Why Roger Ebert never reviewed my first feature film and other dispatches from a Catholic Senior Citizen Center

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Roger Ebert passed away on April 4, 2013.

I learned about his passing where everyone learns about the death of loved ones. Facebook. In between running around getting things together for our film, juggling a client and making sure my pregnant wife was taken care of, I glanced at my shiny iPhone and received the news.

And I stopped. For a few moments, but I stopped. That may not sound like much, but for someone who had been in perpetual motion for the last 24 hours stopping for a few moments was profound.

Roger Ebert is a Chicago hero and national treasure. He is the reason many of us know what film criticism is. He would sit in a suit jacket and off color sweater and battle it out with Gene Siskel every week for years. Even as a kid I waited in anticipation to see what he thought about the latest movies we planned to beg our parents to go see. “What did he say about Ghostbusters”? “Did he like Do the Right Thing”? We loved the arguing on the show but we always sided with Roger. If he liked it, we were probably going to go see it.

For years I equated Roger Ebert with going to the movie theatre.  I was devastated when Gene Siskel passed. I was confused once the show went off the air. I was outraged when his second show went off the air. And I was stopped in my tracks once he died.

I met Chaz Ebert at the Black Harvest Film Festival in 2009. Roger was not there. The festival screened my short film opening night and afterwards she told us she liked it. She gave special kudos to the leading lady. And that’s when I realized I had come one step closer to checking off one more thing from my bucket list. Roger Ebert’s better half saw my short film. So it was only a matter of time before Roger Ebert reviewed my first feature film!

I would create the film, get it shown at the Angelika and get my very own review by Roger Ebert. Maybe he would love it and plaster his website with the review, berating everyone to go see it. Maybe he would hate it and write some clever, humiliating review that would in and of itself become famous (see here for examples). I didn’t care.

Roger Ebert equals movies. My film would only become real if Roger Ebert reviewed it!

On April 4, 2013 Roger Ebert passed away. And there is no way possible for him to ever review my first feature film.

Old Folks Homes and why Roger Ebert never reviewed my first feature film

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to St. Louis. While there we visited an older family friend. A widower well into her eighties, she had recently moved from her home into a Catholic senior citizen center. We walk in to immaculately clean floors, overwhelmingly polite nuns and nurses and any number of jazzy older people in wheel chairs.

We came to our family friend’s room and there she was watching a Rawhide marathon. She wasn’t bitter. She was fully alert. But she was also done with many things in her life. She had reached the age where most people alive knew her only as an older woman. Most days were behind her and she was fine with that.

But watching the people in the home brought a flash of insight to me. I thought to myself, “One day, we all will end up with more days behind us than in front of us. One day everything we wanted to do and achieve won’t matter anymore, because we would have achieved all we could up to that point. Our time is finite. We give out. That’s how we’re designed. One day we’ll…oh shit, Roger Ebert will never review my first feature film”!

Yes. That’s actually what rushed through my mind at that exact moment. It wasn’t his fault. I’d said I would make that film soon after that night in 2009. But here it was 2013. What happened?

In 2002 Roger Ebert was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. It was the same cancer my uncle would pass away from a few years later. When my uncle found out he had thyroid cancer he came to grips with the idea of him dying soon. Roger Ebert did not. Roger Ebert fought the good fight for another eleven years. He lost his voice. Had surgery until his face was unrecognizable. But he carried on.

And suddenly, Roger Ebert wasn’t the ‘movie review guy’ anymore. He had become bigger than that. He wasn’t Chicago’s hero anymore. He was an international hero. Prolific is an understatement. A daily blog, books, a television program, a film festival…Roger Ebert is more renowned for those eleven years than all the years prior.

And what the hell was I doing all that time? I worked on a bunch of film ‘stuff’, started a production company, this, that and the other, but I didn’t finish a feature film so Roger Ebert could review it!

In eleven years he was prolific. In four years I was…busy at best? Maybe it was because I didn’t feel the urgency. Maybe I didn’t come face to face with my legacy every day. Maybe I wasn’t as passionate about making films as Roger Ebert was about watching and dissecting them. Maybe deep down I was scared that Roger Ebert would use one of his clever quips to dismiss whatever film I would have made.

Or maybe it was because I didn’t have cancer. Maybe I didn’t realize that one day I could be in a wheel chair in a Catholic senior citizen home. Maybe I hadn’t realized that one day everything I wanted to do and achieve wouldn’t matter anymore because I would have achieved all I could up to that point.

My time is finite. I give out. I’ve been designed that way.

No more waiting in anticipation for his review of my film. He’s already given it. By passing away he told me it was taking too damn long! By living life to the fullest he told me to put everything I’ve got into it or don’t do it at all.

On April 4, 2013 Roger Ebert passed away. He was prolific. He lived life to the fullest. He never reviewed my first feature film. And because of that he taught me so much.

Adventures in Casting

We’re in the middle of casting for our first feature film. It’s been interesting.

On commercials and industrials, a ‘look’ can be more important than acting ability. For a full length feature film it’s the other way around. So we need actors. Good actors that can bring these people in the script to life. So we search.

So far Chicago has decided to have a snow storm on two totally separate audition days. Makes it clear why most films are made in California.

Casting in Chicago can be tricky. There are not a ton of screen actors here due to more opportunities in California, New York and even Georgia. They tend to move. There’s just not a ton of feature film productions happening here, large or small. We went to the SAG office (our film is a SAGIndie) and noticed on the first day there was an old casting sign in sheet on the desk. One week later we came in and the same notice sat in the same spot on the desk. So yeah, it’s a little dry here.

But what Chicago does have is an over abundance of theatre talent. Probably some of the best on the planet. And they work quite a bit which is great for the big cold city by the lake. Theatre acting is different than film acting but the same foundation. It’s character and nuance. It’s the director’s job to know the difference and let the actors know as well. That’s what I’m going with anyway.

The adventure continues…

AND if you are interested in auditioning for the film, we are auditioning for the following roles through March. Read below:

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African-American, African and/or Caribbean actors needed for feature film – Chicago

 

Genre: Comedy/Drama

 

Synopsis:

Tabitha, a free-spirited 26 year old failed fashion designer and Travis, a 30 year old aspiring chef meet on the el train in Chicago. Out of necessity they become reluctant roommates. Their friendship will blossom into a relationship that will help Tabitha find her way back to her passion and force Travis to confront his past.

 

Lead Roles:

 

Tabitha Summers

-Lead

-Late 20’s

-African, Caribbean and/or African American

 

Travis Harris

-Lead

-Late 20’s/early 30’s

-African, Caribbean, and/or African American

 

Kimora Summers

-Supporting

-Mid/Late 30’s

-African, Caribbean, and/or African American

 

Models with acting experience encouraged to apply.

This is a SAGindie production. SAG-AFTRA members encouraged to apply. Being a member is not required.

Unique looks encouraged to apply.

Theatre actors encouraged to apply.

 

Filming will take place in May in and around Chicago. Positions will be paid.

 

Actors chosen for an audition will be contacted.

 

Send links to actor’s reels, headshots, contact information and resumes to:

 

casting@thejunctiongroup.tv

subject: Travis and Tabitha Casting

 

or send hard copies to:

 

Junction Group Films, Inc.

attn: Travis and Tabitha casting

1634 E. 53rd St.

Suite: 194

Chicago, IL 60615

Short film Ascendant featured in the 2013 Diaspora “The Art of Blackness” Exhibit

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Director Keith Purvis participates in the 2013 Diaspora: The Art Of Blackness event with the short film, Ascendant. The piece is a ‘visual poem’ based on Maya Angelou’s seminal literary poem “Still I Rise“.

Diaspora “The Art Of Blackness” Exhibition is curated by LaShun F. Tines and Phillip Scott, with musical soundtrack provided by Dj Kwest_on. Sponsored by the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League, STA, Creative Circle and Coca Cola, Disapora is a free exhibition of art, design and music.

The Diaspora Exhibition was created to allow for a meeting of the minds between African American artists and design professionals. The exhibit’s goal is to provide these artist with both an avenue of expression and an introduction to potential patrons and resources. Invited artists are encouraged to utilize their medium of choice (graphic design, photography, painting, etc) to depict their interpretation of the black experience in America.

The event is private so please RSVP if you want to attend. For more information about the exhibit and the other artists on display, click here.

Details:

Diaspora “The Art of Blackness” Exhibition
Feb 22nd, NYCH/Robotic Minds Gallery

Chicago, IL
643 W. 18th Street, 7-10 PM

Click here to RSVP

Getting it done 1/8 at a time.

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We’re in the midst of casting and scheduling for our microbudget feature. We are now officially a SAG Indie production and will be sending out casting notices this week. We’re excited! And this is the first time I’ve broken down a feature film screenplay myself. I’ve seen others do it and get paid a pretty penny for it. Now I know why! It’s no joke, but it’s the best way to get a God’s eye view of everything you need to get your film done in the way you want it done.

The film is already real to you once you sit to write it. But scheduling is the practical answer to how do you get there. Daunting, exciting, overwhelming…all common feelings these days. But I can’t wait to breath life into these characters in a real way.

Also, we’ve got some great collaborators (co-conspirators?) on board and we’ll be introducing you to them very soon. Stay tuned.

-Keith P.

(For those that don’t know, scripts are broken down by 1/8 of a page for scheduling purposes)

Making my first film one step at a time…

Write. Edit. Talk with my lawyer. Meet with crew. Repeat.

The above is my life right now. It’s a juggling act that can get overwhelming if you let it. But I could not imagine anything being more worthwhile than being overwhelmed with this.

We’re in preproduction on Travis and Tabitha, my first feature film. We being the three executive producers (including myself), the stylist, the Director of Photography and everyone else excited about this film.

Casting. Location Scouting. Budgeting. Permits. Rewrites.

Fun stuff that will fill up my days from now, January 1st, until the end of the year. Movies do not end once they are shot and edited. That’s only half the work involved in making a movie. Marketing. Distribution (self or otherwise). Promotion. Setting up the next one. This other half requires as much vision as the making of the movie itself.

How can you support? Stay in the loop! Like the Facebook page for frequent updates: https://www.facebook.com/TravisAndTabitha

Happy New Year!

Keith Purvis, Writer/Director

The quest for 1000 fans

According to Kevin Kelly, all an artist needs to survive is 1000 true fans.

Survive. Not become rich, get a reality show, date someone from the Kardashian family famous. Just to live comfortably creating whatever art you love. 

As I embark on the huge task of making my first feature film, this number comes in handy. I got a total of 123 likes on the short film I put on YouTube along with who knows how many views for the same film on BET and Aspire. Various youtube projects have gotten well over 10,000 combined hits on various online channels. At least 25% of my family really likes me a lot (hopefully). 

So I figure I’m starting with about 90 true fans. Why is this number so low? Well the theory only works when talking about ‘true fans’. These are die hards that will buy, talk about, and promote anything you do. Those true fans are your core. Around that core are secondary fans that will at least check out what you have to offer.

The 1000 fan trick is also a starting point for a wider audience. If 1000 people really really like something, other people naturally want to check it out. Just to find out what all those 1000 people are yammering on about. 

So my goal between now and summer of 2013 is to increase my fans. My strategy is to give everyone stuff to react to. Movies, experiments, etc. to get you all excited. Or at least to get you talking. 

Any artists out there who have mastered the 1000 fan theory? Let me know how it’s working for you. Anyone think the theory doesn’t work? Let me know that too.

Ex-Girl Song Music Video

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I recently directed a music video for recording artist McAdad for his new mixtape P.S. I’m Next. I’ve known Adad for a while now and he’s always been one of my favorite hip hop emcees. The song’s about…well, just watch it!

We shot it using the new Sony FS700 on Canon L Series lenses. Director of Photography Darryl Parham of Third Eye Communications came through in a clutch and we played with that camera like it was a new toy! All in all our little crew had a lot of fun. Click on the image up top to view. 

And don’t forget to download the FREE mixtape:

http://www.audiomack.com/album/all-natural-inc/adad-ps-im-next

The 365 Days Challenge!

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I’m very productive. A borderline workaholic I’ve been told. Unfortunately, like many workaholics I’m also a terrible self promoter. That explains the incredibly long times between blog posts.

But this doesn’t work for any filmmaker in the 21st century. The only way to build an audience (you guys) is to keep your audience up to date with what’s going on. “What are you working on”, “Where have you been”, “What’s the next project”…all commonly heard questions.

My new challenge is to answer those questions at least twice a week for any and everyone interested for the next 365 days. Check back frequently and you will see new project updates, interviews with other filmmakers, movie reviews, inspiration for filmmakers and geeky, tech stuff that other geeks love.
So sign up for the blog if you haven’t already and if you see me on the street, on facebook or at a club with a camera in my hand say “Hey, did you post anything on your blog lately?”. It won’t annoy me. I’ll appreciate it!

Talk soon. 


-Keith P.

Lunch with the spook who sat by the door

“If you want to be a rich hoe, move to hollywood”. 

One day perusing Shadow and Act, I came across a youtube video. In it was Sam Greenlee, vehemently proclaiming the “rich hoe” line above (see for yourself).

I was immediately taken aback. Not so much for his candor. But in remembering that I had met him more than ten years ago.

Sam Greenlee is the author of the book “The Spook Who Sat By the Door”, a fictional tale of the first black man for the CIA who leaves the agency and uses his skills to start a paramilitary revolutionary organization within the hood of Chicago. Sam later acted as a producer for the movie with Ivan Dixon directing. There were exploding cars, negroes with guns and lines like from the star Laurence Cook such as, “What we got now is a colony, what we want is a new nation.”

In 1973 it was rated PG. I’m not so sure it would get that rating in this day and age.

I met him at a poetry set. One of many on the Southside of Chicago before regentrification really set in. He signed my book. I didn’t even know it was a book at the time. I had been force fed the movie by my father at a young age. It’s not everyday a father gets to show his son a black guy start a paramilitary force against oppression on film. Far from the Amos and Andy reruns of late night television.

Fortune smiled on me again as a friend of mine informed me that Sam lives but a block away from me. I then planned a meeting.

We met at Daley’s on 63rd and Cottage Grove, a main area where Mr. Greenlee staged his 1973 film.

And there we were. He told me bits and pieces about what it took to get the movie made. Sam and company didn’t just make a movie. They stole that muthafucka! No permits, no permission, no fear. They filmed the fictional beginning of a revolution on camera. But they filmed the movie as real, film revolutionaries. The Spook Who Sat By the Door is the revolution…televised. Or at least cinema-tized!

All the excuses we think up as filmmakers melted away for me. Sam and Ivan did it. In 1973. Without a permit! Or much else for that matter.

Over chicken and waffles we talked. He mentioned the new documentary about his film and the state of black film as we know it. I expected bitterness. He surprised me with optimism.

He gushed about the Red Camera and all the potential for filmmakers to make films with new technology. He told me how this was somewhat old hat for him. He’s a mentor for many filmmakers in Chicago. I was honored to be one of many. I wondered what took me so long.

His movie has been painfully hard to get a hold of IF you’re not in the know. But now he’s being revered as a cinematic and literary hero by the mainstream. A documentary, “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door” is on the festival circuit and is doing quite well. I haven’t seen it yet. But after having lunch with him, I understood the appeal.

We discussed the new Black Film Renaissance.

Me: I feel a lot of people from my generation seem to reinvent the wheel with a lot this stuff. Sometimes we have a hard time seeking out mentors.

Sam: I noticed that.

A documentary featuring Sam Greenlee? What took them so long?

“Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door” will play at the 17th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival on Sunday, August 21st at 5:30pm and August 25th at 6:15pm. Click here for more information

 

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