ‘GIFT’ holds a special place for me. With that in mind, having ‘GIFT’ in the hands of the right crew and the right director with as similar a vision as possible was paramount.


A page from the ‘GIFT’ shooting script

I believe all writers are possessive about their stories, and, like me, hold a few near and dear above all others. Over the course of 50+ produced short scripts, I have come to terms with letting the creative collaboration process take over once a script is picked up. Most often that process brings many wonderful surprises and ‘hadn’t thought of that’ moments.

Katherine Shepler gets a touch up from makeup artist Tara Lynn Overby & 1st AD Melissa Bowers.

The creative input from the lighting folks, the sound folks, script supervision and costume, and on up and down the line, all coalesces to move printed word into moving pictures.

Michael liked the story, and he saw opportunities through a director’s eye that could bring ‘GIFT’ to fruition. After just one read-through of Michael’s new draft, I knew he had the intuition on where to take the story.

There was still casting to be done, and it is this process that gives the absolute and final voice to the characters on paper.

Sound man Tom Boisseau prepares to roll on a take.

Of course, there is a tremendous amount of support and direction, takes, make-up and editing–but in the end it is the actors an audience will attach to.  All the arts and technical knowledge and selecting just the right shirt and lens and light and cut all melt into the background. It’s just us and them.

Royce Mann, Katherine Shepler, & Michael Curtis on the set of ‘GIFT.’

I really can’t say enough about the chosen cast, and the beautiful and heartfelt performances they gave. I sincerely hope this film opens both big and small doors for them.

Being the quintessential hermitical writer, I was not on set during production. I much prefer the abstractness of pen and paper.  But from what I can see in the behind-the-scenes photos, the production stills, and the trailer, there was nothing but professionalism on the set. It just shows.

The locations are far better than I imagined. Beautifully haunting comes to mind. I’ve always been of the school that locations ought to be treated like any cast member, and chosen just as carefully. They bring that much to a story.

Working with Michael and this crew has been very pleasant, with communication open and thorough. I would recommend to writers looking for that special feather in the cap to leap at the opportunity to work with the Filmstigator team.




January 29, 2014

A Crew Member’s Perspective

January 29, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

With post-production coming to a close on “GIFT,” I thought it’d be appropriate to share some crew member perspective on this project before it sets off for the festival circuit.

First, a smidge-bit of history on my joining the project. When I was brand new to Georgia last summer, I started out pouring my time into finding crew jobs. I wanted to make it here in Atlanta as a full-time freelancer, but had no contacts, and really no good place to start.

Crew member Josh Deisler on the set of "GIFT."

Crew member Josh Deisler on the set of ” GIFT.”

During my search, I crossed paths with Michael Curtis, the director of “GIFT.” Looking through his past work, it was clear that he valued quality in filmmaking. I wanted to be a part of what he was doing. After emailing with him, I soon discovered his Filmstigator project. As I read over the blog and FAQ, I was certain that I was talking with someone who had a true passion for film, something that I had not seen much of since my time in film school.

When Michael offered me the chance to work on his indie film project “GIFT,” I jumped at the opportunity. I knew Michael could do great work, so I couldn’t wait to hop into a full production with a non-profit film organization.

I must say, my first day on set was an interesting one. Within the first two hours of loading out equipment and setting up lights, there was an unexpected run-in with a stealthily-burrowed wasp nest. Stings were delivered, equipment was left for dead amongst the ferocious cloud of yellow-jackets, and grown men were sent running and screaming like little children. We were off to a rough start.

Tom Boisseau & another crew member battle the yellow jacket hordes on our Atlanta set.

Tom Boisseau & another crew member battle yellow jackets on location in Atlanta.

But in my first hours of pandemonium on a multi-day shoot, I noticed something right away. This crew stood strong in the face of adversity and pulled themselves together in full force. Luckily, no one had a reaction to the stings that warranted any medical attention. Still, getting stung sucks, and usual at least warrants some whining and complaining.

But there was none of that. Zero. Instead, benadryl and antihistamines were acquired immediately. People were constantly checking on sting victims’ conditions. Stories of past wasp encounters were swapped. Everyone supported one another in any way possible.

But that wasn’t the cool part. What amazed me was that those who had multiple stings pushed onwards and worked harder than before. A group of individuals who were mostly doing this project as a means to give back could have easily packed it up and said, “this isn’t really worth the hassle,” or “let’s try again another day,” but it WAS worth the hassle to these people. I had seen plenty of crew members whine and complain at much smaller incidents. Not these guys.

I was already proud to be working amongst them. And that theme of dedication carried on for the entire duration of the shoot. People volunteered to take on multiple crew positions. Shots were never rushed, but instead ran at a calm, steady pace. Even as we shot through the night on a late shoot day, people were constantly pushing themselves through sleep deprivation and adverse conditions in order to create something great.

Amongst all of the passion put into the film, Michael’s was never in question. Whenever I thought about how tired or worn out I was, I looked to him. Despite the probable frenzy of thoughts and distractions running through his tired mind, he continued to operate (or at least maintained the image of operating) with focus and clarity, never losing his temper or flinching in the face of a new problem.

I’m confident that the dedication put into this film will show when it has its rounds on the festival circuit, as it truly was a labor of love. I’m proud to have worked with the crew that I did, and I’ve even had the opportunity to continue to work on other projects with some of the individuals that I met on this shoot.

If you have the opportunity to do so, see this film, and keep in mind that it wasn’t made possible because of big budgets or big names, but rather through the dedication of a group of filmmakers that wanted to seize the opportunity to give back to the film community. And if you’re in a position to do so, I wholeheartedly recommend getting involved with Filmstigator. It has been the most rewarding film experience I’ve yet to encounter.

Michael Curtis


November 6, 2013

Director’s Log for “GIFT” – Part One

November 6, 2013 | By | No Comments


I’m happy and relieved to announce that we’ve completed production on “GIFT,” our first narrative short film for Filmstigator.  We were able to stay on the original schedule and get all of the scenes shot in 6 days.  Those 6 days were spread out over three, non-consecutive weekends.  It was a lot of work, and there were a few times I didn’t think we were going to make it, but somehow we did.


Even with a sun shield on monitors, full sun can make watching takes problematic. I often just turned off my director’s monitor and watched the actors up close. I like working this way best anyway.

I had planned to provide updates while we were still shooting, but I quickly realized how “optimistic” that idea was.  There were too many other things demanding immediate attention.  Because I am both producer and director on “GIFT,” virtually anything that happened or needed to happen on the film involved me personally in one way or another.  The same was true for Melissa Bowers, our first-time AD who was also serving as script supervisor.  Now that production is over I’d like to review how it went and talk about challenges we encountered along the way.

In the last post, I mentioned that our first weekend of shooting was at Jekyll Island off the Georgia Coast.  It’s a beautiful place, and we were shooting nothing but exteriors the whole weekend.  We were quite fortunate with weather.  Across the board I have to say we really got lucky with great weather throughout production.

A few days prior to the Jekyll weekend, the sound guy asked me about a contingency plan in case of rain.  “There isn’t one,” I told him.  “Welcome to indie filmmaking.”

I was joking around, of course, but rain was in many ways not my main concern at Jekyll.  The bigger challenge was actually going to be sun.  We had a lot of shots to get, and we wanted the light to be as lovely as possible.  That meant shooting primarily at sunrise and sunset—Golden Hour.  We had to transgress that ideal more than I wanted to, but ultimately I think it worked out OK for us.

But being on the ocean involves an even bigger challenge than sunlight.  You also have to account for the movement of tides.  We were shooting on Jekyll’s picturesque Driftwood Beach, and that location is only accessible at low to moderate tide levels—so our location would literally be submerged at high tide.  Talk about limiting your shoot day!

We needed low tides occurring at the right time of day (sunrise, sunset).  These things don’t go together very often, as it turns out.  Tides gradually shift over about a 12-hour period, and the tides move a little later each day.  So I’d carefully chosen the one weekend in September that would be optimal in terms of low tides and golden hour light.  If we’d had rain on that weekend, we might have had to wait as much as a month for those times and tides to line up again.  That is some crazy pressure to put on the production, but that’s how it was.

I just had to think positively and expect clear skies that weekend.  And that’s what we got.

It is cliché, I know, but you really have to stay positive.  This is difficult when you’re stressed and sleep-deprived, but being positive has an energy that can be very helpful to yourself and your entire crew.  Some days I did OK at this, and other days I failed miserably.  Next time will be better.

Laugh at yourself.  The crew and actors already think you’re crazy anyway. A sane person would not attempt so much with so little.

The rain stayed away, and the tides were in our favor.  But on our second day of shooting, we really wanted to be set up and ready to roll our first take right as the sun was coming up over the sea.  That meant traversing to our location in the dark—while the tide was still going out.


Blocking out a scene with actor Katherine Shepler at Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island is a favorite nesting site to a variety of sea turtles, and it is a protected beach.  You can’t just drive production vehicles across the sand.  Vehicles are not allowed on the beach.  So we had to carry all of our gear to set by hand or on rolling carts.

To add to the challenge, there are fallen trees all over Driftwood Beach—which is precisely why I wanted to shoot there.  Visually, it’s spectacular.  Practically, it’s a nightmare.

That Sunday morning we had to schlep our gear about a mile to our location by flashlight, picking our way through fallen trees and waves.  Low tide was five hours away, so the tide was still slowly going out, and a good bit of the beach was still under water. We’d get 50 feet or so along our route, and then there’d be a fallen tree we couldn’t get our carts around.  So we’d all converge on the cart—weighted down with thousands of dollars worth of gear—and lift it by brute force over the obstacle to get it going again.  This happened numerous times for each of the carts we had with us.

Amazingly, not only did we get all the gear to our location, we managed to roll on our first take just as the sun rose over the horizon.  It all worked out.  I was really stunned at how awesome the crew was.  I mean, if folks were ever going to balk, that would have been a perfectly reasonable time for it to happen.  But they didn’t.  Everyone teamed up, overcame the unexpected challenge, and made it happen.  And this was before we even shot anything that day.  It was very humbling to be directing and producing a project with that level of commitment from everyone involved.


People say it’s hard working with child actors. I have to say I really enjoyed working with our two child leads, Royce Mann & Katherine Shepler. They worked really hard throughout rehearsals and production. Top notch talent.

After our epic battle with sand and sea and fallen tree, the day’s shoot seemed pretty straightforward.  We got all the footage we needed and made both our days at Jekyll.

One thing that I think might surprise folks who are not filmmakers is how much work has to go into production before you actually shoot.  I’m talking about pre-production, of course.  Sometimes actual shooting is almost a relief once you get to it compared to the stress and race-to-the-wire preparation with schedules, costumes, props, storyboards, permits, locations, and shot lists and everything else that has to be squared away by the time shooting starts.  Ultimately one of the biggest production challenges we faced was simple sleep-deprivation.  I’ll talk more about those sorts of challenges in the next post.

What about you guys?  Any crazy production stories you want to share?  Let’s us hear your favorite on-set war stories.

Michael Curtis


September 30, 2013

Behind the Scenes Photos – “GIFT”

September 30, 2013 | By | No Comments

We’ve now wrapped our first weekend of production on “GIFT.”  It was an amazing experience in many ways, and we are really excited about the shots we’re getting out of the RED Epic.

Things are pretty busy as we prepare for the next couple of weekends of filming (in Atlanta & Milledgeville). But we hope to post a more in-depth update later this week.  In the meantime we wanted to share a few behind the scenes photos with you all.

Special thanks to crew member Tendal Mann for capturing these stills!

Working with the Paralinx Arrow wireless transmitter allows director Michael Curtis to interact with actors while still monitoring camera.

Working with a Paralinx Arrow wireless transmitter allows director Michael Curtis to interact up close with actors while still constantly monitoring camera.

Actor Royce Mann as Aaron.

Actor Royce Mann as Aaron.

Associate producer, Susan Curtis, and Assistant Director, Melissa Bowers, hold the chaos at bay.

Associate producer, Susan Curtis, and Assistant Director, Melissa Bowers, hold the chaos at bay.


Actors Royce Mann & Katherine Shepler relax between takes.

Actors Royce Mann & Katherine Shepler relax between takes as Chance White (2nd Unit DP), David Ross (AC), & Todd Harvey (key grip) prepare for the next shot.


Director, Michael Curtis, blocks out the action with lead actor, Katherine Shepler.

Michael Curtis (director) blocks out the action with lead actor Katherine Shepler in our amazing Jekyll Island location.

Thanks for following and supporting our film. We encourage any writers, actors, and filmmakers interested in working on meaningful independent film projects to contact us and get involved today.


Michael Curtis


September 10, 2013

Pre-production Update on “GIFT”

September 10, 2013 | By | One Comment

Lots of progress has been made recently on our first narrative short film project.  Here’s a quick update.

Last month, in collaboration with Stilwell Casting, we found a great group of actors for our film. Veteran child performers Katherine Shepler & Royce Mann won the lead roles.  They are joined by Raymie Lewis and Melissa Etheridge to complete our small ensemble.


Throughout pre-production we have been humbled and honored by the passion and enthusiasm we’ve seen from the many people involved who are making the film a reality.

Our crew positions are nearly filled.  Many professional filmmakers have volunteered their services for free–even when offered pay–in order to bring the film to fruition.  It’s been humbling and exciting that they’ve connected enough with the script to want to do that.  With no outside funding for the collaborative (yet), these individual “gifts” are making the production of our film possible.

Principle photography is slated to begin in late September, and the film will wrap its production phase by mid-October.  We will be shooting in some great Georgia locations:  Atlanta,  Milledgeville,  and Jekyll Island.

There’s still more to be done as we move ever closer to shooting, and there are many areas where we could use your help.  So if you’re interested in helping support grassroots independent filmmaking in the southeast,  please contact us immediately.

We are still seeking a few key (experienced) professionals to complete our production crew.  And there are a number of additional support roles we would welcome if you have the time available.

Of course, if you are interested in helping the project but lack the time to get involved directly, we welcome financial contributions of all sizes.  Now that we are a non-profit,  donations we receive are tax-deductible for our donors.  But beyond that you will have the satisfaction of supporting artistic expression in Georgia.

We will post again soon.  We plan to give weekly updates during production featuring stills and behind-the-scenes video clips.

Don’t miss out on our exciting first production!  Sign up for updates on the site and please comment on the posts.  Your support and encouragment will help us make a better film.  We can’t wait to share the finished product with all of you!