Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

collaboration Archives - Filmstigator

Michael Curtis


April 12, 2015

“Gravel Heart” Develops with Help of Table Reads

April 12, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

TableRead Photo

Atlanta-based actors Wayne Hughes, Barry Stewart, Sheri Mann-Stewart, Holly Morris, and Tendal Mann reading “Gravel Heart” with writer/director Michael Curtis. Photo by Melissa Bowers.

A Trio of Table Reads

Three recent table reads of the Gravel Heart script have been instrumental in helping to develop and hone the screenplay for eventual production. The screenplay won 2015 Best Short Screenplay at the WILDsound Writer’s Festival last month, and actors in Toronto read the script there on March 29th.  Another informal read was held with faculty and students at Georgia College and Statue University in Milledgeville, GA. And a final table read was held in Atlanta (pictured above) this past week.

We’d like to thank all of the actors who donated their time and talents to help us improve the script:

Toronto Cast:

Stage Directions – Angelica Alejandro
Tommy – Nathan Kohn
Brick – Jason Martorino
Cosgrove – Jason J. Thomas
Celia – Stephanie Seaton

Milledgeville Cast:

Stage Directions – Lyssa Hoganson
Tommy – Landon Bell
Brick – Jimmy Holder
Cosgrove – Scott Dillard
Celia – Julia Roessing

Atlanta Cast:

Stage Directions – Sheri-Mann Stewart
Tommy – Tendal Mann
Brick – Barry Stewart
Cosgrove – Wayne Hughes
Celia – Holly Morris

How These Help

We think table reads are an important way to get the writer and the rest of the team off the page and out of their heads for a change. When you hear the story read aloud, it can highlight areas of the screenplay that aren’t quite working – while also showing you areas that are.  Both insights are valuable. This is an especially helpful tool for gauging how well the dialogue is playing.

In the case of the Milledgeville and Atlanta reads, the screenplay got tighter and better after each read. Elements that seemed superfluous or redundant were eliminated. And that makes the rest of  the process more efficient every step of the way.

Can’t this all be done on set or during editing? Of course. We believe it’s never too late to change and improve a story.  But we also think it’s best to get your script as perfect as possible prior to shooting and editing. On ‘GIFT,’ our first production, we didn’t hold table reads to workshop the script prior to shooting, and we feel that was a mistake. It meant that in one case we all worked very hard shooting a scene – in the middle of the night – that was ultimately cut from the film completely. Workshopping the script could have helped highlight the problem before we spent all that time and effort just to throw the scene away during post-production.

So from now on we plan to build in “script testing” phases like table reads for all Filmstigator projects moving forward. We think our audiences will get better films, and our crews, actors, and editors won’t need to work quite so hard on scenes that will never see the light of day.

Gravel Heart is a better screenplay now than it was prior to its festival win. At Filmstigator we think it’s important to keep evaluating the work with fresh eyes… to understand it’s always best to get the screenplay right before picking up a camera. And we’ll be open to improving the story further in production and editing if we find new ways to strengthen the story. It’s an ongoing process.

We recommend you find some actors and put your screenplay through the paces. A lot of screenwriting groups can help organize these opportunities if you’re a member. If you live somewhere where this isn’t feasible, at least read your dialogue aloud to yourself to help you hear areas that need additional work.

Recording yourself or your actors reading the script aloud can be even more beneficial, because you can stop looking at the screenplay for a few minutes and just listen to the story like your audience will. We guarantee you’ll notice things about the writing this way that you wouldn’t notice just reading over it a thousand times.


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


June 24, 2014

Official Movie Poster Released

June 24, 2014 | By | 4 Comments

Today we are happy to release the official movie poster for our short film, ‘GIFT.’  The poster features frame grabs of our young stars Royce Mann and Katherine Shepler.

GIFT Movie PosterStaying true to our collaborative model, we reached out to DesignCrowd for help with the print design. DesignCrowd is crowdsourcing site where you can post a design brief and interested designers will submit their work.  In a matter of weeks we received more than 50 unique submissions in a design contest for the movie poster and post cards, and there were several that we liked a lot. Ultimately the winning design was chosen, tweaked a little here at Filmstigator, and sent out to the printer for final production.  We should have posters ready to ship this week.

In concert with the posters, we’ll be handing out post cards at any festivals where GIFT will be screening this year.  Here’s the design we settled on for our 4×6 takeaways:

GIFT post cardLet us know what you think of the post cards and poster!  Do you think they’re suitable for helping us garner interest in the film?

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


September 24, 2013

Going Big

September 24, 2013 | By | No Comments

Independent filmmaking, especially in the no-budget or low-budget arena, will make a pragmatist out of you in a hurry. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the best camera you have for a project is the one you have access to. As much as I love gear–and I do–I understand that there are a lot of cameras that could be great for our project.  Even DSLRs could have worked fine for this intimate, small film. If your story is strong, camera choice is not the most important part of filmmaking.

In the case of “GIFT,” our current short film project, the camera I originally planned on using was the Canon C300.  I love this camera.  It produces a great-looking image, it’s small and easy to work with in tight places, and it is great in low-light situations.  And it isn’t plagued by the image compromises one faces when using DSLRs.  Most importantly, this is a camera I already own, so for indie projects that means not having to burn money on camera rentals.  Since I started pre-production and script selection for this project back in May, I have been planning on using the C300.  It was a given.  And I felt totally comfortable with this choice… that we weren’t really sacrificing anything.

Yes, in the back of my mind I would have loved to shoot this project on a 5K sensor to be able to deliver a 4K master for any film festivals out there capable of screening at that resolution.  But with limited funds, I knew I needed to conserve resources and use the money elsewhere.

But that all changed this week.

One of the things I am most enjoying about our collaborative is getting to meet and work with so many filmmakers I didn’t know before.  We had some personnel shuffling recently on the crew of “GIFT,” and I am pleased to announce that Tom Pritchard will be our new Director of Photography for the project.  Additionally, Chance White will be serving as our second unit DP at Jekyll Island and will also be working as Tom’s AC for our location work in Atlanta & Milledgeville.  They are both super guys and I am so happy to be working with them.  Their energy and enthusiasm are so welcome on the film.  I can honestly say that we have an awesome team filled with positive attitudes across the board.  That is so very, very important.  And I am honored and humbled that all these various artists believe in the project enough to commit and give it their all even though none of us are exactly getting rich on this film.  To say the least.

So what do I mean by “going big?”  With new team members come new approaches and perspectives.  We needed a camera that could shoot high-speed imagery for a few slow-motion sequences I have planned.  Chance owns a RED Epic, and he offered to bring that along for shooting the slow-mo sequences.  But the more the three of us talked, the more it seemed like the entire film should be shot with the Epic to keep from having a mismatch in the look of the film by switching between the two cameras with two different sensors.  So that’s what we collectively decided to do.  And now “GIFT” will be shot in its entirety in 5K.  Epic.

RED Epic Cinema Camera

RED Epic Cinema Camera

This is only possible because of Chance White’s generosity toward the film and the incredible deal he’s given us to make using the Epic possible.  I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity he’s given us to create an amazing short film with this very cool camera.  Tom, Chance, and I are all pretty anxious to get going on the film.  We begin principal photography in just a few days now.

We’ll keep you updated with progress on production and post some photos and possibly some behind-the-scenes video clips as we go.

Be sure to subscribe to the site for updates as we post them.  Thanks for your support of our film! We’ll have many more after we wrap “GIFT!”






Michael Curtis


September 9, 2013

A New Name… A Broader Scope

September 9, 2013 | By | No Comments

The Milledgeville Film Collaborative has now become!

We have filed as a 501(c) non-profit arts organization in Georgia,  and our new name–along with recent re-organizational efforts–will help sharpen our focus and further define the goals for our non-profit independent filmmaking endeavor.

The new moniker also helps reflect a broader, statewide scope.  Instead of the Milledgeville Film Collaborative, our new name is Filmstigator – the Georgia Film Collaborative.  Since we aim to support, create, and instigate indigenous filmmaking throughout Georgia–not just in Milledgeville where we are currently based–the new name is a more accurate reflection of what we’re about.

Production processes have not been impacted in any way, and we are still moving full speed ahead with our first narrative film project, entitled “GIFT.”


Michael Curtis


July 13, 2013

First Scripts Selected!

July 13, 2013 | By | One Comment

We are happy to announce the selection of our first round of scripts for production. And we’ve found two scripts we’d like to film—not just one!

Through the spring and early summer we’ve been reading dozens of screenplays that have been submitted for possible production. Almost every genre of film was represented.

We want to share a little bit about the two projects we are green-lighting for 2013.


The first project we will shoot (working title “Gift”), deals with a troubled boy and the ancient typewriter he uses to write invisible stories.  A chance meeting with a young girl thrusts both of them toward a dramatic confrontation that will change them forever.

“Gift” features two strong lead roles for child actors. Two supporting roles will also be available in this small-cast project. The production will be filmed in middle-Georgia and parts of Jekyll Island off the Georgia coast.

Screenwriter Alex Whitmer says his screenplay is “a very personal story about growing up unable to communicate effectively. Bits and pieces are taken from my own experiences, including a preference for isolation, and the typing of invisible stories. It’s about the weird kid down the street. The one who liked to walk home alone… liked to study the neighbor’s garden… the colors of tree bark… and the smell of dirt. It is a suburban story about violent outbursts and an inability to learn within the constructs of norms.”

Alex’s site, The Starving Dramaturge is subtitled “In Pursuit of the Perfect Screenplay.” This phrase has resonated with me a lot over the last few weeks. Not for his choice of the word “perfect,” (a potentially unattainable ideal), but for his use of “pursuit.” It’s that striving to create great work that seems to unite a lot of artists. I knew right away that we would share a passion for crafting strong stories.

Our next project (working title “DRG”), is a dark comedy about life in a small town where everyone knows your backstory. “DRG” comes from screenwriter William Torgerson, an assistant professor in the Institute For Writing Studies at St. John’s University in New York and a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Georgia College and State University.

Torgerson grew up in a small town in Indiana.  “The ‘knowing everybody’s business’ feature of my hometown was something I wanted in my stories,” he says. “I spent one summer working as a stock boy in our family-owned grocery store… listening to rumors and seeing the spread of drama around the cash registers. I worked with my uncle, his ex-wife, and his new bride.”

Bill’s story tackles issues of privacy, infidelity, judgment, and retribution in darkly funny ways. Several strong character roles make this a tight and fun ensemble piece. There are roles for a strong female lead, eight to ten supporting adults, and two teens. The memorable action-packed conclusion will stick with audiences for a long time.

Both films are slated for production before year’s end. Each will be submitted to a number of film festival competitions upon completion.

You can learn more about Alex Whitmer’s extensive screenwriting projects (more than 45 produced short films) by visiting his web site and IMDB page.

To find out more about the fiction, screenwriting, and documentary work of Bill Torgerson—or to read “Horseshoe,” his collection of original stories that “DRG” is drawn from, please visit

We greatly appreciate the efforts and trust of these writers… and we’re really looking forward to crafting powerful films with both of them!

We’d also like to express our gratitude to all of the writers who submitted their work for consideration. We’re honored to have had the participation and interest of people from so many diverse perspectives.

Please stay tuned for further announcements about casting opportunities and about the potential launch of various crowd funding initiatives.  And if you’re interested in fostering, supporting, or creating independent films, we encourage you to get involved. There’s work to be done in a wide variety of disciplines including social media, crowdsourcing, production planning, and more.

You don’t need to be an expert filmmaker, in other words, to get involved.

And remember:  your feedback and assistance are very welcome, so please share your thoughts and ideas. We’d love to hear from you!

Michael Curtis


March 24, 2013

Launch of the Milledgeville Film Collaborative

March 24, 2013 | By | No Comments

Welcome!  We are excited to announce the launch of the Milledgeville Film Collaborative, a grass-roots effort to bring artists from a host of varying disciplines together to craft great short and feature-length films.

One of our primary goals for the Collaborative is to build a creative community that enriches the lives and experiences of members and audiences alike. Ideally, we’ll create a model for collaboration that fosters creativity and results in powerful visual storytelling. We’re focused on making great films in Georgia and throughout the southeast, but we believe this model can easily be replicated to inspire similar collaborations elsewhere.

The Film Collaborative isn’t a club or a forum or a user group. It’s essentially a production company led by a specific group of artists and filmmakers who have elected to come together for a particular project. It’s designed for passionate people who want to get involved and help in whatever way they can to make quality films—even if they’re not directly filmmakers themselves.

In the next few weeks, we’ll begin soliciting scripts for our inaugural short film production (currently planned for the summer). If you’re a screenwriter with a great short movie script, we sincerely hope to hear from you. We have a strong team of writers, theatre professionals, and filmmakers who will review all submitted scripts and make recommendations on screenplays to “green light.”

We’re geared up to accomplish a number of projects over the next few months and beyond, so we will always be looking for quality screenplays. We hope to create at least three high-quality short films by the end of this year alone.

For a breakdown of the kinds of things we’re looking for, please check out our FAQ page. Screenplays meeting the criteria outlined may be submitted at any time, not just during the official call for scripts. Our need for stories will be ongoing.

We are looking to move quickly. As soon as our first winning script has been selected, we’ll move directly into pre-production for that project. The goal is to have that film cast, designed, planned and scheduled by late spring so that production can begin (and end) this summer.

We’re not playing around.

So here’s your chance. Get involved and make your own unique contribution to filmmaking. Send in your amazing screenplay, find out about upcoming auditions or how to join our crew for production. Or make a donation.

There are lots of ways to make your mark. So fasten your seatbelt. This thing’s about to launch.