Several Tennessee Screenwriting Association members saw more contest success in 2021.
Congrats to MELISSA SHERIDAN! Her musical script “Finding Christmas” was selected as a finalist and her animated script “The Adventures of Sock Man and The Lost World” was picked as an award winner in the Beyond Entertainment Family Film Festival.
ELVIS WILSON‘s feature script “Driving Top Down” was a finalist in the 2021 Vail Film Festival screenwriting contest.
MARK BROWN‘s TV pilot script “Redneck Army” and TOM WOOD’s script, “Sunday in Shanghai,” both advanced to the Second Round of the 2021 Austin Film Festival screenwriting contest. Mark’s script “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” was also a quarterfinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship contest and is a second rounder in Launch Pad’s Feature Competition.
Don’t see your script on this list? Email us at email@example.com to list your 2021 screenwriting successes.
2020 Contest Results
Tennessee Screenwriting Association members placed in several contests in 2020. Check out these awesome success stories:
JEFFREY CHASE‘s feature script, “The Penetration Expert,” advanced to the quarterfinals round of the 2020 Nashville Film Fest in the Genre Feature category. The script — along with a second, “Phone Man,” — also placed in the top 100 of the Table Read My Screenplay Contest.
PAULA PHELPS WEAVER‘s feature script “The Lion in Winter County” advanced to the quarterfinals round of the Nashville Film Fest in the Tennessee Writers category.
G ROBERT FRAZIER‘s comedy pilot, “Bill Fisher’s Trading Post,” advanced to the semifinals round of the 2020 Nashville Film Fest in the Tennessee Writers category.
JAY WRIGHT‘s short horror script, “The Siren,” advanced to the semifinals round of the 2020 Nashville Film Fest in the Tennessee Writers category
MARK NACCARATO‘s drama pilot, “The Exodusters,” was a finalist in the 2020 Nashville Film Fest in the Tennessee Writers category. The script is also a quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft TV Pilot Contest.
IRISH JOHNSTON‘s short script, “Seismic Attraction,” advanced to the semifinals round of the 2020 Nashville Film Fest in the Shorts category
“Kings of Mississippi” by JAY WRIGHT & G ROBERT FRAZIER advanced to the semifinals round of The Script Lab screenwriting competition, making it one of the top 300 scripts out of almost 13,400 entries.
TOM WOOD’s screenplay, “A Night on the Town,” co-written by Michael J. Tucker, advanced to the semifinals of the Southeastern International Film Festival. The script was a finalist in the Peachtree Village International Film Festival. Tom’s script, “Death Takes a Holliday,” is a semifinalist in the WeScreenplay Shorts Contest.
PATRICIA SMITH‘s feature, “I Was Beautiful,” advanced to the quarterfinals in ScreenCraft’s Drama Competition.
Congrats to all our writers on their accomplishments. Did we miss yours? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In the small corner of the galaxy known as Nashville, Tenn., writer/director Mark Naccarato hopes to make big waves with The Romulan War: A Star Trek Fan Production. Mark recently shared his story behind the film, his love of filmmaking and screenwriting with the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, of which he is a member.
What got you interested in writing and filming movies?
MARK: In a nutshell, if you’ve ever seen the sitcom The Goldbergs, I was kind of like Adam Goldberg. I was pointing an 8mm film camera or a VHS camcorder at people all the time growing up and made a bunch of stupid kid films that are now in a landfill somewhere. In college, I studied communications with an emphasis in film and video production. When I moved to Nashville, I worked at multiple TV stations, production houses, and post-production companies as a full-timer and as a freelancer.
And even though I’d always written scripts or ad copy for projects, I never took a whack at actual screenwriting until I found out that the Star Trek franchise was accepting unsolicited scripts from writers without an agent. So I took a screenwriting class at Watkins College – it was actually the first year they had offered a film program – wrote a spec script for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, mailed it to the studio, and that was that. I never expected to hear from them again – they received about 2,000 submissions that year. A couple of months later, their production office called me and I was on a plane to L.A. to pitch Trek stories on the Paramount lot!
The Romulan Wars goes illustrated. Check out the Holocaust comic here.
The very first pitch I threw at them – they had a story just like mine already in development! Producer Hans Beimler literally told me, “if you’d have been here a month ago, we’d have bought that story from you.” Anyway, they were impressed and asked me to come back when I had more material and I ended up pitching to Star Trek: Voyager three times over the next year. One of the Voyager stories, which I pitched to a young writer on the show named Bryan Fuller (who would go on to be a showrunner for Hannibal, American Gods, and Star Trek: Discovery) came close to being bought but they said no literally at the last minute because mine was a comedy and they’d already hit their “quota” on comedies that season. That’s TWICE with the near-misses!
Anyway, after my Trek experiences, I decided to make a short film, so I wrote/produced/directed The Crusader. It was made on a shoestring budget but looks like it cost a lot more than it did because I called in a lot of favors with friends and co-workers that I’d worked with over the years in the local TV/video scene. The Crusader was very ambitious. It had fight scenes, stunts, gunplay, and a couple of big crowd scenes that, frankly, I have no idea how we pulled off. It was also pretty ahead of its time. I made it in 2002 and it was a superhero movie framed as if you were watching it as an episode of a true-crime reality show! The Crusader is one of the only films I’ve made that I will actually let people watch and we actually sold a ton of copies of it out of the old Tower Records on West End.
After I finished The Crusader, I got married, got a whole new career, and had a bunch of kids – which means that I didn’t have time for anything related to filmmaking for about a decade… until I started dabbling with The Romulan War.
Obviously, you have a deep love for all things Star Trek. What is it about Star Trek that excites you so much that you’d want to make your own fan film?
MARK: Well, I’ve been drawn to Star Trek since I was a kid watching the original series in reruns back in the ‘70s and what initially drew me to it were the cool ships, costumes, and the colorful characters. When I got older, I grew to appreciate Trek more based on its ideas about peaceful solutions to problems, logic, and what humanity could be if we could get our act together.
For the uninitiated, let’s start with a brief overview of The Romulan War and where it fits in Star Trek’s continuity.
MARK:The Romulan War takes place in the “prime” Star Trek universe we know from all of the TV series. It is the year 2155 when our story begins, which means it takes place during the era of Captain Archer from the series Enterprise. As die-hard Trekkers know, the Earth-Romulan War is the pivotal event that leads to the creation of the Federation, but the actual war itself was never depicted on the series. In theory, the story we are telling would have been seasons 5-7 of Enterprise if that show hadn’t been cancelled.
Rather than film a narrative feature about the war, you’ve decided to tell this in a sort of documentary fashion. Tell us how that approach came about.
MARK: A few reasons. The first is that when I came up with the concept for TRW, the idea of an “in-universe documentary” hadn’t been done before in Star Trek – even in the fan film community. The second reason I went with a documentary format was because I had been editor in the TV and film industry for years and knew all the ins and outs of that kind of storytelling. The Crusader, for example, used a variation on the documentary format. But the biggest reason I went with a doc approach on TRW was so that I could control production costs with a small cast and crew and limited sets and locations. I could also keep things episodic where stories could change or be added without major disruption in the rest of the production.
You’ve had several people step up to assist in various phases of this project, from screenwriting to acting to costumes and special effects. Can you elaborate on some of that?
MARK: Principal photography was done in Nashville at 1085 Studios with a skeleton crew. Our Director of Photography was Denise Kerlikowske who worked with me on The Crusader, but whom I also used to work with at a local TV station. Local film pro Sheri DiGiovanna did our costumes and I think three other things I didn’t know about until after the fact! Our production crew was rounded out by the amazing Aubrey Erin and my daughter Sophia, who was on her first film set. We were also lucky to have fellow TSA member Elvis Wilson lending us his considerable talents and charm to The Romulan War.
We have over a half-dozen people working on our CGI and FX work and nearly all of them are based overseas. Leading the team is Samuel Cockings. Sam lives in England and he’s a fixture in the Star Trek fan community as the co-host of “Trekyards,” a web series that explores all the ships and design from Trek and other sci-fi franchises. We also recently added a Second Unit led by Aaron Vanderkley – a fellow fan filmmaker. He and his team are based in Perth, Australia, and they did some amazing work for us that raised the bar on the scope of the project.
All of our main cast members are based in Middle Tennessee. That includes actors Rob Wilds, Jeff Allen, Ethan Jones, and Katherine Morgan. Actor Marc Mazzone – also from The Crusader – plays the Romulan emperor and he is a delight to watch.
The TSA basically scratches my networking and creative itches at the same time, so I keep going back whenever I can. Plus, I think that under most circumstances, the group offers some great feedback that you might otherwise have to pay a lot of money to a script consultant for. — Mark Naccarato
What’s the status on filming? Are you getting close to the finish line?
MARK: Well filming is done but we are knee-deep in post-production. That means editing, sound recording, color tests, graphics, art, and scoring. And the CGI special effects. Wow, those effects take a long time! Samuel’s team is moving at a good clip, but it’s a LOT of work. We’ve got a bunch of new starship models that are original for our production, so that’s a lot of hours of design. The FX shots have to be storyboarded or pre-visualized before we light them properly, animate, and render them. We are going to end up with, I think, around 150 CGI shots by the time we’re done… that’s about as many as you’ll see in an entire season of “real” Star Trek! And then we also have everything that goes with the green screen footage: the virtual sets, compositing, color grading, etc.
So to answer your question… YES, we are getting to the finish line, but it’s a major undertaking for the amount of time and money that we have been working with. Having said all that, I really do think we can be ready to release the film in the spring if everything goes as planned.
You did some online fundraising, right?
MARK: We were on Indiegogo and are very proud of the fact that we were the first Trek fan film in about three years to raise over $10,000. We actually beat our Indiegogo goal, but since that happened we’ve had some other production costs come up that we hadn’t budgeted for. So yes, we are still gladly accepting contributions for TRW on our Indiegogo page! For the record, the Indiegogo campaign, believe it or not, was one of the most stressful things about this whole production. There are a lot of things I never saw coming and it takes an insane amount of time if you are going to actively promote the campaign. It is almost a full-time job for 30 days – not to mention all the prep work that has to happen first before you even launch, like making a pitch video, building your campaign page, planning out your perks and a hundred other things. I strongly recommend people do their homework and have a solid team helping you like I did on any kind of Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaign or you’re going to lose your mind.
You’ve posted a lot of extras to YouTube and to the web. Can you talk a bit about how those extras came about and where folks can go to see them?
MARK: We have produced several audio episodes that tie into our film’s story. These episodes are kind of unique in that even though they are audio dramas, there are also video versions of them that people can watch on our YouTube channel. We are also planning some other content that helps us expand the story which will be released when the film itself comes out. Our Indiegogo backers have been and will continue to get the first sneak peek at everything before we release it to the public. We have a Facebook page too and that’s usually where we’ll post all the latest updates.
CBS/Paramount has some strict rules about what can and can’t be done regarding fan films. What were some of the restrictions and what kinds of challenges have those presented to the story you want to tell?
MARK: Well, by their own admission, the folks at CBS have said that those are “guidelines, not rules” and in their defense, they have so far been pretty fair to the filmmakers – myself included – since the guidelines were put in place. The challenge the guidelines have presented to this project is their seemingly arbitrary restriction on the length of the project. They prefer 15-minute stories, but will allow two 15-minute segments to tell one story. TRW was written and filmed to be a feature-length project, which means making a lot of hard decisions that compresses what should have been about a 75-minute production into essentially 30 minutes! Aargh! A lot of the “extras” you mentioned earlier are really ways for us to tell these other parts of the story while staying in compliance with the studio guidelines.
And big question here, why are you dabbling with someone else’s intellectual property when you could be doing your own thing?
MARK: Good question. First, as a lifelong Star Trek fan, I’ve always wanted to see the origin story of the Federation. The Earth-Romulan War is arguably the most important chapter in the Star Trek “history” and yet, we’ve never seen it realized using pro-quality special effects and acting on a grand, epic scale. Star Trek has been a major influence in how I view the world and my hope for what humanity could become if we embraced the better angels of our nature and this was my love letter to it. I’d also like to think that when it’s finished, that TRW will be seen as the definitive version of that period of the Trek timeline. If not “canon,” then the next best thing.
Second of all, I actually do have other original projects I am working on that are completely unrelated to Star Trek or sci-fi! They are coming along at various stages of development – including the occasional false start that some TSA members have had the misfortune to witness at the weekly meetings! So yes, I have my own original material and hopefully you’ll be hearing about some of it before long.
You invited members of the TSA to write some of the extra pieces for the project. How did that go?
MARK: A few months ago, I did an “open call” for TSA members to submit their 3-5 page script using the TRW concept that we would try to produce as an audio drama and which tracked with our main story. I gave them some parameters about what kind of stories I was looking for and the format. Bob Giordano wrote a two-part mystery tale called “Sleep Is Hard to Find” which was performed by another TSA member, actor Drew Dunlop. That story has gotten some great feedback and we might produce at least one more of the stories that was submitted by a TSA member… we’ll have to wait and see. I have three of my own stories that are in the pipeline first and it is really just a matter of finding time to get all of this done.
And finally, what do you enjoy about coming to TSA meetings?
MARK: I enjoy the people who are there, I enjoy the whole concept of sharing creatively with other people to try and improve the work, and since I don’t work full-time in the video and film industry anymore and have a lot of time commitments, it’s the one time a week where I can “plug in” with local creative folks – even if I don’t always have something to read or to give feedback on. The TSA basically scratches my networking and creative itches at the same time, so I keep going back whenever I can. Plus, I think that under most circumstances, the group offers some great feedback that you might otherwise have to pay a lot of money to a script consultant for. You have to take everything with a grain of salt and factor in people’s knowledge and skill levels, but by and large, TSA members give solid feedback that’s useful if you’re willing to listen to it and internalize it.
Tennessee Screenwriting Association members are fortunate to be able to draw upon the vast knowledge and experience of Bob Giordano when it comes to learning about the ins and outs of the craft of screenwriting. An instructor at Watkins College of Art, Giordano is a past TSA president and current board member. He is fresh off his directorial debut for his thriller movie, The Odds, which capped a successful festival run over the summer as the closing film at the Raindance Film Festival in London. We recently talked with Giordano about the movie as well as the TSA.
Who is Bob Giordano and how did you get interested in screenwriting?
BOB GIORDANO: Like most filmmakers, I have always been a fan of movies. But earlier in my life, my creativity was expressed through the visual arts…drawing, painting, and the like. However, a couple of years after I moved to Nashville, I was invited by a friend to attend the TSA. I quickly felt an affinity for the screenwriting process, and I’ve been immersed in it ever since. I’ve attended seminars, conferences, and classes. I’ve read dozens of books about screenwriting and hundreds of screenplays. And I’ve analyzed a multitude of pitches, synopses, and script pages through attending the TSA.
About 10 years after I’d gotten involved in screenwriting, I’d won and placed in several prestigious competitions and had begun working with Hollywood producers and professional writers, bolstering my credibility. I have a friend who was teaching a screenwriting class at Watkins, but something came up and he had to drop out. He asked if I would be willing to take over — I said I would, the director of the program at Watkins approved it, and I’ve been teaching there ever since.
THIS JUST IN…
The Odds has picked up distribution deals in the U.S., Japan, Australia, the UK, Scandinavia, and Brazil
After several years of teaching about screenwriting and writing scripts, what prompted you to helm your own movie?
BOB: Most aspiring writers know that getting a script sold is a tough task, especially if you don’t live in Hollywood. I had written several micro-budget scripts over the years, but finding people with the money to buy those was as tough as selling them to Hollywood. It seemed to make sense that if I could find an interested investor, I might as well direct a project myself. Writer-director hyphenates get a decent amount of respect in the industry, so it was an enticing move. Of course, directing a film requires a lot of different skills than writing, so I engaged in a course of study about that particular job, absorbing everything I could, including directing my own short films as well as helping friends with theirs.
The Odds, has had quite a run on the film festival circuit this summer, winning a number of awards and finishing up as the closing night film of the Raindance Film Festival in London. As this is your first feature film, what has this level of accomplishment meant to you?
BOB: There is nothing that satisfies you creatively in the same way as when a group of people who don’t know you, and who don’t owe you a damn thing, watch your film and appreciate it. When you’ve created something that appeals to people in different countries and cultures, you’ve made a connection that surpasses any hopes you had when you were sitting in front of a monitor attempting to write dialog that doesn’t suck.
What are you most proud of? The script or the film?
BOB: The two are inseparable to me. That being said, the purpose of a script is to become a film, so if the film works, it is the highest presentation of the story.
What challenges did each present to you and how did you overcome those challenges?
BOB: The script challenges were mostly due to self-imposed restrictions. I wanted a single location, two main actors, and limited effects. Also, the plot was about two strangers, so how do you make that relationship have depth and meaning? I developed a plot that would basically work (usually the easiest part), but the real difficulty is in developing characters that seem realistic and about whom the audience will care. I often will look at emotional arcs and conditions that people encounter in different situations in real life and see if I can use them as a foundation for character development. Once I considered the notion of a woman’s journey through an abusive relationship, it became the invisible thread that held the emotional storyline together.
The film’s challenges were about what you’d expect: how do you make it interesting to watch a film that takes place mostly in one room with two main characters doing a lot of talking? When I began to approach the film directorially, I began to think about the story much more visually than I had as a writer. I read a lot of books that analyzed different directors’ styles, and I watched a lot of YouTube videos about directing, prompting me to create a list of techniques that I could utilize in my film.
Storyboarding was an immense help, as it forced me to really look at how each scene would appear on screen. As a result of that process, I altered some of the elements of certain scenes so that they would be more dramatic on screen. I also made a conscious effort to change the blocking of the characters in ways that would accentuate the emotional tone of each scene. One of the most common mistakes I think beginning directors make is that they have their actors go through a scene, and the director shoots it as though it were a play. I made sure that we shot every scene from all reasonable angles so that the audience would feel like they’re in a 3-dimensional space. Also, we shot a ton of coverage; I had a rule in the edit room that we would never use the exact same shot more than two times in a row, and we mostly followed that.
Filmmaking is about collaboration. Who were your collaborators that helped make The Odds possible?
BOB: Everyone was a collaborator, and all were valuable. While I was writing the script, I had friends read it and give me feedback. I presented some of it in the TSA for feedback. I knew that the actors would be instrumental in making the characters come to life, so I wanted them to have input in their actions and dialog. I listened to everyone from the wardrobe person (Dina D’Argo) to the music (Leonard Wolf) and sound (Rob Wenner) people. That being said, the three most indispensable people were my friends and producers, Tom Steinmann, Alan McKenna, and Kelly Frey. They all had suggestions, but even when I didn’t do what they wanted, they had the (somewhat insane) faith in my “vision” to sit back and let me see the thing through.
What’s going on with The Odds now?
BOB: We have a great sales agent working for us, and she’s already secured both potential and real deals for the distribution of The Odds. There are some more possible fests in the future, but I can’t talk about those yet. I also have written a higher budget sequel, as well as a lower budget one in development.
What lessons have you learned with The Odds that can help you next time out?
BOB: Address problems right away. If you wait for them to work themselves out, you’ll be waiting a long time. Also, be careful when and how you take suggestions: it can be perceived that you don’t have an actual opinion.
You’re already at work on your next film. What can you tell us about it?
BOB: It’s more of a traditional horror film than The Odds — it’s called Gates, and it’s also a single-location film. However, this time we had a bigger budget to work with and a slightly larger cast (six people!). We’ve already shot it, and I’m working with my editor from the last film (Pete Kremer) who already gets my approach to this stuff. It has spooky stuff like demon possession and the end of the world. Very uplifting!
As a screenwriting instructor with Watkins, you bring vast experience and knowledge to the TSA that you use to help others in the development of their craft. How has the TSA been helpful to you?
BOB: The TSA is a fantastic sounding board for ideas at any stage of development. The members are all people who love film and are interested in the artistic side of the process. But unlike most groups, they also stay grounded in the notion that there is a practical side to filmmaking; whether you go the independent or Hollywood route, there are considerations that creators need to be reminded of as they forge a path into the world of screenwriting.
And when it comes down to it, screenwriting is about communicating ideas in the form of a story. The best writers have a group of trusted readers that will help ensure that their ideas are being communicated in the way they intended. The TSA is great at holding up the mirror to your script and reflecting what is working and what can be improved. Their feedback is honest, polite, and objective, but is never insulting or demeaning. Each member wants each writer to succeed.
I have brought (and continue to bring) my concepts and scripts into the meetings for feedback. We had a member about a year ago who I didn’t really get along with, personally. But he gave me feedback on a project that was absolutely valid, and that helped me make changes to improve my project. Good advice can come from anyone, and I am open to it, despite the messenger.
One last thing — listening to other people’s ideas and stories and analyzing them is a great way to bolster the objectivity you need to effectively write your own script. Any time I notice a problem in someone’s story, the first question I ask myself is: “Uh-oh… did I do that in MY script?”
Why should someone interested in screenwriting come to the TSA?
BOB: The TSA uses industry standards to inform its processes of analysis, which is crucial for a filmmaker’s success. They are also a friendly bunch of folks who will absolutely be the most forgiving and indulgent room you could ever hope to pitch an idea to. If you are serious about breaking into the screenwriting business, you will need to be able to discuss writing in general and your writing in particular, and the TSA is a great, safe place to begin that journey.
Nashville filmmaker/screenwriter Elvis Wilson’s FOGG pits a “cold and calculating sociopath” against a neuroscientist looking to cure such behavior in a tense, psychological thriller. The movie, which has had a successful run on the film festival circuit, is now available to rent on Redbox and from Amazon Prime. Wilson recently shared how the movie moved from script to screen and how the Tennessee Screenwriting Association was an integral part in its development.
Fogg was originally titled Empathy and actually won a script contest TSA did a few years ago. Talk a bit about the script’s genesis.
ELVIS WILSON: I got the idea for Fogg in 2013 shortly after reading a book by David Eagleman called Incognito. Eagleman dove into the processes of the brain and, in one chapter in particular, the processes of the amygdala – the bispherical part of the brain that’s home to emotions, feelings, rage and reason. The “spirit” stuff of what I think makes us the people who we are. Some of us are “normal” while a few of us are born with deformed, small, or malfunctioning amygdalae (some get their’s transformed by brain injuries or disease), and there turns out to be a correlation between this part of the brain and sociopathic behavior.
I made the leap and wondered what would happen if we were able to jumpstart the empathy circuits in these people, stimulate the amygdala, or even repair it. Sociopaths might have REAL feelings or emotions for the first time. Of course, supposing this could happen, I would also have to consider what the consequences would be if that cure didn’t take or fell apart. That’s how Fogg was born. At its heart, Fogg is just another “birth of a monster” movie with some real science involved.
How did the TSA contest inspire you to complete the script?
ELVIS: In 2014, I had the rudiments of the script idea floating around my head for some time, then it all coalesced when the Tennessee Screenwriting Association announced their annual screenwriting competition called “Make This Film.” I used that as motivation and the first draft was born under the original title of Empathy. I submitted the fourth draft to the contest and won!
At this point in time, I had made four short films and a feature documentary, Being Lincoln—Men With Hats (which was in rotation on The Documentary Channel, now defunct, for two years and had showings on Showtime). After winning at TSA, I convinced my wife (code for BEGGED my wife) to let me make the movie. With her blessing, we started first shots for the feature in November 2015.
How much input did TSA provide in terms of feedback, advice, etc. for the script? How valuable (invaluable?) was that to you?
ELVIS: Honestly, I couldn’t have done this without my brothers and sisters at The Tennessee Screenwriting Association. I work-shopped the logline and the synopsis during one of the meetings where, with the kid gloves off, the feedback was tough and eye-opening. Having minds that you can trust and that will honestly debate with you the mechanics of your work is not only invaluable, but integral to the completion of the work. Few of us can work in a vacuum to create, and I am certainly no exception. I crave input and validation, and more importantly, I need to know what works and what doesn’t in my story building.
One of the most helpful things was getting to critique and “re-build” the script with former Tennessean and professional screenwriter/filmmaker Robert Orr. He was SO generous with his time on the phone. It was fun having him see inside my head and then giving me a peek into his. That experience really opened my eyes at knowing when to cling, or not to cling, onto certain elements in your story. It’s not about being precious about specific story elements that come out of your head, but learning to serve the “whole” story.
The script’s success in the Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competition opened more doors for you, correct?
ELVIS: The Nashville Film Festival’s first-ever screenwriting competition in 2014 helped validate (at least in my mind) some of the stories and film ideas I’d been working on for about ten years. While I’d been busy making shorts and having a documentary get national distribution, many folks in the local filmmaking industry were like, “Who is this guy and where’d he come from?”
The surprise was, not only did Fogg do well, but three other scripts advanced at NaFF. To put the icing on the cake, my road trip script, Driving Top Down, won the Tennessee Screenwriting award at NaFF. That single-handedly created a buzz about my story building.
Ultimately, I had decided to go ahead and start filming Fogg. Kelly Frey (who I met at NaFF) came on board as executive producer and was invaluable to me getting my _ _ _ _ together. LOL! I was a mess. Just running and gunning. I met many of the folks that would work on the film the next two years at NaFF, but it all started on those Wednesday nights at the Tennessee Screenwriting Association.
Talk a little about your prior film efforts and how important that was going into filming Fogg. What were the challenges in filming your first feature?
ELVIS: Fogg was my first narrative feature (note that Being Lincoln was also a feature), but I’ve been in the advertising business for over three decades, so I’ve been on many sets and film locations and I came to making my movie with a basic knowledge about “production.” Making a no-budget feature, however, is a beast with many teeth and tentacles, each taking strips of flesh out of you simultaneously.
The first problem was, I had NO money. I started an Indiegogo campaign and raised about $3,000 to get started. That was helpful, but far from enough cash to get through a couple of days of filming. The second problem was getting good locations. Getting GREAT locations require, guess what, MONEY! I had to barter on many of our locations with businesses that needed or wanted motion content for the websites. So, that doubled the work. I had to create content for the business, then shoot there for Fogg…This was exhausting.
Another challenge…a few weeks into filming the first few scenes of Fogg, my father died. On top of grieving, work and family commitments, I was dramatically behind my own self-imposed schedule of when I wanted to be wrapped. But I struggled through. I don’t want sympathy about all this, but during the final few days of shooting in June 2016, my mother also passed away. I was crushed. I remember crying to myself on set, knowing eyes were on me from cast and crew. Writers and filmmakers need to know that this business is HARD and takes a lot out of you. Those who commit and have the love and support of their family and friends can get it done. You cannot do it by yourself. There is no such thing.
This brings me to what I call a “gift”…my cast and crew. Ryan Wotherspoon, Hayden Wyatt, Jeremy Childs, Wynn Reichert, Rodney Pickle, Sarah Shoemaker, JesseJames Locorriere and Susannah Devereux and others. Screenwriting and filmmaking friends, do yourself a favor and surround yourself with great actors and great crew. My DP, Tamara Reynolds, is my soul sister and spirit animal. I love her so much. Tracy Facelli, a filmmaking force of her own, was instrumental in keeping my sets safe and professional when she could join us, and Columbia State Community College’s Film Production program in Franklin provided us with great interns that worked their butts off for us.
You entered Fogg into a number of festivals and enjoyed some success. But, ironically, your film didn’t make the cut to be shown at NaFF, even though the script did so well in their contest. How did that make you feel?
ELVIS: Not being invited to screen at NaFF hurt. Not going to lie. But, I appreciate the festival and will always love and support it. I know I had folks inside fighting for us, but ultimately, we moved on to other festivals.
We had screenings in Canada, Russia, China and all over the U.S. We won several awards like the Best Thriller at The Golden Gate International Film Festival, The Audience Choice Award at The Knoxville Film Fest, Best Horror and Best Actor at The Bloodstained Indie Film Festival in Shanghai, China, among several others. Not bad for a no-budget little indie!
TSA: You have since managed to land a distribution deal with Fogg being available from Redbox and Amazon Prime. How did that happen and how does that feel to have your film out in the world now?
ELVIS: I can’t really talk about the details of our distribution deal (which is in the billions of dollars…which is also a lie but fun to say), but I was pleased to get calls and emails from reputable organizations that wanted to represent us. When approached by them personally, I deferred to my executive producer, Kelly Frey, to handle them. I think he took care of business nicely!
What’s next for you?
ELVIS: What’s next for me? I am ALWAYS thinking about the next story. If you want to be a writer or a filmmaker and you only have the “one” idea, give up now. You need to drown yourself in ideation. It’s part of the DNA.
I’ll be making up stories, painting, creating, no matter where I am or what station in life I hold. I am working _ _ _ _ out in my head and if I couldn’t be part of some creative process, I would definitely do something crazy like be homeless or run for political office.
But on a serious note, I hope you all get to see a Fogg 2 soon. Also, I’ll be heading to the 2018 Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriter’s Conference in October where my first every TV Pilot is a semi-finalist in the AMC-sponsored category of TV Drama. I am stoked about this! The producers that made Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are reading my material. Sweet! Out of 10,500 entries, I’m in the top 2 percent! I’m in the top 30 in the category. This is the best I’ve ever done in a screenwriting competition (my best was a top 15 percent in the Nichol Fellowship). Wish me luck into the finals!
Even with all that success, you still come to TSA meetings. Why?
ELVIS: I have NOT had a lot of success. I’ve had some, but I am struggling…every day. This is why I need my tribe. The companionship, the friendships, the support of my comrades in arms at the TSA, you guys always give me a charge when I desperately need it. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
To find out more about Elvis Wilson and Fogg, visit his websites at: