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VOL. 125 | NO. 189 | Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Indie Memphis Gets Boost with ‘Savage County’ Premiere

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Local actor and musician Jimmy Crosthwait is one of several Memphians cast in the webisode-style horror movie “Savage County.”
Photo: Tommy Kha

Indie filmmaker David Harris of Los Angeles is new to the world of feature-length films, but he fell in love with Memphis while shooting his first long piece on a shoestring budget here.

But to those in Memphis’ budding film industry, even out-of-state newbies are worth their weight in dollars.

Harris’ webisode-style horror film “Savage County” will premiere Thursday as a fundraiser for the 13th annual Indie Memphis Film Festival at Studio on the Square at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. Indie Memphis will be held Oct. 21-24.

“I always imagined going back to Texas to shoot there,” said Harris, who is originally from Houston.

“I started looking at Texas and how to put together a scrappy crew that could do a web series level production and realized that I was attempting to replicate the crew that Craig Brewer had on ‘$5 Cover.’ I called Craig and Erin (Hagee) and asked them how they felt about doing it in Memphis.”

Harris, who works for MTV New Media Film, co-produced Brewer’s highly acclaimed “$5 Cover,” which served as a fundraiser for Indie Memphis when it premiered in April 2009 before airing on MTV the next month. Brewer, a Memphian, garnered Sundance and Academy Award nominations for his second film, “Hustle & Flow” (2005), after his first movie, “The Poor and Hungry” (2000), lit up the national indie scene.

And that’s how the film business works, said Erik Jambor, executive director of Indie Memphis. One guy becomes a success in Memphis and leads others into the fold. The relationships that start small can mean jobs and economic development down the road.

“That’s why things like ‘Savage County’ that might be high-profile before the festival can help to draw attention and give us a platform to let (people) know that it’s a chance to be on the edge of emerging filmmakers,” said Jambor. “You could find out about the next Craig Brewer before he does a big film.”

Harris described his film as a true horror genre movie, though most of the gore is implied rather than seen.

“It’s not torture porn,” said Harris.

In it, a group of small-town Texas teens a week away from graduation decide to take an alcohol-laden romp through the countryside and accidentally kill an old man while prank-baiting him. The man’s family members then hunt them down one by one.

In Memphis, Harris found his triumvirate of psychopathic killers in local actors Jimmy Crosthwait, Patrick Cox and Jeff Pope, whose role was written in especially for him.

Memphis’ Makeshift Music got a number of local musicians including Al Kapone, Lord T and Eloise, El Dorado and the Ruckus, and Jung Shin to contribute songs to the film.

Most importantly, Harris was able to find scrappy, hard-working local crew members, most of whom were aspiring filmmakers themselves.

“When I’m working with people here it’s important that everyone be a filmmaker,” said Harris. “Just knowing those people and having those relationships makes it very attractive to work with people who understand holistically how a film is going to come together and what it takes to get it done when you don’t have a lot of resources.”

In fact, he described Memphis as a “karass,” a Kurt Vonnegut term for a place where people come together perfectly.

And that’s music to Linn Sitler’s ears.

“The people that were here for the film ‘Losers Take All,’ the independent feature that just wrapped about the fictional punk Memphis music band, this was Mike Ryan’s third project here,” said Sitler, film commissioner for the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission.

“Mike will do anything to bring a project to Memphis. One of our favorite producers, Michael Hausman, produced four films here and he would have produced four more at least except we didn’t stay competitive on a state level with film incentives.”

Sitler noted that in the last few years Memphis has lost out on major film and TV projects, including the movie “The Blind Side” and the TV series “Memphis Beat,” to Georgia and Louisiana, respectively, because Tennessee’s film tax refund incentives are not as liberal as other states’.

“Where we fall down is that with Georgia’s refund, you can get a whole lot more money back because they count out-of-state expenses like Sandra Bullock’s salary toward the refund,” said Sitler.

Bullock won an Academy Award for Best Actress for “The Blind Side,” which was set in Memphis.

In the end, Sitler said, a filmmaker has to really love Memphis to make a film here.

The full Indie Memphis Film Festival schedule has not yet been finalized. Jambor noted 7,200 people attended last year’s festival, an 80 percent increase over 2008.

This year the festival will run a screen at a third venue, Playhouse on the Square, in addition to Studio on the Square and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and will again have free screenings at the Levitt Shell.

Panels and workshops will be conducted as well.

“People don’t always know what to expect or what a film festival is,” said Jambor. “We always run into people who don’t know it was something the public could go to.

“It’s very much the experience of meeting filmmakers and if you’re a filmmaker yourself, how you can make better films and improve your career.”

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