Ahead of its eighth year in 2016, the Offshoot Film Festival changed its name to the Fayetteville Film Festival and along with it, the festival's guiding mission. Where the Offshoot formerly accepted international submissions, the new Fayetteville Film Festival was focused on bringing together Arkansas' filmmaking community and providing commercial opportunities to Arkansas filmmakers.
In 2020, Fayetteville's Walton Arts Center wants in on the action.
"We're trying to help them build their audience, but also build film under our roof," Scott Galbraith, WAC vice president of programming, says of a new partnership between the two organizations.
On Jan. 18, the WAC will host a filmmakers showcase curated by the Fayetteville Film Festival to highlight the work being done in the Natural State. Each of the chosen short films were either created by Arkansans or filmed in the state.
"That's where we kick off our relationship" with the festival, adds Jennifer Ross, WAC director of programming. "We've always wanted to do some film -- and I think you might have seen that in our programming -- but it's mostly big, commercial film that we've been presenting. I'm really looking forward to exposing our patrons to more Arkansas filmmaking."
Ahead of the showcase, What's Up! got to know five directors and one writer as they discussed their process, the showcase and their goals for each film.
• Sophie Barnes (Little Rock)
- director, “Father”
• Mason Bowen (Springdale)
- director, “Before My Eyes”
• Whitney Butler (Calico Rock)
- director, “As Sisters, As One” (written by Matt Rogers)
• David Cruz (Conway)
- director, “Unos Huevos”
• Jordan Hunt (Siloam Springs)
- director, “Milk Aisle”
• Jamey McGaugh (Fayetteville)
- writer, “Chronic” (directed by Blake Elder)
Q. Tell me a little about your filmmaking background.
Barnes: I've wanted to direct films and stage plays from a young age, but it wasn't until high school that I had an opportunity to participate and create films rather than spectate. My decision to go to film school was a difficult one, but I don't regret it because we got films like this from that experience, and through it all, it furthered my career as an artist. After meeting the community and network I've built with my close friends, I know this is the right career path and was the right choice for me. Now I'm just ready to make bigger projects like feature films and television pilots.
Bowen: My interest in film began in high school when I fell in love with photography. I loved learning everything technical about cameras and began to delve into making videos with friends. Moving forward into college, I knew filmmaking was something that I was interested in, but still had little experience with. I started studying Digital Cinema at John Brown University in 2015, and soon found that I was passionate about making films. Throughout my four years at JBU, I directed several short films, worked on two local feature films, and worked as director of photography on multiple student films. Since then, I have worked as a freelance grip and videographer, as well as working as an in-house video producer for New Life Ranch, a camp in northeastern Oklahoma.
Butler: Growing up, I always had a passion for filmmaking and photography. I created my own film and photography business when I was 14 and continued it until I graduated college. I was a member of the Bryant High School yearbook staff and led our publication to be No. 1 Best in Show in the nation my senior year when I was photo editor. My passion for filmmaking expanded through high school and I decided to attend UCA to study filmmaking. My experience at UCA was something I'll cherish forever. I met friends I will work with for the rest of my career. I'm currently located in Los Angeles, working as a film and awards publicist where I get to be a part of sharing and promoting amazing films with the world.
Cruz: I was always obsessed with going to the theater; it was the equivalent to Disneyland for me. When my parents bought a camcorder back in 2009, I would use it randomly to record things or just go around the house and look through the viewfinder. I didn't start making shorts or experimental projects until I was at UALR. Last year, I finally decided to make my first narrative short.
Hunt: When I was a kid, I fell in love with theater and storytelling. I learned that I could be part of creating new worlds for audiences to enjoy and I was hooked. In high school, I took a film class and discovered that what I loved about theater could also be done through film and I wanted to learn everything about it! I worked hard to learn and create, and then began earning a Digital Cinema degree at John Brown University where I was able to really hone my filmmaking skills.
McGaugh: I am actually new to filmmaking. My experience in the arts was as a stage actor. I lived in New York City for many years and participated in the development and workshop process on a lot of new plays which piqued my interest in writing. That carried over to writing for the stage and eventually screenwriting. Filmmaking is pretty new territory for me.
Q. How did the idea for this film come to be? What steps of the development process were you part of?
Barnes: The idea came from a song from an artist that is close to my heart, and the script was written years before it was shot. That being said, I feel the heart of the film comes from experiences I had in the years prior to when production began, which not only changed the plot and added inspiration in my process, but also taking my time and waiting allowed me the chance to work with my most creative and thoughtful collaborators who helped immensely in making the project real.
Bowen: "Before My Eyes" was my senior thesis film for my Digital Cinema degree at JBU, and most of the film comes from personal fears and struggles. I started developing the film largely by visuals, then writing sparse dialogue to accompany the scenes I had envisioned. As we got closer to production and had cast our leads, Victoria Fox and Chuck Mere, they both provided feedback on the screenplay and characters. Both of them helped shape the film drastically with their experiences with acting, filmmaking and life.
Butler: It's actually pretty funny how this idea came to be. I was a member of a sorority on campus throughout college and I would always tell my best friends Missy Fowler and Matt Rogers, who are a huge part of this film, the crazy stories I would experience. They eventually told me to start writing all of them down and we started to develop a film from them. As we starting writing, it took us a bit to dig and organize everything to find the story that became "As Sisters, As One." I think over the course of development, we had written two feature-length films and about five different short films before shaping the final script. The main component that helped our writing process was finding our house that we shot at, because it created our entire world and we were able to really visualize the characters and the environment they were placed into.
Cruz: I had the burning desire to finally make something but I was scared and curious to what my capabilities were. I decided to write around my resources and used every location I had access to. I wrote all the characters around my family. They all acted for me and it was easier for me to direct them. I knew that the simpler the core of the story, the better it could connect universally. I grew up eating eggs almost every day so it all came together.
Hunt: To graduate from JBU, I had to do a senior thesis film. The basic idea came from wanting to find a way of humanizing a prison inmate to remind viewers that they are still human. Too often, society makes it nearly impossible for people who have been incarcerated to better themselves and I think that's wrong. I also was really interested in doing a period piece and I thought that the 1950's and '60s would be a lot of fun to try! Once I decided to set the story during the Civil Rights Movement, I knew I needed to incorporate themes of racism as the issues we explored still exist in today's climate. After coming up with the themes I wanted to include and the basic story, I wrote the screenplay. Once we had a script, I began pre-production and raised nearly $5,000 for the production budget. I chose my cast and crew and picked out locations. With the help of my antique collector grandma, I did all of the production design needed for a period piece. On set, I directed the film and then I was the lead editor. I was lucky to be able to have my hand in so many areas and enjoyed every step but there's no way I could have done it without the help of my amazing crew.
McGaugh: After Arkansas passed the medical marijuana legalization law, I was dismayed at how long it took the state to implement the program (almost 2 years after voters decided). The idea for this film was borne out of the fact that many people who were suffering and could benefit from medical marijuana were still being forced the break the law to purchase marijuana (even though voters made it legal) and the havoc that the opioid crisis has wreaked on Americans who could have had safer options for relief. I wrote the screenplay and then approached Blake Elder at Rockhill Studios to see if he would be willing to direct, and Rockhill would produce. Luckily, they liked the story and took on the project. They were fantastic to work with and Blake has a wonderful director's eye.
Q. Why is it meaningful for you to be included in this showcase that specifically highlights Arkansas filmmakers?
Barnes: Since I was born and bred in Arkansas, I really do consider myself a homegrown Arkansas filmmaker. Anyone who knows me knows that and it makes me proud to be a part of a group of filmmakers in Arkansas -- some of whom I know personally -- putting themselves out there, grinding for their cause, and changing the game for us young folks in the state and outside. I mean, how cool is it to be a part of a showcase like this with several of my good friends at age 21?
Bowen: Arkansas means a lot to me. I really love the beautiful state we live in and it's incredible to see the film industry grow around Northwest Arkansas. It's humbling and exciting to be a part of an event that shows people that we can make great films in Arkansas. With this film being such a personal one to me, I am glad that it gets to screen again closer to home.
Butler: There's something about working in Los Angeles now that makes this Arkansas community even closer to my heart. I believe that our filmmakers in Arkansas have such special stories to tell and unique ways of telling them. I'm so thankful to be a part of this showcase and hope it encourages others to tell their stories through filmmaking.
Cruz: I'm honored to be in anything, and it is very overwhelming for me, yet it excites me to know that Arkansas wants several voices heard. It's encouraging for me as a creator to know I can make shorts with Spanish subject matter here, especially since there are so many stories that can be told.
Hunt: I feel really honored to be a part of this showcase because I am proud to have been born and raised in Arkansas! Almost all of "Milk Aisle" was filmed in Arkansas (with a few scenes filmed in Oklahoma) and most of the cast and crew are Arkansas natives. It's so exciting to be a small part of the growing film industry here in Arkansas.
McGaugh: I really want to be a part of the front line of the film industry that is primed to grow significantly in Arkansas and the region in the coming years. I'm so appreciative to be included with this group of films.
Q. What did you learn or experience during the filmmaking process that will affect your craft moving forward?
Barnes: Sometimes it's best to keep your personal life and filmmaking life separate, even if those people close to you are some of your best or closest collaborators. Those people can stay in your lives, they just don't necessarily have to work on your films. In addition, it helps to reflect on how the film was made element by element, and understand truthfully what could have been done better. There are several things in the film we could have accomplished more efficiently with more collective energy that was wasted, but in the end, it's done and we can watch it and reflect and move on.
Bowen: I learned too many lessons to count, but one of the most significant things I learned is how challenging it is to bare yourself through the medium of film. Because of film being such a collaborative process, if you are making films that are intended to be intimate and raw, you have to be transparent and vulnerable with those you are working with. Then you screen the film and hope to see that people connect with it. It's a painful process, but rewarding.
Butler: In the script, there's a scene where all of the members of the sorority sit at a long table and a speech is given. That was originally written to be outside of the sorority house in the lawn, but it ended up raining that day so we had to scramble for an alternative plan. My 1st Assistant Director, Payton Perkins, and I were trying to think of where else this scene could take place and we came across a green house that ended up making that scene one of our favorites because it was so unique. I learned that no matter how much planning and pre-production you do, there will most likely always something that will not go as planned, so it's crucial to be able to think on your toes and be flexible while you're in production.
Cruz: To take every scene with proper care and be ready to adapt if ideas come, because new and better ideas can blossom spontaneously on location. The actual ending was changed the day of shooting. In a way, you cannot predict what is to come in the story even if it's written, it will speak to you and answers will still unfold.
Hunt: The most important thing I learned was how valuable a good cast and crew is. Every single person that worked on "Milk Aisle" brought their own special skills and talent and worked together for one common goal and it's humbling to know that without them, this film that I'm proud of wouldn't have been what it is.
McGaugh: The ability to capture a moment, a feeling has so many different ways to be conveyed depending on a vast array of choices from lenses to lighting. It forced me to think bigger, more creatively, even.
Q. Ultimately, what do you hope comes out of the making of this film?
Barnes: I hope I truly am able to learn from the entire process from inception to the festival circuit and do it better next time, but also honor my next film with the same amount of passion and drive I had when I made this one.
Bowen: I hope that people who see the film connect with it, feel emotions that they aren't always comfortable feeling, and maybe think about life and other people a little bit differently. I hope also that this film encourages me to continue filmmaking. The production process was so challenging, I kept jokingly swearing that I would never make another film again. Seeing the success of "Before My Eyes" is very encouraging because people have shown me through their responses to the film that the hard work was worth it.
Butler: I hope it enlightens people to step out of their comfort zone and to play around with genres. We were constantly told in school to tell our own stories because telling the truth is the best filmmaking, and I completely agree. Sometimes it's easy to get stuck in wanting to create a whole new reality for a film, but our own realities can be the most fascinating if you look deep enough. For this film, you might see a crazy, maniacal group of young brainwashed girls. But for me, I just see my college sorority.
Cruz: I hope people know that many different voices can be heard, no matter where you come from or how you live your life. This story is actually part of a series that I am putting together.
Hunt: During the making of "Milk Aisle," I knew how lucky I was to be produced through John Brown University. I had free access to tons of high-quality gear and lighting and my friends and classmates were other aspiring filmmakers who were willing to join me. I knew I didn't want to take this opportunity lightly so I really dove into the project and tried my very best to make it something that could represent everything that I had learned as a filmmaker so far.
McGaugh: I really intended for this film to be a proof of concept to prove I could get it done, and to hopefully frame this short as "one chapter" of a larger story. So, selfishly -- more opportunities to make more films. But, from a socially conscious angle, I truly hope that people take a moment to consider changing their mind on an issue they may have strong feelings against. They say an issue doesn't affect you until it affects you, or it's not a problem until it is my problem. I hope it will stir some empathy and maybe change a few hearts and minds.
Arkansas Filmmakers Showcase
WHEN — 8 p.m. Jan. 18
WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST — $15
INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org, fayettevillefilmfest.org
BONUS — A moderated Q&A will immediately follow the screening.
“Unos Huevos” (15 mins)
• A boy skips his trumpet recital and instead he has a day exploring the town and running into trouble.
“Father” (15 mins)
• A man under the influence experiences a series of strange encounters as he is haunted by three women of the past and present.
“As Sisters, As One” (14 mins)
• Elise struggles to maintain her grip on reality as the position of president of her sorority comes within her grasp.
“Milk Aisle” (22 mins)
• This film, set during the Civil Rights Movement, shares the story of a young black man who is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and the letters he shared with a young woman named Ruby Sanders.
“Chronic” (11 mins)
• Sparky Ledbetter is a lonely man. He’s a former cop facing his own mortality. This slice-of-life short gives us a quick peek into Sparky’s morning routine and the complicated relationships he has to juggle.
“Before My Eyes” (13 mins)
• A reminiscence of a flawed relationship through the eyes of a grieving woman and a regretful man.
NAN What's Up on 01/12/2020
Print Headline: Sharing The Screen