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Michael Curtis


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


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


March 11, 2015

Best Short Screenplay Award

March 11, 2015 | By | One Comment


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


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


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.

Michael Curtis


January 19, 2014

Production Stills from ‘GIFT’

January 19, 2014 | By | 4 Comments


Aaron (Royce Mann) makes a friend in the forest. ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

For the last few weeks we’ve been developing an electronic press kit to accompany ‘GIFT’ at film festivals. EPKs make it easy for festival organizers and journalists to quickly get lots of information about your film at once–production notes, synopses, reviews, cast & crew lists, posters, production stills and so on.  They’re an essential part of the overall film package that helps people get a sense of what the film is about and what went into creating it.

We thought it would be nice to share a few of the production stills here to give you all a sneak peek at what ‘GIFT’ looks like.  We’ll also be editing a trailer over the next couple of weeks, and we will certainly post that on this site as well as a new standalone web site we’re developing just for ‘GIFT.’

During pre-production I had developed detailed “mood boards” showing the looks, color palettes, and overall visual tone I was going for.  I went back and reviewed those notes recently, and I was struck by how close we had come to those early concept images in the finished film.  Other posts on this site have talked about how hard our amazing crew worked to deliver this level of cinematography, and I am excited to finally have the chance to share production stills with you.


Zoe (played by Katherine Shepler) discovers something unexpected. ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

An action sequence from 'GIFT.'

An action sequence from ‘GIFT.’ ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

A major prop in the film:  a 1926 Underwood typewriter that I found on e-Bay and had refurbished by Fielding Whipple, an octogenarian office equipment repairman in my home town.

A major prop in the film: a 1926 Underwood typewriter that I found on e-Bay and had refurbished by Fielding Whipple, an octogenarian office equipment repairman in my home town. ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

An action shot from 'GIFT.'  Actor:  Royce Mann.  Location:  Jekyll Island, Georgia.

An action shot from ‘GIFT.’ Actor: Royce Mann. Location: Jekyll Island, Georgia. ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

Zoe leaves the shed.

Zoe (Katherine Shepler) retreats to safety after an altercation with Aaron (Royce Mann). ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

Aaron in the woods

Aaron seeks solace in the natural world. ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.


Royce Mann plays Aaron, one of the main characters in ‘GIFT.’ ©2014, Filmstigator, LLC.

Please let us know what you guys think of the production stills!


Michael Curtis


January 18, 2014

Progress Update & Poster Mock-up

January 18, 2014 | By | No Comments

A brief update on our progress on the film…

Sound design has been completed, and I’m quite pleased with the results.  We’ll proceed with the final mix once the music score has been finished and recorded.  Our composer, Ben Goldberg, is making great progress on the music.  Almost daily we’ve been on the phone or trading emails as he posts new music cues for the film.  It’s been a pleasure collaborating with him on the tone and feel of so many key moments in the movie.  The hardest part now is remaining patient while the music is finalized, copied out for the musicians, recorded, and ultimately mixed.  We’re getting very close to final completion now, and it’s exciting!

Picture has been locked on the film for several weeks, the visual effects work is done, and next week “GIFT” will be color-graded.  That will be the last touch we make to picture before submitting the film for festival consideration.  Once the film has been graded, we’ll be editing a trailer that will be posted here and on IMDB.  We can’t wait to hear the response to the trailer!

We’re also making good progress on the electronic press kit, and the Union Recorder newspaper published a story recently on us here.  We’ve been playing around with several potential poster designs that will accompany “GIFT” at film festivals.  We wanted to share one of those designs here and get some feedback from you all.  Any thoughts you’d like to share on the poster mockup?

"GIFT" poster 1

Stay tuned for more updates on progress over the next few days.  We’re on track to wrap up the film by the end of February if not a little sooner.  We will post some images from the final color correction session when we can.  Thanks for supporting Filmstigator and “GIFT!”

Michael Curtis


December 19, 2013

Editing Complete!

December 19, 2013 | By | No Comments

Exciting news to share today!  We are only weeks away from completion of the first Filmstigator short film!


We are happy to announce that principal picture editing has been completed for “GIFT.”  The footage continues to get rave reviews from the selected group of people who’ve seen the original rough cut and the final version.  Our camera team has done an amazing job with the visuals.


A lot can be learned about a film during editorial.  In the case of “GIFT” I found a scene that just didn’t seem to be working for the overall story.  So I made the decision to cut the scene its entirety.   This Saturday morning we’ll be doing a quick pickup shoot in Atlanta to grab 4 or 5 new shots to replace the excised scene.  I think the shots will help the pacing of the film and will even add something that wasn’t present in the original draft.

Ironically, the scene that has been cut was one of the most difficult and time-consuming scenes we filmed.  It’s almost like the difficulty we had in filming it was an indication of how things weren’t quite working.  I wish I’d fixed the problem back at the script stage, but I can’t wait to have the new shorter sequence in place!

timeline-webSo what’s next for “GIFT?”  After our pickup shoot this weekend, we’ll edit the new footage into place, and then the picture will officially be locked.

The sound designer in Atlanta and the music composer in New York are already hard at work finishing the audio.  We have one last visual effect shot needing completion and then the entire film will be color graded & mastered in 4K.

If all goes according to plan, the film should be ready for festival entries in early February.  We have a long list of festivals we’re planning to enter, and we’re excited to finally share our first Filmstigator narrative film with the world!


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.