In the movie business, where good deeds typically entail a price tag somewhere down the line, the Doorpost Film Project may be the hardest thing of all to fathom. Its director, Nathan Elliott, describes it as an entity that simply wants to encourage good work, embolden budding directors to take risks on movies that can change lives, and make the movies as a whole better—without any gain, at least financially.
Small wonder Elliott says almost everyone who has heard about the project has asked the same thing: "Is this for real?"
"I get that all the time," says Elliott, whose background is in IT infrastructure in the film and music business, specifically in the areas of piracy and copyright issues. When he called the 15 finalists in the project, he says, "they thought I was kidding."
Who could blame them? The Doorpost Film Project is doing something unimaginable for starting filmmakers: giving them $10,000 to make a short film on a pre-selected topic—this year: hope—then placing the resulting films in competition for a grand prize of $100,000 cash. On Sept. 11 at Green Hills, the 15 finalists will show their films, with the winner to be announced Sept. 13 in a gala evening at the Belcourt.
The project is funded, Elliott says, by "investors in the financial industry" he declines to identify. He does say that they have a proven track record of philanthropy; that their backing gives the project "the capability to do this in perpetuity"; and that their interest in the project is purely based on the idea that filmmakers are the visionaries and philosophers of today. "Their work influences people because our culture doesn't read," Elliott says. "Our culture watches."
Erik Hollander was among the intrigued but skeptical filmmakers who submitted a five-minute short for consideration earlier this year when the Doorpost sent out its call for entries. Hollander, a Nashville graphic designer who has recently started working in film, says he still wasn't entirely convinced when Elliott called him to say he was one of the 15 finalists.
"It seemed too good to be true," says Hollander, a former Jacksonville resident who's lived in Nashville now for eight years. Then he received a check for $10,000—which cleared—along with a surprise $7,500 voucher for production equipment.
To make his film, a story about a father and his estranged son titled "Alius Primoris," Hollander was able to assemble a group of Middle Tennessee stage actors led by Greg Wilson, Nathan Owen and Christina Spitters, along with a production team including local film veterans Flick Wiltshire as producer and Rob Lindsay as cinematographer. Local equipment house Douglas Rice & Associates even loaned out its sweet Red One digital camera, which permits unusual definition and depth of field. In another surprise, the project made script consultants, production artists and other professionals available to the directors for advice.
"They're just trying to generate movies on more substantial themes than those coming out of Hollywood," Hollander says. (His own film can be seen at thedoorpost.com, where viewer voting continues through Sept. 10.) Asked if there's any film that exemplifies the kind of movie he hopes Doorpost filmmakers might make someday, Elliott says no.
"That would limit their creativity," he says. "This is all about telling filmmakers, 'You are the Martin Luthers of our time.' I like to see this as a catch-and-release program—we get [the filmmakers] to go back and start impacting their local community."
Elliott says the Doorpost is taking its future one year at a time, but already he considers it a success. "The quality of films is better than I anticipated," he says. As for Erik Hollander, his experience with the Doorpost has raised hopes for his completed first feature: The Shark Is Still Working, an exhaustive documentary on the making and cultural impact of Jaws. For his three-hour labor of love, he secured the participation of everyone from Steven Spielberg to the late Roy Scheider, who narrated.
"The whole thing has been almost like a little reality show," Hollander says. "The needle's in my arm. I'm hooked."
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