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filmmaking Archives - Filmstigator

Michael Curtis

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September 1, 2015

ReelWriters Announce Winners

September 1, 2015 | By | No Comments

Recently I’ve been preparing to cast and direct a table read of “Gravel Heart” for the upcoming DC Shorts competition (September 18th). I’m also working on a feature-length screenplay in every spare moment I can find. So it was nice this morning to get a surprise break by finding this in my in-box:

ReelWriters-laurels

Congratulations to the other winning screenwriters and thanks to the dedicated readers and organizers at ReelWriters for the opportunity to be a part of this year’s competition. The prize money we receive will go towards eventual production of “Gravel Heart.”

Fingers crossed for the fast-approaching DC Shorts Festival where “Gravel Heart” is one of six Finalists competing for fame and glory (and more importantly, prize money that could go toward production!)

Michael Curtis

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May 16, 2015

‘Gravel Heart’ Makes Semi-Finalist Round

May 16, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

festival_cover_photo_cropped_9bf945Onward to the Finals!

We are proud to announce that our new project, Gravel Heart, has been selected as a semi-finalist in ScreenCraft’s inaugural Short Screenplay Competition. The script, written by writer/director Michael Curtis, has won Best Short Screenplay at two other screenwriting festivals this year.

Congratulations to all of the semi-finalists in ScreenCraft’s competition. A full list of the semi-finalists – the top 7% of more than 2400 screenplays entered – can be found on the ScreenCraft web site.

We are excited to bring this award-winning story to the screen. We hope to go into production early next year if we are able to crowdfund the film successfully. Stay tuned for further updates including casting and crew calls later this year.

Michael Curtis

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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

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March 11, 2015

Best Short Screenplay Award

March 11, 2015 | By | One Comment

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Auspicious Beginnings

I have good news to share today!  Matthew from Toronto’s WILDsound Writer’s Festival informed me that the Gravel Heart script has been awarded 2015 Best Short Screenplay and will receive a staged reading with professional actors in front of a live audience later this month.  Thanks, Matt!

It’s always nice to “win” something, of course, but I don’t value awards in and of themselves. Sometimes they can be a barometer of sorts that at least something about a project is resonating with people. So it’s great to hear that the next slated project is connecting in some small way with audiences – at least so far. And hopefully our team can continue to build on that throughout production and editing.

Still Tweaking

The screenplay for Gravel Heart continues to evolve as our project team forms and the script gets honed and prepped for production.  We will augment the reading in Toronto with a staged workshop reading of our own here in Georgia – also scheduled for this month. I feel our last film, Gift, could have been stronger if I’d workshopped the screenplay with actors before filming. So that’s what we plan to do with all new screenplays going forward whenever possible.  I was tweaking the script and removing superfluous dialogue as recently as this morning.

But I’m happy the screenplay is getting out there and that festivals are responding to it.

I am still keenly interested in finding some producers in the Atlanta area or the southeast to help bring this film to fruition.  I’d like to launch a crowdfunding campaign this summer, and there’ll be lots of work to do around that.  If you’d like to be a member of the funding team, please get in touch and be a part of grassroots indie filmmaking in the southeast.

 

 

 

Michael Curtis

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Michael Curtis

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February 9, 2014

‘GIFT’ Trailer Released!

February 9, 2014 | By | 5 Comments

We’re very excited to share the trailer for “GIFT,’ the first Filmstigator production.  Please let us know what you think of it!  ‘GIFT’ will be headed to a variety of film festivals beginning in March 2014.

Josh

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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.

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