A new force on the local filmmaking scene is throwing a party tomorrow night at Minglewood Hall. Dubbed Love Letters to Memphis, the party is being hosted by Paper Moon Films, a new production partnership founded by former high-school friends Nick Case and Ryan Watt, who are trying to fill a niche in the growing local indie film scene.
"Love Letters to Memphis" is a fundraiser for the duo's first joint effort, award-winning local filmmaker Kentucker Audley's Open Five, which begins shooting next week as the first Paper Moon production. We first wrote about Open Five here.
But Watt says that in addition to raising some money towards Open Five's roughly $15,000 budget, he hopes the "Love Letters to Memphis" party can serve as a networking and promotional event for the larger local film scene. To that end, he says other filmmakers will be encouraged to talk about their projects as well.
The party will include a silent auction and music from the local band Star & Micey. Admission is $12. Start time is 7 p.m.
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Case and Watt are graduates of Briarcrest High School who went their separate ways to pursue marketing degrees in the SEC — Case at Ole Miss and Watt at the University of Tennessee — and ended up drawn to movies.
Case got hooked early after serving as a production assistant on the Memphis shoot of 21 Grams during college.
"21 Grams was a really, really intense shoot. That drove it home for me," Case says of his decision to leap into the movie biz. After college, Case worked in Memphis and lived with his parents, saving up money, then made the leap, heading to Los Angeles without an apartment or job lined up.
Case hustled his way into some production assistant jobs and eventually met filmmaker Cam Archer. Case served as one of the producers on Archer's experimental indie Wild Tigers I Have Known (filmmaker Gus Van Sant was the executive producer), which screened at Sundance and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Case is also a producer on Archer's follow-up, Shit Year, which stars Ellen Barkin. And he worked as a production manager on actor Leonardo DiCaprio's environmental documentary The 11th Hour, which was shot using members of Martin Scorsese's regular crew.
The lease on his Los Angeles apartment up, Case decided this spring to return home for awhile, and was surprised at the film scene he found.
"I was shocked," Case says. "I knew Morgan [Jon Fox], and certainly Craig [Brewer] and Ira [Sachs], but wasn't aware of how much was going on."
In getting to know people involved in the Memphis film scene, Case began to see a potential role for him.
"What I found when I started talking to these filmmakers was the idea of a producer that could be involved fulltime, that wasn't just an investor, was intriguing to them. These guys had all been doing it all themselves," he says.
Case got involved with Kentucker Audley on the back end of his film The Holy Land, which is now finished and getting ready for fall festival submissions. Meanwhile, Case's old high-school friend Watt had also stumbled into the film scene.
A marketing entrepreneur by trade, Watt had known filmmakers Brad Ellis and Allen Gardner since high school and became involved with their Indie Memphis winner Act One. When Ellis and Gardner got ready to shoot their vampire flick Daylight Fades, Watt signed on as a producer.
"I got involved as a producer first to invest and raise money," Watt says. "I thought that might be it. I might show up occasionally and it would be fun. I ended up on the set every day. That's the way it is on an indie film; I became essentially a PA."
Since forming Paper Moon, Case and Watt have taken on three projects. Open Five, co-scriped by Audley and Jump Back Jake singer Jake Rabinbach, films first.
The next two projects are Brian Pera's Woman's Picture, starring Ann Magnuson and Amy LaVere, and Sarah Ledbetter and Matteo Servente's The Romance of Loneliness, which are both in the early stages of development.
"With all these films and filmmakers, we're not trying to change what they do," Case says. "We want to take the weight, and let them focus on the creative aspect."