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VOL. 122 | NO. 12 | Thursday, January 18, 2007

When You Wish Upon a Star ...

Brewer chooses two young Memphis filmmakers to attend Sundance festival

By Andy Meek

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AND, ACTION!: Memphis-based filmmaker Craig Brewer is taking Daniel Carter and John Paul Clark - two up-and-coming filmmakers, also from Memphis - to the Sundance Film Festival because of an unofficial trailer they created for Brewer's latest movie, "Black Snake Moan." -- Photo Courtesy Of Paramount Classics/Bruce Talamon

Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer is returning this month to the scene of his Sundance Film Festival triumph of two years ago, when Paramount Classics bought the rights to his film "Hustle and Flow" for $9 million.

At this year's festival, he's premiering his follow-up feature, "Black Snake Moan," which opens in theaters nationwide on Feb. 23. And this time, he's bringing along two young Memphis filmmakers, in what for them will be the equivalent of watching the Super Bowl from the coach's bench.

John Paul Clark, a freelance cinematographer who recently graduated from the University of Memphis, and Daniel Carter, a screenwriter with a couple of semesters to go at U of M, won a promotional contest coinciding with the release of "Black Snake Moan," Brewer's new film soaked with images of the blues and the gritty side of Southern culture.

Cinderella story

Contest entrants were tasked with creating an unofficial trailer for the movie, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. They were given a few building blocks, in the form of quotes, music and images from the film. And the creator of the winning trailer, chosen by Brewer, was to be spirited off to the 2007 Sundance Film Festival - the largest independent film festival in the United States, held each year in Park City, Utah.

Some of the user-created "Black Snake Moan" trailers, to put it mildly, were little more than slide shows made up of static drawings and images. Seeing that is what made Clark jump into the project with gusto, assembling a crew of seven people, counting himself.

And last week, Paramount officials gave him and his creative partner the good news.

"This is such a great opportunity for us," said Carter, who produced the independent trailer and split the cost of making it with Clark on the grounds that if they won, they'd both go to Sundance. "We're going to have a good time at the festival and hopefully see and meet a lot of people."

Trip of a lifetime

The title of Brewer's new film was taken from a blues song recorded in the 1920s by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Filming took place mostly in Memphis, including on sets constructed inside The Pyramid arena.

And - no surprise - Brewer, whose film company, Southern Cross the Dog, keeps an office in Downtown Memphis, was thrilled to learn that both the grand prize and the first place winners in the make-your-own-trailer contest were Memphians. He didn't know that, he says, when he chose them.

Clark and Carter, both in their early 20s, won the grand prize, the trip to Sundance. First prize went to Rod Pitts of Pittstop Productions, a Memphis-based film production company. He'll get to attend the premiere of "Black Snake Moan," which Brewer said probably will be held in New York City.

"The fact they both are from Memphis floors me, because I did not know that when I chose the two," Brewer said. "The trailer was just another way to have fun.

"We knew that we eventually wanted to launch a very user-friendly campaign, where people could get into the movie, contribute, get in on the fun and then talk about it. The studio sees it as a marketing tool. I see it as, 'Oh, wow, we get to take two young filmmakers, one gets to go to Sundance, one gets to go to the premiere.'"

Snake in the grassroots

David Bennett, the former executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, told The Tennessean newspaper in October that "Black Snake Moan" made at least a $16 million economic impact on Memphis. The film originally was slated for release last September, but was bumped because of the hype surrounding another Samuel L. Jackson film with the word "Snake" in the title.

"Snakes on a Plane," the other Jackson film that attracted a cult following in advance of its release, opened in August.

Brewer said the team behind "Black Snake Moan," meanwhile, saw the create-your-own-trailer contest as a similar grassroots venue for promoting the film.

"We saw it as an opportunity to start laying the groundwork for how we want this to be a movie that a lot of people come to see and that generates talk and generates interest - and will probably generate controversy," he said. "But more than anything, I guess I'm just interested in creating opinions."

Clark and Carter shot their trailer on a budget of less than $300. And the trailer is a winsome addition to their growing resumes; Clark has shot six short films, two music videos and is currently in talks with directors around town to shoot some features this year. Carter, who's primarily a writer, has likewise been involved with several projects.

"The two trailers we chose both tell the story in a very interesting and provocative way," Brewer said.

Of the trip to Sundance for the grand prize winner, he added: "It's going to be fun. It'll be a big old party, but I want to show them around, and it'll be a blast."

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