Local filmmaker channels passion and personal belief
As much as the Chattanooga film scene has improved for film fans over the last few years due to Mise En Scenesters and the Chattanooga Film Festival, it’s easy to overlook the strides that have been made for filmmakers in the area.
With opportunities like the Chattanooga State Professional Film and Television Program and The Backlot, a monthly open space for all filmmakers and actors in the area to meet and collaborate, a growing group of filmmakers are creating films and sharing them with audiences all around the region.
Shelley R. Williford, is one of many, a director with DGM Video Productions who is close to finishing a short film entitled Jagged Little Pill. For the State of the Arts issue, we caught up with Shelley to talk about her recent project and about the state of film in Chattanooga.
Like most filmmakers, Shelley’s love of film began during her childhood. “I’ve always been an artist since I was a little girl,” Shelley says. “I’ve always had a big imagination. I think I made the crossover from drawings and paintings into film because of my love (and addiction!) to video games. I’ve always been ‘show me’ type of person and I feel that I can express ideas or stories better by showing someone, rather than telling.”
Filmmaking in particular came “after some pretty bad early life experiences” which led her to her chosen craft. “I found solace in my games and films like Star Wars,” she says. “I became absorbed and enamored with fantastic stories and wanted to create my own. I started making my very first shorts around age 14. I was able to start college at age 16 and immediately started taking video production and broadcast classes then and I’ve been hooked ever since!”
Her recent project, Jagged Little Pill, is twisted horror film about “a young woman who believes she is involved in a sick case of mistaken identity with a shutter-happy serial killer until she realizes he wants something from her.” Shelley says that “Some elements of Jagged Little Pill I had rolling around in my head for a long while. They were elements that I didn’t know I wanted to make a film out of. I love horror and psychology so it wasn’t hard to explore some dark places for this film.”
The impetus for the film, it seems, came from a conversation with her boyfriend about mental illness and suicide. “I’ve dealt with those elements personally and they feel like second nature to me sometimes.”
Her boyfriend, however, had never felt those feelings. She says: “I wondered, ‘What would make someone who never wanted to die, never battled bad thoughts, (sic) what would have to happen to them to push them that far?”
In November of 2014, she felt like she had a “skeleton” of a story, but was “frustrated” because she had an idea with no clear direction forward.
“My biggest challenge with the screenplay was dialogue,” she says. “My advice for anyone that wants to write a script or even a story, be honest with yourself about your weaker areas and find someone that can help out that you trust. I definitely have a better appreciation now for filmmakers that try to do it all. Those that consistently write, direct, produce—I salute them.”
Many of the projects she worked on previous to Jagged Little Pill weren’t quite as involved—she worked with broadcast news, or just as part of a crew where “the story wasn’t my problem—capturing it was.” She says: “This time around, I have put myself through the ringer in a wonderful way - I wrote (and rewrote!), directed and am currently editing the film.”
Shelley has a lot to say about keeping film projects local. She says that with “the excitement and sheer amount of projects in film and television that shoot in Atlanta, Nashville and Knoxville, I will admit I have felt the pull to relocate for more production work. However, Atlanta is very saturated and this industry is very much ‘who you know’ and not necessarily ‘what you know.’
She says: “I believe that local groups are a big answer to getting more projects filmed in the Greater Chattanooga area. Talent comes to wherever projects are being shot…smaller film groups in the area should join forces to learn and grow from each other.”
The key to filmmaking in Chattanooga, Shelley believes, is “lot of passion, belief, and networking.”