When I was approached by Trey Cook from Cook Box Productions to create a film based on my Luke Banderloft book series, "Luke Banderloft and the McFarven Pirates," I had no clue what to expect. I wasn’t aware of many local filmmakers in Chattanooga. I figured we would have to search Atlanta or Nashville for cast and crew. Don’t get me wrong—I knew that actors lived here in town and people were making films, but I had no idea of the depth of talent that surrounded me.
The casting call brought out dozens of talented actors looking for a part in the project. I was shocked how many of them were from Chattanooga. The cast and crew were both assembled from local talent, all of them eager for a project close to home.
This project was especially appealing because it was a departure from local commercials and film projects connected to our tourist industries. In a town the size of Chattanooga, no actor can afford to be picky about the type of work they audition for. This project was something different—something new to the Chattanooga film scene.
Big-budget movies such as “42” and “Water for Elephants” had recently filmed in the area, and created a buzz around the city’s film industry. These mainstream films create headlines in the local news, hyping the film industry’s interest in Chattanooga, but that interest faded as those films came and went from the city and the box office.
I agree with the headlines. I think Chattanooga’s potential is limitless when it comes providing locations for movies, but I, for one, am not waiting for Hollywood to make that happen. We have talented actors and crew. We have plenty of filmmakers working on projects that should capture the attention of our city. What Chattanooga’s blossoming film scene needs is the spirit of the buy-local pro-Chattanooga citizen who wants to support local art. We need a few people to skip the neighborhood Red Box and see what is out there in their backyards.
When John Summerour, one of the filmmakers on “Sahkanaga,” a story about the crematorium scandal that took place right next to Chattanooga, brought his film to town, I went to the theatre to check it out. I sat and watched a great film, starring local and regional actors and created by many local crew members—but I was watching it with less than a dozen fellow moviegoers. “42” was much better received by the city. To some degree, this is understandable. A big-budget Hollywood movie puts a lot of money towards marketing that John’s couldn’t, but that doesn’t alter my disappointment. It doesn’t change the fact that many local moviegoers missed a great film that they should have supported.
The film industry in Chattanooga is growing and getting stronger, but it will be limited by the attention span of its citizens. Until the people of Chattanooga invest in local talent and give our own artists some much-deserved attention, our fledgling film community will continue to be at the fickle mercy of Hollywood producers.
But there’s a bright note that I hold onto. I was working on the set of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” when they shot here in Chattanooga, where I met actor Tim Shields, and was encouraged by something he told me. Several regionally hired crew and actors mentioned that they had left Chattanooga for Atlanta or Nashville in search of more work. Shields said he was from Chattanooga and recommended that they stick it out here. He had faith that Chattanooga was going to break away from being a location Hollywood would misuse for Ironman’s Internet. He felt the vision of our future was bright, and said he could feel that more work for our talent was coming. I hope he is correct. I hope the people of Chattanooga reach out and find what is being filmed in their backyards.
I have faith in this future as well. Chattanooga’s film industry is growing stronger. If I didn’t believe in our local talents, I would not have put my heart and soul, the Luke Banderloft book series, into its hands. Amazing actors and filmmakers are waiting for Chattanoogans to turn an eye to their work. If they do, I have faith that Cook Box Productions and many others will surprise them with the quality and originality of what we are putting out. It is always easy to pick up a New York Times bestseller or hit OnDemand—but true Chattanoogans should consider checking out something local.
To see teaser/trailer or find more information about the film mentioned in this article, visit the Luke Banderloft channel on YouTube.