Bluegrass Becoming A Tinseltown, Too

If you’re searching for that big break to stardom, look no further than the Bluegrass State.

Though it was once common for aspiring actors and directors to move to New York or LA, many people from Kentucky are proving if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Within the last decade, Kentucky has become a stomping ground for filmmaking, with blockbuster movies like Secretariat shot at Churchill Downs, and local talent, such as Hollywood “it girl” Jennifer Lawrence, gaining international notoriety.

But recently, the emergence of independent filmmaking has swept the state and the festival circuit, as witnessed by the showing of local representation at the Derby City Film Festival, which will be held Feb. 17-19 at the Clifton Center.

Of the 56 films from 16 countries entered in the festival, 11 have some type of link to Kentucky. “This year there were just a lot of high quality films that are from Louisville and people who live here or are from the state or films that were shot here,” said Kristofer Rommel, co-founder of the Derby City Film Festival.

One such film is Mother’s Red Dress from Trinity High School alumnus, John Paul Rice. Though Rice now resides in Los Angeles, he will return to Louisville for the festival to showcase his full-length feature depicting the dramatic and dreary effects of child abuse.

“We are presently working with state and local organizations to promote the film as it relates to a survivor of child abuse,” said Rice, who got his start in film as an actor in Remember the Titans. “The goal was to tell an important story about the complexities of these issues and yet profile the incredible possibilities for human endurance, resilience and hope through healing.”

While Rice left the Derby City to produce film in Los Angeles, many people have remained in Kentucky to write, cast and direct their movies. In fact, some have even chosen to move back to Kentuckiana from New York and L.A. in order to pursue the film industry.

Tom Whitus of New Albany, Ind. returned home after living in New York, Los Angeles and Kansas City. The writer and director of Sam Steel and the Crystal Chalice, featuring Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame, will screen his film in the 8 p.m. time slot of the festival on Feb. 17.

“A good deal of (the movie) was shot in the Seelbach hotel and New Albany fire department,” Whitus said of the detective flick. “We shot at Aunt Artie’s on Main Street and Providence High School in Clarksville.”

Whitus won’t be the only festival attendee to have utilized the variety of scenery in Kentucky for his motion picture. Scott Stafford, of Frankfort, Ky. and producer of Bizarnival: Tuxedos in the Attic, also found Kentucky to be a prime location for his pseudo-experimental short film.

“There’s definitely a lot to see here,” he said. “Plenty of scenery and especially exteriors you cant find anywhere else. And there are great people here and great talent here.”

Stafford is so convinced Kentucky is perfect for filmmaking, he has no desire to ever ship off to Hollywood. “At one time, I had thought about it, going to grad school and a film school but it’s just not my personality,” Stafford said of moving to LA. “I think there’s a lot to be said about going out there but if you’re good enough I don’t think you necessarily have to. Robert Rodriguez (director of Grindhouse and Sin City) does all his stuff in Austin, Texas and I don’t see why someone can’t do it here. I would still love to be based here and grow a little cottage industry.”

Brian Cunningham, co-producer of Overtime, also utililized Louisville as a perpetual backdrop. “Everything is Louisville based,” Cunningham said of Overtime. “Louisville cast, Louisville crew.”

To his surprise, one cast member, former WWE wrestler and current resident of Louisville, Al Snow, sought out Cunningham and co-producer Matt Niehoff for the chance to audition for the lead role, which he won, in the comedy, horror film.

And, when it came to finding different locales to shoot, Louisville lent itself nicely to all the script had called for. “I think Kentucky is just about the perfect place to film,” Cunningham said. “We have different temperatures which is kind of a downside, but you’re within a 20 minute drive of very scenic landscapes and areas that are urban and everything in between. (You can) drive 20 minutes and shoot a scene that looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere and then shoot one in a downtown setting.”

While he lives in Louisville now, Cunningham has contemplated the move to L.A. But, he said he will always consider Louisville as a home base and like many of his fellow filmmakers, he believes Kentucky has become a land of opportunity for film.

“Something like Overtime I don’t think could be made in LA,” he said. “Here everyone will pitch in to help out. Every location we walked into, we were welcomed with open arms. (Matt and I) love the city, we love the people and think Louisville can be a really great powerhouse for independent films.”

For a full schedule of showtimes and more information on the Derby City Film Festival, visit www.derbycityfilmfest.com or call 502.454.7801.

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at aanderson@voice-tribune.com, 502.498.2051.

2 Responses to “Bluegrass Becoming A Tinseltown, Too”

  1. John Paul Rice

    Ashley, thank you very much for this wonderful article. We are proud to represent Kentucky as filmmakers/artists and this article shows the heart all of us have for our work and in supporting one another. Many thanks to you and your team. It should be a fun homecoming for all who enjoy making and seeing good movies.

  2. Angela Lee

    I do not understand why more major motion picture studios are not making films in Kentucky. I know competition can be high, especially since several states offer tax breaks to filmmakers, but the scenery (and history) here has so much to offer that perhaps more effort could be made to ‘sell’ the state to major film producers.

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