News Column

North Carolina patrolman tackles roles as film producer, actor

November 16, 2013


Nov. 16--BILOXI -- Professionals in the film industry offered advice, opinions and encouragement to those attending panel discussions Friday at the Sun & Sand Music & Film Festival at the Saenger Theatre. Mississippi Film Office Director Ward Emling moderated the discussions, which included Darren Conrad, producer and actor; Mike McHugh, business agent for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 478; and Brent Baum, producer and director.

Conrad, producer of the shorts "Park Bench" and "Last Call of Duty," is a highway patrolman in North Carolina. He is preparing to shoot his first new media series, "Partners," in which he plays one of two officers in "a very character-driven police story." The seven-episode series, with each episode at 25 to 30 minutes, has a $30,000 budget.

"Even with the budget at $30,000, it's amazing the talent I can get," he said.

Coast actor Marco St. John has a role in one episode.

Conrad said he wants "to keep moving up the ladder" in the industry. He enjoys dealing with the business aspects, such as contracts and forms. There is one thing the theater major would change, however.

"If I could go back now, I would go to film school," he said.

IATSE Local 478 is a labor union that focuses on Louisiana and South Mississippi. The union was formed decades ago for theater stage crew members, eventually included projectionists and other movie theater employees and now has members involved in film production.

Baum, producer on a diverse selection of films including "Whipped," "Beautiful," "Thomas and the Magic Railroad," "Ringmaster" and "Bats," advised burgeoning filmmakers to "follow your dreams and think big. With your budget, try to go as big as you possibly can.

"Think big, and make movies you want to make."

He has worked with budgets from $50,000 to $30 million, he said, but always chooses "films I like."

"As a producer, I'm constantly managing the creative side with the business side of what we do," he said. "If you can marry both, that's a formula for success. It's often difficult, but it's important. Understanding both is critical."

Those making smaller films, he advised, should put more of their budget "on the screen," as opposed to salaries and perks. A better-looking film can get better backing.

"Lower budget films need the money up on the screen," Baum said.

He also suggested working with seasoned professionals to help avoid costly mistakes. And getting out and going to movies provides some of the most valuable education as well as potential feedback.

Festival organizers announced winners in three categories.

n "Lion Ark" received best documentary. The film is directed by Tim Phillips and written by Phillips and Jan Creamer.

n "Spring Eddy," directed and written by George Anson, was named best feature.

n "Subway Silk" received the best short award. The film is directed by Jill Clark and written by Clark and Dean Kostas.

The festival has a music video category, but the judges decided there were no qualifying submissions, said Bobby Benton, festival CEO.

"Category 5," a film shot on the Coast, was removed from the schedule, Benton said.

"We were asked to remove it because it was in discussions to distribute it," he said.

Distributors have agreed to allow "Category 5" to be screened on the Coast "probably in the next 90 days or the first of the year and presented by Sun & Sand, just not at the festival," Benton said. "Sun & Sand tickets for it will be honored then."

Here is the schedule for today's events:

Saenger Theatre

Doors open at 9 a.m.: 9:30 a.m., panel discussions on topics including movie making in Mississippi; 1-3 p.m. "Echo," "Spring Eddy"; 3:30-5:30 p.m.: "Posey," "Phantom of a Previous War"; 6-8 p.m. "As I Lay Dying"; 9-11:08 p.m. "The Secret Keeper"; "Tin Tone"; "David Bailey: Four Beats to the Bar and No Cheating"

Mary C. O'Keefe Center

Doors open at 12:30 p.m. in Ocean Springs: 1-3 p.m. "The Moon Trees," "Port of the Future: Aboveboard," "Cardboard Titanics," "Shoot The Moon," "Hubble's Diverse Universe," "Horsim/Bonim"; 4-6 p.m. "Keeper of the Mountains," "Song of the Kauri"; 7-9:13 p.m. "Wunderland," "Winter Spring Winter," "The Words I Love," "Kazuya"

"The Moon Trees," by Coast filmmaker Francisco Gonzalez, is the story of the moon trees from seeds that were taken to the moon.

"Port of the Future" is a documentary about the diversion of Community Development Block Grant funding from houses to the restoration and expansion of the Port of Gulfport.

Admission per screening is $10 for adults and $5 for students.

The music portion will be at Hard Rock Casino Biloxi with Black Jacket Symphony performing The Beatles' "Abbey Road" at 8 p.m.


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