Last August, the first annual Memphis Film Prize awarded $10,000 to a short film produced in the Mid-South area. The winner was “He Could Have Gone Pro” by McGehee Montieth.
Actor/director McGehee Monteith (left) in her short film "He Coulda Gone Pro".
“I’m an eighth generation Desoto Countian,” the director says. “I wasn’t one of these kids who always knew what they wanted to be. I’m a voracious reader, so I wanted to be a book editor when I was 7. I wasn’t one of these pageant trained children. I watched Mrs. Doubtfire
for the first time when I was 12 years old, and I was completely captivated and mesmerized by Robin Williams. And I remember going to my mom and dad and say, ‘Do people do this for a living? Can I do this for my job?’ And they said yeah! My parents, who are the antithesis of stage parents, got me involved in theater in Desoto County. Got some attention in the theater as a local actor. Then Walk The Line came to town, and they did a national search for Reba Cash, Joaquin Phoenix’s sister. They were looking for the teenage version of her, and I went to an open call above Alfred’s on Beale. I had never been to any kind of scale audition like that before. So I auditioned, and I went home, and thought that was it. I thought I was just going to go back to high school. Then I got the call back that they wanted me to play the role, and also the adult version of the character. So that was the biggest event that probably changed the trajectory of my professional and artistic life. I made so many friends and relationships, and that led to agents and premieres and stuff like that.”
Monteith managed to create an acting career in New York and Los Angeles at the same time she was pursuing a Religious Studies degree from Ole Miss. “I would say you can see it in my work, the way people use religion, and cherry pick things they want from religion.”
She says she drifted into writing as she learned more about the film industry. “I’ve been doing this professionally for ten years, and I’ve seen the industry and the model change from when people are just actors, or writers, or directors. I noticed that people who were actors were writing their own work.”
She wrote a female-drivien romantic comedy called Ollie Stop, which is currently in development, before tackling her award winning short film. “I always loved specifically the term ‘He coulda gone pro’, because the writer in me always wants to know, ‘Why didn’t he?’ I’d written the outline and had the bones of what the story would be, and when I heard about the film prize, I thought, it’s time to finish this.”
Monteith both directed and stars in the film. “I went to film school on YouTube,” she says. “I have the sense enough to know, when you don’t know how to do something, surround yourself with people who do. Don’t get a camera. Find a great DP.”
Ryan Earl Parker, the genius Memphis-based cinematographer, came on board when she pitched him the story. “He moved heaven and earth to make it happen. It would not have been possible without Ryan believing in the project, and bringing his skill set. Filmmaking is not singular, it’s symphonic.”
Monteith’s co-star in the moving film is acclaimed actor/director Cecelia Wingate. She says it was a combination of the support of her veteran crew and tireless preparation was what allowed her to act and direct at the same time, which is among the most challenging feats in filmmaking. “I knew all the shots, I knew every line, mine and everyone else’s. I knew what I wanted. I had a roadmap. I just tried to make sure the people who I was working with had that roadmap, and we were all on the same page. That is what allowed it to be a nice experience.”
The director used the prize money “He Could Have Gone Pro” earned to immediately shoot another short film. “After the win, I felt an obligation to turn around and make more art. The real thrilling part for me was being able to hire and pay that same crew. You got to dance with the one what brung you. I could work with that crew for the rest of my life.”
“He Could Have Gone Pro” screens as part of the Hometowner Narrative Shorts bloc at Circuit Playhouse on Saturday, November 5 at 6 PM. Tickets and passes are available on the Indie Memphis website