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pre-production 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


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


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!