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VOL. 125 | NO. 191 | Friday, October 1, 2010

Memphian to Screen Feature Film

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Jason Weter isn’t the first Memphian to fund creative endeavors through his day job, but with the creation of a new feature film, he hopes to start doing both at the same time.

Weter’s homegrown film production company, Cellardoor Cinema, will present its new 91-minute drama, “Blind People,” Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Evergreen Theatre (formerly Circuit Playhouse).

Weter started Cellardoor Cinema as a one-man operation in 2005 as a theater student at the University of Mississippi. He filmed concerts and local music videos before moving to Memphis to study film at the University of Memphis.

Weter graduated with his film degree last year and went right back to study Japanese and architecture for personal interest.

His business now focuses on web-based commercials and occasional film projects.

“Mainly the advertisements we do are web videos,” said Weter. “I have done TV and cable broadcast commercials before, but the majority are web-based and go on the business’ website or Yellow Pages listing or Citysearch.”

Weter now employs a crew of five on a contract basis depending on the size of the project.

Most of Weter’s commercials are styled as mini-documentaries in which business owners are interviewed and profiled with B-roll of the business at work. To increase the shelf life of the commercials, he avoids listing prices or special deals unless it is requested.

The recession of the last two years impacted advertisers citywide, and Weter wasn’t immune to its effects, but he said things have picked up in the last few months.

“We average two to three commercials a week, which is normal,” said Weter. “Earlier in the year, we were down to maybe only one commercial a week.”

Cellardoor clients include local small businesses and some national franchises – Shelter Insurance, Nationwide, HDTV, Olive Branch Suzuki and Yamaha, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Corey B. Trotz.

Next year, Weter plans to make more of a division between his creative work and his small-business commercials.

“Blind People,” which Weter wrote and directed, is a three-year-old project filmed last year entirely in Memphis.

It stars University of Memphis student and local actor David Hammons as Ray, a man who wakes up one day and realizes his life is not where it should be.

Weter mixed in liberal amounts of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus into Ray’s transference of self-hatred onto his friends and loved ones.

“It argues against suicide as any kind of solution to problems,” Weter said. “I tried to define suicide in the movie as Camus did when he said that it’s following life’s problems to their emotional end, not their logical end.”

Ironically, “Blind People” represents the long-awaited return of film life to Evergreen Theatre. Originally built as a movie theater called The Ritz, Evergreen has been home to stage productions for the last 30 years.

Fred Harpell, who manages the theater for its owner, Playhouse on the Square, said the theater purchased a new screen and a digital projector in September so the venue can once again show films.

This followed the successful showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on a rented projector and a white muslin sheet earlier in the year by the improv comedy group Freak Engine.

“So the theater has come full circle,” Harpell said. “‘Cellardoor’ will be the first ones to use the new screen.”

Linn Sitler, film commissioner of the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission, said that Memphis is burgeoning with independent filmmakers who finance their projects the old-fashioned way.

“By nature, they are no-budget or small-budget filmmakers and lots of times they trade off on working on each others’ films – sometimes the crew is paid, sometimes not,” Sitler said.

“The guys in the newsrooms were all trying to beat the deadline for Indie Memphis and they said, ‘Linn, don’t you know we’re all frustrated filmmakers? We shoot and edit news footage for a living, but we all want to be filmmakers.’ I think it’s wonderful.”

Cellardoor Cinema recently began working on filming one of two winners of their first screenplay contest, “Special,” by another University of Memphis student, Drew Fleming. Weter said the contest will become an annual event. The second winner, a mockumentary of a vampire extermination service by Duane Craig, will begin filming in January.

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