WonderRoot gives indie filmmakers the red-carpet treatment
Organization's Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series explores the other side of 'ATLwood'
With the enthusiasm over casting calls and celebrity sightings, it's hard to deny that Atlanta's steadily making a name for itself in the world of major motion picture productions. But even before a 2008 revision to the Entertainment Industry Investment Act began to draw big-budget films to the state for lucrative tax credits, local independent filmmakers were intent on establishing Atlanta as a serious contender in the industry.
Today their work is available through WonderRoot's Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series (WRGLMIFS), a quarterly showcase of shorts, music videos, and experimental films. This season of WRGLMIFS features a lineup of ten titles from indie directors who represent Atlanta's film scene. Although these films are shot locally, they barely try to imitate what locals have referred to as "ATLwood" or "Y'ALLYWOOD."
Nathan Honnold, a Georgia State University graduate who majored in film, screened some of his earliest projects at WRGLMIFS, including last season's "Thomas Bennett," which later won the award for Documentary Short at the Atlanta Film Festival. "[WRGLMIFS] was just a great outlet for me to take the films I was making in my college classes, edit them, and have a way to show them to an audience that inspired me to continue working on them outside of school," Honnold says, adding that the fest played a key role in forming his relationships with future collaborators. Although Honnold connected with his occasional partner and fellow GSU student Alex Zhuravlov at school, it's common for networks to form at a screening.
WRGLMIFS screens its films at the Plaza Theatre, which really sets the tone for the evening. Zhuravlov, whose music video "Vessels as Shadows" will screen at WRGLMIFS, likens the experience to a full-scale movie premiere. "Even if they're small films, student films, it's still seeing them on the big screen in a movie theater," Zhuravlov says. "It gives that effect of importance."
For local indie filmmakers, feeling important is, well, kind of important, especially when Atlanta attracts marquee titles like The Hunger Games and the Fast & Furious franchise. The big names elevate the expectations that residents have for local films, even when those who make them are working with budgets far below the $500,000 threshold for receiving tax credit. But though filmmakers like Honnold and Zhuravlov must raise their own funds to finance projects, there are a few benefits to the rising profile of Atlanta that the indie folks also reap: education and esteem.
Darrell C. Hazelrig, a member of the film company New Puppet Order and a veteran of WRGLMIFS, which will screen his newest short "Apuppetclypse Now!", has taken advantage of the experienced crew members who now roam the city for work. "One of the direct benefits of having the movie industry here for the little guys is the education," Hazelrig says. "The people who are going to be the DP on your indie thing are a second AC on a major shoot, and they're going to be better from working in that environment."
Employing almost 23,500 people this fiscal year, Georgia's film industry seems like a good home for local indie directors, but that's not the full picture. "It's made filmmakers in Atlanta look better," Honnold says, adding, "but that's really to people who don't know what's going on. That applies more to union jobs." Although most local indie filmmakers don't have the finances to participate in an industry that's worth $5.1 billion in 2014 to the state, Honnold has found some use in the city's growing reputation for show business. "Even when you put something online," he says, "'Atlanta' carries more clout."
However, one problem facing the indie community is that local filmmakers don't form a unified entity, Hazelrig says. "You'll come across people and be like, 'Who are these people? I've never met them before,'" he says. "I wish it would get more cohesive. I'm always surprised over these pockets of other filmmakers who you'll never see at these events." Honnold says the film community in Atlanta is growing in terms of local participation but "it's mainly a film community because of people who are coming in from other cities."
But as for creating a more interactive community, the three filmmakers remain optimistic. "I think it's getting there," Zhuravlov says. "You have this really good art just waiting for this window of exposure, when you can find an audience and get somewhere with it. Then you can become a professional." But like his peers, Zhuravlov already has the professionalism. Now he just needs the community to back him up.