A time to thrill: Canton honors filmmakers at Mississippi Film Summit

Film Office Director Nina Parikh speaks at the opening reception of the 2023 Mississippi Film Summit in Canton.

The Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau recently recognized six established and emerging filmmakers for their achievements in film.

The honors were presented at the opening reception for the Mississippi Film Office’s 2023 Film Summit held on Aug. 24 at Sterling Hall, an event venue on Canton’s historic town square.

“Along with the Mississippi Film Office, this year we are celebrating over 50 years of filmmaking in Canton, the movie capital of Mississippi,” said Canton CVB Director Jo Ann Gordon. “Canton has been at the center of film in the state dating back to Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us in 1973, through major productions like A Time to Kill, My Dog Skip and O Brother, Where Art Thou? in the mid-to-late ‘90s, to recent productions like The Minute You Wake Up Dead and the upcoming Finding Faith. What better time to recognize some of the talents who launched their careers here as well as the next generation of filmmakers?”

Honorees included Christie Herring, a documentary filmmaker and Canton native; Matthew Morgan, a casting director and Canton native; Colton Comans, a set dresser and Madison native; as well as emerging filmmakers writer-director SK Pollard of Jackson, cinematographer Ceili Hale of Jackson and documentary filmmaker William Lindsey of Canton.

Comans, Pollard, Hale and Lindsey are all alums of the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop.

“These honorees are all a testament to the outstanding curriculum and instruction that has been designed and implemented to ensure their success in the industry,” Gordon said.

The program teaches hands-on filmmaking by having participants aged 8-18 produce a short film from script to screen. The workshop is made possible by a partnership between the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Mississippi Film Office and the Madison County Library System.

“The workshop has been held for 20 years now, and it’s been my great pleasure to witness talented young people like our honorees be inspired by filmmaking and find success in the industry,” said Film Office Director Nina Parikh. “For instance, William has been involved with the workshop for 10 of those years, first as a camper and now as an instructor the past two years. He’s also been working professionally in broadcasting while a student at Mississippi State University.”

Lindsey says he learned things he still uses today through the workshop.

“Film camp has made such a big impact on my life,” he said. “Not only has it made so many connections for me, but also lasting friendships. It taught me valuable skills. I couldn’t be happier with what film camp has given me, and I hope to keep giving back.”

Lindsey first started working on sports broadcasts for Gluckstadt High School football games before he came to MSU, where he’s directed 17 game broadcasts for ESPN to date including soccer, softball and more. He’s also filled a variety of roles on other documentary projects and even got his first director of photography credit on a Broadcast Education Award-winning short film, The Squealing.

Pollard and Hale were honored jointly, recognizing their achievement for completing a feature film, the forthcoming The Jacksons, which was filmed in Mississippi.Both took part in the workshop for several years.

“Film camp means the world to me and to my friends because we all met there, and now we are all part of the arts and still filmmakers in our own way,” Pollard said.

Pollard was the film’s writer-director and Hale cinematographer and editor, a collaboration that was first formed in Canton.

“She and I met at the workshop,” Hale said. “We’ve been best friends since then.”

Today, Hale works full-time designing playground equipment. But she jumped at the chance to collaborate with Pollard again.

“Her job is really cool, and it’s creative in a lot of ways,” Pollard said. “But she said she really missed being a part of filmmaking.”

They both say that the workshop has impacted their everyday lives beyond filmmaking.

“Having that foundation from the workshop of doing every single piece of making a film, has really helped with knowing how to collaborate with people,” Hale said. “You’re able to really adapt to whatever is needed. And that was very helpful to learn that at a young age.”

That focus on collaboration has helped Comans advance in his career working in the art department for films and TV shows, primarily as a set dresser. After his experiences at film camp, Comans studied film at the University of Southern Mississippi in Long Beach and got his first film job as a production intern for 2015’s Shark Lake, which was shot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“The workshop gives you a great understanding of what making a film really is,” Comans said. “It’s a great place to start for someone interested in film. It gets your feet wet and you can learn on a smaller scale how things are done.”

Comans has since worked on major productions like the forthcoming Disney+ TV series Agatha and the Coven of Chaos, the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, and blockbuster films like 2023’s Blue Beetle and Creed III.

The other honorees, Herring and Morgan, are Canton natives with successful careers in the industry.

“The other participants that were honored were introduced to the industry through the major productions filmed in Canton and Mississippi which sparked their desire to make this their career path choice,” Gordon said. “Canton looks forward to producing many more industry professionals for generations to come.”

Herring, who was recognized for her prolific career as a documentary filmmaker for over 20 years, said it was a complete surprise to receive such an honor from her hometown.

“First of all, I had no idea that was happening,” she said. “I definitely got teary-eyed several times. And to be presented that award by Jo Ann Gordon, who I’ve known my whole life and who has done so much for so many in Mississippi and so much for the people of Canton, it meant a great, great deal.”

Herring’s journey as a filmmaker is tied in many ways to Canton. When A Time to Kill was filmed in 1995, Herring came back home from college at Duke University to co-direct Waking in Mississippi, a documentary about the impact the production was having on the community.

“This thing was happening in my hometown that I thought needed to be documented,” she said. “It was something that everybody in town experienced in some way. To be able to pick up a camera and try to better understand my home was everything to me. It absolutely set me on the direction of filmmaking in my life and has been kind of a lodestar ever since.”

Herring has since worked on major documentary projects for Amazon, PBS and Hulu, like her latest production, 2020’s The Big Scary ‘S’ Word. And she’s recently been back home working on a new project.

“I’m in development on a film back in Mississippi, and I’m going to be picking back up on some of that footage from Canton, so that’s exciting,” Herring said. “It’s been a fun, full circle thing. The film is called Mississippi in Three Parts.”

Morgan was honored for his contributions to the local film industry through his company Morgan Casting, which to date has assisted over 20 productions in Mississippi.

“The first movie I ever did as a casting director was in Canton: James Franco’s As I Lay Dying,” Morgan said. “To receive a lovely award for outstanding contributions to the state and my hometown was really special. It’s as good as it gets in terms of fulfillment.”

Morgan too got his initial inspiration to pursue working in film growing up in Canton.

“I worked on A Time to Kill,” he said. “I started off as a stand in, an extra, and I started sort of working on set. And that was the moment where I thought, wow, I’d love to do this. Being in Canton really gave me the opportunity to fall in love with the art of filmmaking.”

Johnson Thomasson, VFX Supervisor

Johnson Thomasson

Johnson Thomasson is the Lead Virtual Production Developer for The Third Floor, one of the world’s leading visualization studios. Since joining the company, he has worked with several blockbuster films and TV series during the pre-visualization phase including The Book of Boba Fett, Jungle Cruise, The Mandalorian, Gemini Man and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Thomasson will be part of the “Emerging Technologies in Filmmaking” panel discussion at the 2023 Mississippi Film Summit on August 25. Get your tickets here.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

Well, I moved around a lot, but my childhood was spent in Indianola, Mississippi. I lived there from age 5 to 10, and I was homeschooled during that time, so I was usually out and about before my friends at the public and private schools got out, and I did a lot of solo exploring around my neighborhood in the bayou. And then when I was 10, my dad got a job at Mississippi State University and we moved to Starkville. I ended up going to high school in Louisville at Grace Christian School. After that I came back to Mississippi State and got a computer science degree and stayed and worked in the state for a while after that.

How did you discover your interest in working in film?

That’s a good question. I think a number of little hints got me into the ballpark, and then I discovered filmmaking and just kind of got bit by the bug. But the initial things, I can trace one of them back to being in Indianola. I would have been 8 or 9, so that would have been 1995. The Chamber, the John Grisham novel-turned-film was filming in Indianola. There’s a scene where they blow up a building in downtown Indianola, and on my bike one day I just happened upon the crowd that had sort of gathered to watch that explosion.

They had built a fake facade to a downtown law office and then they had a live explosion and these little foam bricks blew everywhere and there was a lot of smoke. And I remember seeing that and just being like, wow, that is so cool. How does one do that? So that was probably the first seed of my interest.

And then another sort of happenstance was a Sunday school teacher in Starkville, he was getting his masters in computer graphics. Unfortunately, Mississippi State doesn’t have that program anymore. But at the time, it was a really good program. He took me and some other kids to his computer lab to try out Maya, it’s a 3D modeling software. I modeled a cannon because I was really interested in the Civil War. He went on to work on The Lord of the Rings and King Kong. That was really eye opening and exciting. So, I started digging into 3D graphics at the time.

And around that same time, my grandparents had a Handycam. My family never had a video camera, but my grandparents did and I had a bunch of cousins. When we went there for the holidays, I started playing with that and I had enough of a picture of how a movie gets made to say, okay, you guys are going to be my actors and I’m going to be the camera guy, and let’s come up with a story and shoot it. So those kinds of things all happening around the same time were pushing me further down this rabbit hole.

And when I got to high school, I found a couple of friends that–I wouldn’t say they were really into movie making, but Louisville, it’s a small town. There’s not a lot going on. If somebody’s got a fun idea, everyone’s ready to go with it. And so, I was like, let’s make a movie.

Actually the first one was a school project for a computer class. I asked the teacher if we could make a movie, which was pretty hard to do at that time, because we were just getting digital handycams and video editing software and hardware was still out of reach for most people, but I was able to get some software and start dabbling in digital editing.

That was where things really started accelerating for me, being able to capture video and then manipulate it in the computer and use that to build a narrative and then show it to people and see their reaction. It just created this thrilling feedback loop. And so, through high school, I kept expanding to doing slightly bigger and bigger projects.

The first longer pieceI did was a film called Private Detective, which we shot in and around Louisville. Honestly, we had tried to shoot something much larger. We had this feature film idea that was very serious sci-fi and way outside of our capability at the time. And it wasn’t until we had shot a couple of scenes of that and then we realized we’re not going to be able to pull this off.

Fortunately, we decided at that time to pivot and take the props we had built and the costumes we had acquired, and we came up with a sillier, little small town premise, and that was the film Private Detective. It ended up being about a half hour long, and it was about a kid from a small town whose uncle is the sheriff and the kid fancies himself a private detective, and he asked the uncle if he has any warrants that he can serve. He ends up going after some unique characters in the movie and bringing them to justice. And it’s just a funny, silly movie.

But we had reached a certain level of sophistication in our moviemaking process at that point. That was difficult for the time and for our age. We got into the film festival in Jackson, and I remember going down there with the buddies who made it with me, and we saw that play at the Crossroads Film Festival and that was super exciting. The experience of getting to see that together with an audience of peers and film enthusiasts just further added to my love for filmmaking. I continued to make slightly larger and larger projects through the end of high school and then college, and then even after college, and sort of culminating with a film called Headrush, which we released in 2011.

We raised the money for Headrush through a crowdfunding campaign and we had a couple generous private investors, including Robbie Fisher of Jackson. I think in the end the budget was about $30,000, which at the time just seemed like, you know, the most money you could ever ask for. And some really great artists came out to be involved in that project. We had some great Mississippi actors and filmmakers from Jackson. David Matthews was the DP on that. He’s got a great eye. My role in that was that I wrote it, I was kind of the lead producer, hiring and finding locations and then casting. And then I directed it and edited it, did all the visual effects and did all the sound mixing. Basically, the only piece of post I didn’t do was actually make the music.

In the end we had a really impressive 45-minute film and we took it on tour around the state and we were able to work with the Malco Theater chain to show it in four of their locations. We had a big turnout at each of those, I think we went to Madison, Starkville, Tupelo and Oxford. So, a lot of people got to see that. And a lot of people from all over the state had worked on it. It was a really rewarding thing to do the tour. Unfortunately, the film was of a length that it was kind of in a no man’s land for film festivals. It was too long to play with the shorts and it was too short to play with the features. So, we never really got much traction on film festivals. I used Headrush as a portfolio piece in my application to graduate programs and I ended up getting into USC’s film production program a few years after that, largely on the strength of it, and I went through that three-year program and then got my first job in the industry.

What kind of training did you have there at USC?

I certainly had aspirations, and still do, of directing, and the film production program at USC is a sort of general production training where you choose a specialization midway through the three years, running the gamut from writing to cinematography to production design, editing, directing.

It’s really only 10 percent that get to pursue directing by the end, because not everyone can be a director. Everyone directs a few things in their first year and I did visual effects work on my own work at USC because I was self-taught in a program called After Effects and I could do a little bit of 3D, but mostly 2D compositing work in After Effects.

I could do some pretty cool stuff, and so I was doing that on my own films and people started paying attention to that and started asking me to work as a visual effects artist on their films. And that reputation grew until I was kind of working on everybody’s films as a VFX artist, and I found it really enjoyable. It was still a creative endeavor, and I was working closely with the director and I needed to be able to speak their language, so it helped to have the directing background as well.

Also, at the time the chair of the film school was a guy named Michael Fink, who was a career visual effects supervisor and won the Oscar for Visual Effects for The Golden Compass and got his career started on Blade Runner. He’d been around and kind of seen everything in visual effects. He took an interest in me and really mentored me through my time there.

Midway through the three years, I had a heart to heart with him in his office about my direction for the rest of film school. I decided to pursue visual effects rather than putting all my energy towards directing. And I think that was a great decision.

I took a couple internships that summer. One was at a company called Fuse FX, who works on so many TV shows. And that really opened my eyes to the industry that is visual effects. It’s a massive industry, sort of a sub industry of film and TV, but there are tens of thousands of artists around the world working in this. And it’s well structured. There are some really well-run companies that exclusively do visual effects and there’s specializations within that. There’s modeling and texturing and animating and lighting and compositing and all these things. That was really eye opening to me. I didn’t know which of those specializations I fit into because I had been doing it for myself and sort of wearing all the hats and not knowing what the hats were called.

So, I had to find my place. The chief creative person on a VFX team is the visual effects supervisor. While I was finishing at USC, I was able to be the visual effects supervisor for some ambitious student films. One was a friend’s thesis film called When Pigs Fly, and it starred Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

And it had a sizable budget for student film and a lot of visual effects. I spent almost a year straight working on that, and I recruited a team of other student artists to help me create all the visual effects and manage that team and also hired some freelancers out in the world to do little bits here and there.

The visual effects portion of that movie was really a big task for a student, and it was super informative. And I had someone like Mike Fink to bounce ideas off of and make sure I was never going off the track. And there was another project similar to that around the same time.

Those two projects made up my visual effects portfolio by the time I graduated, and visual effects artists refer to these as a reel, a 2- to 3-minute video of your work. Sometimes there’s a breakdown, where you go, “Here is what you thought was all real, but actually, let me pause the video and show you the things that were computer generated in this video.” I had a reel based on those to projects.

What was your first film job?

When I graduated in December 2016, I spent about a month applying to visual effects studios all over Los Angeles and ended up getting a two-week gig at a company called The Third Floor, a really well-established pre-visualization company. Pre-vis is tangential to visual effects, and it’s kind of a niche within a niche, I like to say.

They brought me on to do what’s called post-vis on the Jumanji film that stars The Rock and Jack Black. I came on and worked on that for two weeks and they thought I was doing a good job. So, they extended me to the end of that project and I’ve been at the company ever since.

I’ve had some really cool opportunities since I’ve been there. I’ve gotten to work with some all-star directors. One unique thing about pre-vis is that it’s early in the filmmaking process and on these big studio films, often the film is not set in stone during the pre-production phase.

It’s an evolving thing, evolving in collaboration with the pre-vis team who’s doing rough animations based on the guidance of the director and visual effects supervisor and DP. I gravitated toward a side of pre-vis called virtual production. Virtual production kind of means different things to different people. But if you look at the way Avatar is made, where they have actors in motion capture suits and they capture their motion and apply that motion to these CG characters, and then they have what’s called a virtual camera, which is essentially an iPad that is rendering a view into the virtual world and being tracked as it moves through space.

Those aspects of virtual production are something that we do at The Third Floor as a service to make our pre-vis process more interactive for our clients. I really gravitated towards that because it was somewhere between the computer graphics world, which is mostly sitting at a desk and the film production world, which I also love, which is hands on cameras and working with actors.

Fortunately, The Third Floor has a small virtual production group that does this work. I joined that team after about six months. And the first project I worked on was Disney’s Christopher Robin. At the office in L.A. we have a motion capture studio and we would have the director Marc Forster and his DP on that film, Matthias Koenigswieser. They would come to our stage and shoot virtual camera. I ended up operating the machine that ran those sessions. Marc Forster would say, you know, I’d like to fly over there and get an angle like this on a 50 millimeter lens. I’m sitting at a computer and taking that instruction and translating it into the computer. So again, being able to speak that language of film creatives enabled me to be in that seat at that time, having just started in my career.

From there on, I’ve worked on some other cool projects. I had a brief but memorable stint on Gemini Man, where I got to work directly with Ang Lee in Savannah, Georgia. My role on that was introducing Ang Lee to VR scouting, which is another aspect of virtual production. In that case we’ll take a real world location that has been scanned in 3D or a set that has been designed by the art department, we’ll take those into the computer and get them prepped, and then we will facilitate a Virtual Reality review of them where we’ll place someone into the virtual space and they can look around, they can pull up the virtual viewfinder and view the space through different lenses. I don’t believe Ang Lee had ever been in VR before. I remember very delicately putting the goggles on and the controls in his hand and sort of guiding his fingers to press the buttons. It was wild.

That’s a lot of what we do at The Third Floor, to facilitate exploration of the story world for our clients. That might be through traditional pre-vis where we have animators that are animating characters, or it might be through virtual camera where the director or the DP is looking into the virtual world. Or it could be through VR where they’ve got a headset on and they feel like they’re in the space. So whatever fits that particular creator.

Are there any more current or recent projects you can talk about?

I came on to The Mandalorian Season One midway through and did a number of things on that. I did a motion capture for a scene where Mando takes on eight droids in this prison corridor. And then I did what’s called motion control for these creatures called Blurrgs, and that was on set within the LED volume that they shoot a lot of that show on. So that’s at the pinnacle of movie tech, I got to be right in the middle of that and see that happening. So that was exciting. And then I was on Season Two as well from beginning to end, at least for our pre-vis team, and that was about the time I was making a shift away from being an artist at the company to being more of a software developer building tool sets both for other artists at the company as well as tool sets that would be directly used by our clients. I’m talking about virtual camera and VR scouting. I’m now writing those tools, trying to think about what would be intuitive and again, what would sort of be in the language of the filmmaker. And the joy that I find in that is I get to approach it as if I’m the filmmaker and think if I’m trying to communicate my vision, what would help me do that the best? These days I’m building software-based tools to do that, to help directors communicate their vision early on in the production process.

What has been the most surprising thing for you about working in film?

The spectrum of jobs there is. I think for people outside the centers of the industry, like I was growing up in Mississippi, you know that films aren’t made by a single person, but you kind of imagine that they’re made by maybe like four people. (laughs) But there are actually hundreds, if not thousands, involved with most sizable film productions. The skill sets needed run the gamut from purely creative to very technical and engineering minded to accounting and everywhere in between. A system has grown up as part of the industry and there are well-defined roles and teams and there can be a lot of efficiency in the process. I think from the inside it looks very different than the glitz and glamor that is imagined from the outside.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

I had a number of people as I was going through school that really helped guide me. Mike Fink at USC is certainly one and another professor of mine at the time, his name was John Brennan and he worked on Jungle Book, the most recent one, and Ready Player One, both sort of cutting-edge virtual production projects. He really opened my eyes to that emerging tech space of film.

Has being from Mississippi helped you stand out in any way?

I think just working honestly and hard and being friendly has allowed me to make some really pivotal relationships and grow quickly in my career. A lot of people I’ve ended up working with are from the South.

Do you have a favorite moment working on a project?

On Mandalorian Season Two, it’s a bit of a long story, but the company needed to adapt the way we were working after Season One. Based on feedback from the production, we needed to do things differently. Someone needed to step up and build a new pipeline to make that happen. And I got tapped to do that. Around the same time, my boss took another job. A lot of the pressure that would have fallen on him ended up falling on me. We had three months or so before Season Two started, and I had a little team that I was leading. I feel like we really did something amazing in that short period of time before we got on the show. What we built was a success and it worked. That was about a year of me working my butt off. But in the end, our clients were very happy with what we did. And I think the new way of working had a big impact on the creativity of the show in that season. Sitting down with the family to watch that as the episodes started rolling out was a really satisfying experience.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into filmmaking?

I would say just start making things. Write a one-page script, find a friend to be in it and shoot it with your phone and get it into a computer and edit it. You can edit on your phone, but I’m a little biased. I think you’re handicapping yourself if you’re trying to do post work on a mobile device, but I do think that these days, there’s no excuse for not just shooting something when we have this fantastic camera that’s in our pockets.

And then, YouTube is such a great resource. There are so many filmmakers that are sharing how to do things. And something I’ve been watching lately–The Hollywood Reporter does these roundtable interviews with actors and directors and writers. It’s such a great source for inspiration and knowledge and a picture of how the industry works. Those are all great places to start. Director’s commentaries on DVDs are also invaluable, and David Fincher is one who would do a commentary on almost every film he did. And that was like a film school in its own right to just listen to him talk about the choices along the way.

What do you do when you’re not working on movies?

These days most of my spare time is hanging out with my kids. I’ve got a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. I’m just having fun watching them grow up and playing in the yard. I guess my favorite pastime still is to play Ultimate Frisbee, which I started playing as a young kid.

How can someone reach you?

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. And my email address is johnsonthomasson@gmail.com.

Q&A: Ashley McFarlin, Producer

Ashley McFarlin

As part of this year’s Jxn Film Festival, TV industry executive Ashley McFarlin will host the BEE Pitch Camp from July 25-27. McFarlin currently serves as Vice President of Development for WE TV and AllBlk.TV, and “BEE” is short for her independent production company, Bird’s Eye Entertainment, that she founded in 2006. The Pitch Camp can be attended both in-person and virtually. For information on other Jxn Film Festival events, visit jxnfilmfestival.com.

What’s your background in the industry and how did you start hosting the pitch camp?

I’m originally from Atlanta and I grew up sort of working with my mom. My mom is a producer, and I was always on set a lot as a kid, exposed to the industry, and I really gravitated toward it. I’ve always loved storytelling and I was an avid reader as a kid. So, as I grew up and then I went on to determine what I wanted to do in my career, I knew it would be in film and television. I wasn’t quite sure exactly the role, but I knew it would be in that space.

As I continued to work in both film and television as well as radio and theater, I homed in on the work that allowed me to be a leader in this space. I was very fortunate to be given opportunities to work as a producer, executive producer, supervising producer, stage manager, production manager, those types of team leadership positions that not only gave me an opportunity to develop as a creator, but also as a manager. And ultimately, as a network executive, I see the need for more young people who have the ambition and have the talent and the skills and the gifts to just be given the opportunity and the tools to enter the space and succeed. Since I’ve had experience in managing and grooming and building teams, I figured why not build a team of dynamic, next-generation producers, writers and directors to really take our industry to the next level?

What can pitch camp attendees expect this year?

This year is a little different. I took a lot of feedback from last year. I think last year I was so excited about it and I knew that the Jackson community hadn’t really had that much intimate exposure to the intricacies of the television and film industry. So, I really inundated the group last year with tons and tons of information and introduced them to lots of people in the industry who are colleagues and friends of mine to really just give them as much knowledge as possible.

This year, I want to streamline it a bit. I want to be a bit more focused on a few specific areas that feedback from last year suggested that people would be really interested in. One, being the baseline information of how to tell a good story. Because that’s something I mentioned last year that ultimately that’s what really propels projects to the next level.

If it’s a solid story, if you have great characters, no matter who you are, who you have attached to it, what experience you have in the space, that project will find its space in the world of television and film. So, I want to spend quite a bit of time this year teaching bare bones storytelling 101, how to create a strong storyline for a solid television series or film.

Secondly, a lot of feedback I got is that people just wanted to hear from me. (laughs) Last year I had a lot of colleagues and friends jump in on the Zoom or pop up to do 20- to 30-minute workshops. So, I have fewer guest speakers this year and I’ll be taking up a lot more of that time to talk directly with the campers about my personal experience in the industry and my specific advice on how they can navigate the space successfully.

And then lastly, a huge takeaway from last year was people really just wanted to be ready to pitch when they leave the boot camp. Last year I had two or three of the campers actually go on to pitch solid projects to WE TV and ALLblk, but I want to dial that up a bit this year, and I’d love for at least 50 percent of the participants to pitch me something solid and cohesive and interesting at the end of the boot camp. So, I’ve tailored the curriculum this year to really aim for by day three, everyone standing up tall and proud in front of all the other campers and myself and pitching a solid project.

You said you’d have fewer guests this year, but you do have a special featured guest in TV industry vet Robyn Lattaker-Johnson. What will she bring to the camp?

Yes, Robyn is a former executive of Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She has a myriad of tremendous accomplishments. She currently serves as one of the few black female agents in the unscripted space. I wanted to be sure she was given an opportunity to speak with the participants at the boot camp because she has such an impressive career track, and she has lots of really solid advice to give up-and-comers with regards to how to find their own lane and a very crowded space right now of content creators.

I’m really blessed in that I work in both unscripted and scripted. With the strike happening now, I’m pivoting that a bit. We’re still preparing scripted projects with the hopes of being ready to go back into production. But we’re also at work focused on making sure we have some strong unscripted shows that could quickly go into production.

And Robin should be able to offer up some solid advice for people who are interested in going into the unscripted space. She represents really great producers and directors and writers in that space so she can give some advice of how people can really push their projects there.

How did you connect with the Jxn Film Festival and how do your own sensibilities align with their mission?

(Festival founder) Maximus Wright and I met a couple of years ago at an industry event. There was an immediate chemistry between both of our desire and passion to serve in the space of television and film, to really use whatever experience, relationships and connections we have to help others get their foot in the door. We connected on that like-minded level and he started talking to me about things that he was working on, like the Jxn Film Festival. I started talking to him about things I had brewing on my side, like the producers’ boot camp, and it just seemed obvious to figure out how to marry them and cultivate that synergy.

What potential do you think Mississippi has in the film and TV industry?

I think it’s tremendous. Visiting Jackson last year during the boot camp I was really floored at the awesome talent that exists in the city. And I was pleasantly surprised to see how eager everyone was to present themselves, show up and offer up who they are and their creativity so that I can them lend a helping hand so they could get some real exposure. I do think there’s a strong pool of talent there. I think it’s virtually untapped, and I am happy to put my resources, talent and experience in the pot to help stir this up and bubble up some really successful projects from the city.

CASTING CALL: Ridgeland Tourism Commercial

Shoot dates: July 26 or 27, 2023

Location: Barnett Reservoir, Ridgeland

Details: The shoot is showcasing some of the activities one can do on the reservoir in the Ridgeland area. We will be kayaking, skiing/wakeboarding, and having fun on a pontoon boat. Everyone who submits must be comfortable around and in the water. People also must be comfortable in swimwear. Being able to water ski is a huge bonus for a couple of roles, but not a requirement. Kayakers will be in boats paddling, some talent will be skiing or wakeboarding, and people on the pontoon boat will be swimming. These are all non-speaking roles. We will be taking photos and shooting video. These images may be used in a variety of ways (print, web, etc) to promote the City of Ridgeland.


Information needed with submission:

Deadline for submission: July 21, 2023

Please send submissions to jlevanway@madg.com. A short video would be great if possible. Any photos in water appropriate clothing or swimwear are encouraged, but not required. Kayakers will only be needed for 3 hours, Ski/pontoon roles will be in two scenarios and will be needed for about 8 hours, pontoon only roles will be needed for about 3 hours.


Short Film: Criminal

Shooting near Bentonia and Greenwood

SHOOT DATES: August 12-21, 2023 (last day is a night shoot)  

Synopsis:  Two young siblings, WIILLA, 9, and ZEB, 13, grapple with the sickness of their mother.   From a small neighborhood, with limited resources, they ride into another nearby neighborhood, where getting help and having expensive things seems easier.   They get the medication and relief their mother needs, for a moment, but risk their freedom and young futures to do so.  (This story asks for equal healthcare for everyone, told in a beautiful way).  


CAST ($1500 flat rate)

DAY PLAYERS ($125/day)

All positions are paid. Please email reel, headshots, and resume to shortfilmshoot2023@gmail.com.  

Maximus Wright, Director, Writer, Producer

Maximus Wright

Maximus Wright is a Jackson filmmaker known for the 2017 feature film Soul Damage, which he directed, wrote and produced. He is also the founder of the Jxn Film Festival, which will be held July 23-28, primarily at the Capri Theatre in Jackson.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Yazoo City. I’m very proud of that. I went to Yazoo City High School. I graduated from Tougaloo College with a humanities degree in philosophy and religion with an emphasis in English.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in Film/ TV?

I always loved television when I was growing up. My grandmother and I, we pretty much spent our afternoons when I got out of school or on the weekends watching television. Seeing how it made her happy made me happy. We would sit there and watch Sanford and Son, The Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith, Little House on the Prairie. Television was always a staple.

Getting into making movies just kind of happened as I got older. I didn’t think I would ever be in in the field until my daughter came along. And my daughter wanted to be on Disney. I just thought I was going to be one of those dads that supports their daughter in her dream.

But one day she told me she was going to have to leave Mississippi to make that happen. And I’m like, well, why? So, as we started going to these auditions, I tried to show her that she could start making little short films and do other things in a ploy to keep her here. Well, now almost 15 years later, I’m making films, and she’s living in New York.

So, it’s kind of happenstance that, in the effort to keep her home, I found a calling. And so now I hope with what I’m doing I can keep someone else’s little girl here so they don’t feel that they have to leave the state to pursue their dream.

At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?

Well, it actually happened before I realized it. I thought making my first feature film was just some type of mandate that I just had to do. The success of it was overwhelming. And everyone around me was like, yo, this is what you were called to do. But I didn’t feel that way because I was not formally trained. I didn’t feel that I was as gifted as others. And it was also the question of how was I going to do it here in Mississippi? I thought you couldn’t make a living being a filmmaker in Mississippi. I just couldn’t see it, but it was happening and it was like maybe four or five years into the whole process of getting the film finished and edited from beginning to end. Then I was like, wow, this is all I’ve been doing for five years. And slowly it started to register like, yo, you can do this. But to everyone else, I was doing it already. It just took a while before I could accept.

What type of training have you had and where?

Well, I did go to a class in New Orleans that was like one of those crash courses. (laughs) It was with Vincent Laforet, who is famous for directing a Nike commercial with Kobe Bryant. It was a masterclass on directing motion, and everything he was talking about, I had no clue what he was saying. I’m trying to make sense of it, but back then I didn’t even know that DP meant director of photography or what a grip is. (laughs) He was teaching a lot of stuff that was really for someone that was advanced and already doing it for a living. Fortunately, they gave us a download of all the videos of the whole course. It’s something that I’ve been able to refer back and forth to over the years. But that was about the only formal training I’ve had. Everything else was trial by fire.

I remember having my first crew here, and they were literally laughing at me because I didn’t know the calls. And it was so intimidating that I didn’t even want to show back up on set. Because I was used to doing small stuff with my folks where I’d just say like, “And go!” “OK, stop!” I just did what felt right.

But somewhere there, I stopped being intimidated and I realized I was signing everybody’s checks. (laughs) And I was like, whether I’m calling the right calls or not, it’s your job to figure out what I’m saying, and give me what I’m looking for. And if you don’t understand, tell me. I’ll keep talking and keep talking until it works. And that’s when I had an epiphany, that the greatest part of being a filmmaker was leadership. And that was something that I was not a novice in. And once I made that transition, everything started taking off.

What was your first film/TV job?

I just started out writing a crazy script and it was just me and what I was doing. It was my feature film Soul Damage.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

The biggest thing that I’m working out is trying to create these 100 filmmakers in the next seven years. We’ve been doing a lot of producing of their projects, teaching them, like I learned, trial by fire.

I have just been hired to write a script for a TV series, and I’ve just finished the first couple of episodes. Between that, the Jxn Film Festival and the 100 in 7 project, that’s what I’ve got going on.

What can you tell me about this year’s Jxn Film Festival?

It runs from July 23-28. It opens that Sunday at the convention center with a free screening of The Wiz. We’re commemorating the 45th anniversary this year. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we have free screenings at the Capri Theater of the films entered in the festival.

Tuesday we have a master class on writing and on Thursday we have a master class on acting with Tonea Stewart. And on Wednesday, we’re very excited about this, we’re having what we call a Draft Day. We’ve partnered with this company that focuses primarily on sports films. They look to get athletes, people who have played some form of football or basketball, etc., and they train them as background extras, and they are cast for shows such as Bel-Air, Swagger and All American. We’re also bringing Ashley McFarlin back for the BEE Pitch Camp Tuesday through Thursday teaching people how to pitch their shows. We did an evaluation of last year to see what we can tighten up to make it even better. This year, she will be joined by Robyn Lattaker-Johnson, former head of unscripted programming for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). And then, of course, Friday we have the Black Tie Awards Gala.

What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?

How hard it is. (laughs) I think the most surprising thing is when you first get involved, you don’t realize how much actually goes into it. When I first started, it was hard to fathom that you can shoot a 12-hour day, and it was a good day if you got 3 minutes of your film from it. I think it kind of overwhelms people when they first see what all it takes to make you see and feel what we’re trying to get you to see and feel. But I think no one, unless you’re doing it, they don’t realize the effort it takes you to have, say, the art in the background that you may or may not pay any attention to, but it was all there to help create the feel. And how many people it takes to make that happen. I think that’s the thing that was most surprising to me.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

I see a little influence from everybody. I love Martin Scorsese. What he did in Casino, just visually. Steven Spielberg, his ability to tell a story, you know, to show and not tell. Antoine Fuqua, just his commitment to a project, his ability to get you involved emotionally. So, a lot of filmmakers have influenced me in some way. But those three first just off the top of my head.

How does being a Mississippian help you stand out in our industry?

At first, it’s like people will laugh and be like are you serious? Mississippi? And then once you come in and you hold your own, they’ll be like, wow, like you’re some kind of unicorn. Because people have these negative thoughts about Mississippi. And that’s what drives me to keep doing what I’m trying to do because I brag about Mississippi a lot. I am unashamedly telling people to their face that we have the greatest talent in the world. You can’t say entertainment without saying Mississippi. So, it’s ludicrous for you to think that we can’t do well in film too. So, I think it’s an attention getter to say, hey, this filmmaker is a Mississippian and he’s getting folks to come here to work with him. That’s the stance I’m taking now. If you want to work with me, you have to come here. And once they get here, they see that, you know, I’m not just talking. So, I think it helps because people have such a low initial expectation that it allows us to overdeliver and makes us look great.

If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

At first thought, I would say Tougaloo College because it means so much to me. It has so many great stories, not just its place in civil rights history, but just some of the amazing people that have come out of those gates. I would say more needs to be done there.

Favorite moment on set or with a project?

I can tell you a moment where I think I got it, where it all finally made sense. I was stuck on a scene. I didn’t know how to do it. And the actress that was playing one of the lead roles, she was just visiting the set, she wasn’t scheduled to be there. And when I saw her, my mind just clicked on how we can fix it. So we created a scene where the main character was having a flashback in this club and he thought he was seeing things and we used her. It kind of bridged the gap for the place where I was stuck. And what I got that day was something Quincy Jones said: “You’ve got to leave space for God to come into the room.” What clicked for me was that your script is a guide. But you’ve really got to keep the door open to allow things to happen that you didn’t plan. You’ve got to allow the story to tell itself and be open to whatever may come from where it may come. It ended up being one of the best scenes we had and one of the most powerful scenes that I shot.

What would you say to convince/encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?

I would simply say, budget your film for wherever else you want to go and come back and budget for here in Mississippi and make your own decision. I think there’s no question we’re more affordable. And our state is so film friendly. Take a look at IMDB and see all the films that have been made here recently. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just do a little research and the answer is clear.

What do you do when you’re not working on a film set (other jobs, hobbies, etc.)?

Aw man, I don’t do anything for fun, this is it. I’m either watching a movie or writing one. (laughs) I mean, I am kind of a fitness guy, I exercise a lot. I love boxing and combat sports. So usually me and my boys are either watching something or talking about fights.

What are your hopes for the future of the film industry in Mississippi?

My biggest hope for the future is for us to accomplish our goal, to make 100 filmmakers in the next seven years. Because if you create a force like that, you’re totally changing the trajectory of how films are made here and the perception of our industry, because now you got a hundred storytellers. We’re going to tell stories from our perspective. And maybe not all of them will rise to the level of say, Antoine Fuqua, but you never know, right? I’m banking on the future, man. I’m banking on us telling our own stories and being prepared to produce content that competes and excels anywhere in the world.

What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the film business?

Just go make a film. And that sounds cliche, but it’s the truth, the best way to learn how to make a film is making one. You can’t just read a book about swimming and know how to swim, right? You’ve still got to jump in the water. Sometimes we can be so afraid of failing that we don’t try. Failure is part of the process. And I think if I could just convince people that failure is part of the process, I think we could make more projects and we could be more successful with it. So, my thing is to tell them to just go make it, don’t have any inhibitions, and applaud your failures along the way because they can teach you way more than studying or hearing somebody else talk about it.

How can people reach you?

I’m Maximus Wright on all the social media platforms. And you can email me at maximus@soarpreneur.org.

CREW CALL: Short Film

Short Film – Lyrical Narrative 

Shooting near Bentonia and Greenwood

SHOOT DATES: August 12-21 (last day is a night shoot)  


All positions are paid.  Looking to create an intimate team who will work creatively and efficiently together. 

Please email shortfilmshoot2023@gmail.com with your resume. 

WRAPPED: Momma’s Boy

TYPE: Feature film



Trevor: 10 years old, male (caucasian). Close friend who supports bullying friend. Day player.

Young Isaac: 7-10 years old, male (African American). plays younger version of the lead male.

Veronica: mid-30s-40s  female (Latino). Beautiful, seductive ex girlfriend.

Vivian: 50s, female (caucasian). Savvy business woman.

Julia: 50s, female (caucasian). Uptight boss, called the witch of the office. 

Detective McNeil: 50s, male (any ethnicity). Detective. 

Darrin: 40s, male (African American). Blue collar worker, no nonsense abusive husband.

Lt. Tops: 50s, male (Caucasian). Military Lieutenant.

Sergeant Major Lee: 50s male (Caucasian). Military Sergeant.

Kayla: 18-24 years old, female (Caucasian). Playful, flirtatious that can pass for teenager . 

Young Kayla: 7-10 years old, female (Caucasian). Outspoken kid.

Officer 1: mid-40s male (any ethnicity).

Officer 2: mid-40s male (any ethnicity).

TENTATIVE SHOOTING DATES are July 10-23, 2023.

To SUBMIT, email info to headshots.psm@gmail.com.

Q&A: Damein Wash, Composer

On Saturday, June 17, as part of its ongoing celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Mississippi Film Office, along with OxFilm and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, will present a special screening of The Crisis at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson. The Crisis is a 1916 silent film that was shot in Vicksburg and is the oldest surviving film made in Mississippi.

The screening will feature a live ensemble performing a new original score for the film written by Oxford composer Damein Wash. It will also feature a presentation by Civil War historian Jeff Giambrone. For more details, click here.

We recently spoke with Wash about how this unique project came about and what inspired him when writing his score for The Crisis.

Damein Wash

What’s your background and what led you to composing?

I grew up in Hickory, Mississippi, and of course I was in band and choir in high school. But even before that, I was around music and making it from infancy, certainly in the Black church, where those things are handed down. As a matter of fact, I wrote my dissertation on “Glory, Hallelujah, Since I Laid My Burdens Down.” The church was my first experience with singing and making music. I studied clarinet and saxophone in band and was in the choir and all the ensembles that you can think of. I did everything musical that our school offered. I really took to it. I’ve always been able to sing on pitch. Though I also play piano and compose now, I’ve always been a singer first.

After high school I decided I wanted to go on to teach choir. I had the most wonderful choir teacher, and when you really admire a person, you want to do the same thing. I followed in her footsteps and studied choral music education, and I taught choir for five years. But even as I was going into college, I was writing music. I started arranging hymns and things like that for choir. I had written a couple of band pieces by the end of high school. When I first started taking theory in junior college—I went to East Central Community College—I started really writing to please my theory teacher, mostly for piano and solo instrument, or for voice. And I always loved that. I always wanted to write and be able to hand my music off and have people play it. But those opportunities were few and far between.

After I started teaching, I came to Oxford and went to Ole Miss and really jumped into it. After those five years of teaching, I realized I loved composition and music theory, so I resigned from teaching, and I saw some opportunities to write music for film. In 2013, I got work from a producer singing a song, and it ended up in a Hallmark film. That sort of catapulted me into that world of making music on commission for different projects. The next thing I did was I arranged a set of spirituals for Sony for their archives. I got the gig from the same guy that had me sing. He told them to give me a call because they wanted some spirituals from Mississippi. And man, those things just skyrocketed. They ended up in some really cool places, and I was like, I love this work. And the whole time, I’m getting emails from friends who are studying film and I’m writing things for them. I did things like a student horror film, a couple of documentaries. Ole Miss hired me to score their James Meredith film. I got to rearrange the song “Oxford Town” for that, which was really cool. And I just kept getting gigs like that, the whole time teaching and performing and doing as much other work as I could. Most recently, I finished my Master’s in music theory at Ole Miss.

How did you get involved with writing a score for The Crisis?

I have a really good relationship with the Oxford Film Festival. As a matter of fact, a couple of my earlier tunes that I’d written ended up in the festival. One was this pop tune that I had written, more of an R&B song from 2013 called “So Long.” It was my first little hit, as it were. The video for that ended up at the festival. A couple of years later, I had another video in the festival. And this was also in the same sort of vein of R&B. Last year I submitted an orchestral work. I had ten musicians record a piece I had written, and I fashioned a video around it and submitted that to the film festival. So that’s how they knew I composed. The following year I got a call from festival director Matt Wymer who presented this project to write a score for The Crisis.

What do you think is the importance of a score to a film?

It not only complements the visuals but it also helps tell the story. It shouldn’t take center stage but serve to enhance the work. In scoring The Crisis, it’s a silent film, so there were some moments that I felt should stay silent. But a great score helps to support the ideas and story and in some ways helps to move the action along.

What were your inspirations for scoring The Crisis?

I ended up using five different themes in the score. One was inspired directly by Ole Miss. I used parts of “Dixie,” which of course they don’t play anymore but it still was when I first came to Oxford and it would have been known during the film’s era. There’s this one fanciful arrangement where it’s tied in to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It was a good thing because you had the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which is very northern, and then “Dixie,” which is very southern. Throughout the piece you hear themes of both of those tunes. So that’s one inspiration that Oxford gave me, this dichotomy between the North and South.

Another inspiration was the black culture aspect of the film. There’s this one moment in the film where they’re at a slave auction and I used this very old gospel sort of technique that is based on call and response. I arranged that, and you’ll rarely find it in music notation because it was mostly handed down orally. And I’m proud to say that I was able to capture a little bit of that. Because it’s something that was near and dear to me, and it also, I think, really makes that moment heartbreaking. That is what spirituals, and later the blues were born out of, that sort of intense sadness, gravity and anger that the institution of slavery elicited.

But another aspect of the film is the fanciful romance that happens between the two main characters. And for that I pulled from my own experiences, and immediately thought of Gone with the Wind. So there was a little bit of that flavor in there too. And the other was ragtime, the music of the film’s era. Being here so close to Memphis, I pulled out an old W.C. Handy tune, an arrangement of sort of these rag times out of Memphis. It’s pretty much verbatim, but I sort of chop it up in certain spots. So that was another influence.

There’s this one moment when there’s the great debate between the two candidates, Lincoln and Douglas. I pulled from like the CNN debate type music. (laughs) There’s a couple times when I genuinely had fun playing with the themes. I also pulled from folk tunes of the time. I tried to fashion melodies after folk tunes that would have been played at these really high-end gatherings like you see in the film.

There’s some really interesting stuff that if you allow yourself to just really pick apart what you’re hearing, you’ll hear these influences in a lot of different spots. Also, I should mention there’s an actual hymn that is featured prominently in the film. It’s one of the main character’s favorites. I found that hymn and there’s several arrangements of it. There’s a couple times that only the strings play it, and there’s another time when the piano plays it alone.

What were the biggest challenges with doing this project?

When I was pitched the idea, I honestly didn’t have enough time to get all the work in. I worked my butt off to make the time constraints. I probably would have preferred to stretch it out over a few months to really dive into it, but I condensed it into one month. But luckily for me, that’s sort of how music in film goes, particularly for the typical scores for silent films of the era: there’s a blueprint. If it’s a sad part, you hear the sad music. If it’s romantic, romantic music, you know? That aspect honestly made me be able to make the time frame. There was a huge time constraint. So that was the biggest challenge.

And then, once I got that together, I had to make sure that I had players that in a short amount of time that could work up the music. Luckily, we’re right here at the university so I was able to pick up a few professors, master’s students and other really, really talented folks to bring the music to life.

What were your first impressions of the film when you started the project?  

At its core it’s this tale that is as old as time. You have this conflict between the North and South, and this romance that doesn’t go down between the southern belle and this northern statesman because they’re from different worlds. It’s a trope, it’s basically Romeo and Juliet. But that made it easier to write for. I didn’t really get as much into the nitty gritty of this film until I started writing and watching.

Did you find it surprising that basically an anti-slavery film was made in Mississippi in 1916?

I was curious about that from the beginning. Was it completely made public that the film was being made here and the nature of it? Most of it was filmed in Vicksburg, so I imagine it probably was. It is very interesting that they were able to pull that off. But the film still sort of portrays that bygone romantic version of the South, too, which we all know from Gone with the Wind. Which I absolutely love by the way, I love the music, the storyline, the acting, I love everything about it. So, I already had an affinity for this type of film because I remember sitting down and watching Gone with the Wind with my whole family when it was split into parts on broadcast TV.

Filmmaker Q&A: Demetrius Stear

Demetrius Stear

Demetrius Stear is the producer of The Getback, a throwback buddy action-comedy film that premiered exclusively on Tubi on May 19. The film was shot entirely on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

What initially drew you to Mississippi?

I grew up in the South and I love Southern hospitality. I was born in Peoria, Illinois, but I grew up in Kentucky. I was stationed in the U.S. Army at Fort Stewart, Georgia, which is just outside of Savannah. So, I’m pretty familiar with the South.

With this script specifically, I wanted to lean in to that specific quality you can only get with the South as the location. When I originally read the first draft that the writer Chad Law gave to me, I immediately thought, man, this would be great somewhere like Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi. And originally, we were set to go to Georgia. Then my line producer and I took the liberty and went down to Gulfport and Biloxi and scouted, just kind of on a whim. Even though I’ve been all throughout the South my whole life, I’d never been down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was like, let’s check it out there. One of the cool things we found is that there’s a few different variations of geography in Mississippi.

We came down there, and I fell in love with it. We met (Mississippi Film Office Gulf Coast Manager) Bill Webb and (location manager) John Read, and they welcomed our entire production crew with open arms and they really helped us on the entire project. Once we got a taste of that area, we were hooked, man. We’re coming back soon for another project.

In what ways did filming here help you tell your story?

One example is we use a lot of bluesy music in the movie, and we kind of leaned into the subculture that’s there around the music, and the blue-collar roots of it. There are some local musicians in the movie. The lead character, Mal Cooper, who’s played by Theo Rossi, he’s a very blue-collar guy. We really tried to lean into that as far as locations. And we also heard one of the big things you guys do down there in October is Cruisin’ the Coast, so there’s a lot of classic car culture too. I wanted to get some older cars into the movie, to give it a classic ‘70s movie feel. I’m a big fan of that retro vibe, movies like Jackie Brown inspired by those revenge-themed action classics.  So we tapped into the local scene and we’ve got a ‘78 Trans Am in the movie, a ‘70s model Cadillac and more.

What was the most surprising thing about filming in Mississippi for you?

Just how friendly the people are. Everybody was so kind, so generous. Bill and John were tremendous. We had a lot of local crew members. Our production designer Julie Toche, her husband Perry and her whole team—just our whole crew was phenomenal for us. They went above and beyond. I don’t know if we would have got the movie done without them. It just really worked out, like a perfect storm. This is a true indie film where everybody had a hand in it. And I have to thank the people at our locations like the Hancock County Correctional Facility and Club 34—the list could go on. We were fortunate to have a lot of people open their arms up and help us.

What was your favorite location that you used and why?

I really liked Snowball’s Service. It’s a local gas station, convenience store and mechanic shop. It’s just so true to Gulfport. He’s got a great story. He’s probably in his eighties, and he grew up there. I’m a big traditionalist kind of guy. So, anytime we can have a place that we can shoot at that is ingrained in the community and everybody knows about that’s always good for the movie, you know what I mean, because it’s real. I got me a T-shirt from Snowball’s, by the way.

What was the most memorable moment for you working on the film?

Ironically, the original title was Sweating Bullets, which we were doing at times, because there was a small hurricane that made landfall in New Orleans. And we got heavy thunderstorms and showers from that. Once it lightnings and thunders, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the weather. There were a couple of times we thought we were going to miss our days. But lo and behold, we leaned into the rain when we shot the movie. The rain you see during one of the scenes, I think it was at Snowball’s actually, it’s real rain, it’s not VFX. When you see the movie, it actually looks really cool. Basically, we took a negative and turned it into a positive.

I think when you have a little luck when you’re shooting a movie, you just know when you’re in for a good project, right? So I was very happy that we were able to get through that. At one point, when the hurricane hit in New Orleans and was coming towards Gulfport, we were shooting in a parking garage. We had to put the cameras up and had to put the entire crew and cast in a hallway of a condominium for like 3 hours until everything calmed down. I’ve never had to deal with a hurricane before while shooting a movie, so that was kind of unique, you know what I mean?

The Getback is premiering exclusively on Tubi, a free streaming service that has been branching out to offer more original programming. How did that come about?

I’ve done a few movies for them. I did a movie a couple of years ago called Lord of the Streets that did really well for their platform. They came to me and said, we want to do four more movies with you and your team. I pitched them this script, as well as Lord of the Streets 2 and a couple other scripts. They really fell in love with the script, as did I, and they gave me the green light to make it. They’ve had a few other original films, but I think this is one of their most anticipated original films for 2023.

I was excited. Once they gave the green light, I got Theo Rossi and Kim Coates—both from Sons of Anarchyand Dermot Mulroney (Scream VI), Shane Paul McGhie (Deputy), Sufe Bradshaw (Veep) and Treach from Naughty by Nature in the cast. They all loved the script and they were excited to be part of the project. We were off and running from there.

I really love what Tubi is doing. They do what’s called a AVOD model, which is advertising video on demand, and it’s been very successful for them. Fox bought them out a few years back and they’ve had a long-term plan. I’m excited to be doing a lot of projects with them, and they’ve instilled a lot of trust in me.