It takes a village — an entire town, really — to make a movie.
Even a small-budget indie film requires a screenwriter, actors, director, producer, camera operators, film editors, makeup artists, hairstylists and caterers. (Anyone who's ever stayed for the end credits may have noticed that gaffers and best boys and dolly grips are also required.)
Casting director Juli Emmons is working to ensure that the Queen City has a ready supply of talent for all those jobs in front of and behind the camera. She founded the Charlotte Film Community five years ago, a nonprofit working to bring together Charlotte's actors, producers, talent agents and others for monthly gatherings.
"We use our meetings as a place to network together and, by doing that, groups of people come together and create films," says Emmons. "A lot of times, people in the group will help one another find jobs by word-of-mouth referrals. Several people in the group have gotten their start in the industry that way."
Besides creating a place for networking, the group holds an annual filmmaking contest. Teams that enter the "Made in Charlotte" competition get a few ground rules — a certain prop or a line they have to use, for instance — and then make the type of film specified. One year, the challenge was a 30-second commercial. Another year, teams made a 10-minute film. For the 2014 edition, contestants were asked for their interpretation of "magic." A panel of celebrity judges in the industry judges the competition; the awards ceremony takes place on Sept. 9.
The contest is designed to help members hone their skills in the industry. Workshops such as the monthly Script to Screen class — where actors and writers provide readings of screenplays and stage plays and get critiqued — are also part of the program.
The group is the local chapter of the nonprofit organization Film Community Networks. But it's meant for more than networking. With a membership of about 1,000, it also seeks to land more filmmaking in Charlotte.
"Our crew base is growing, and that's important," says Emmons of the talent in town. "There are now opportunities for people to apprentice, to shadow, to learn on the job.
"On any film set, the most needed job is that of a PA," she continues, or production assistant. So, what exactly does this essential team member do?
"Anything that's asked," Emmons states. "They might get coffee, get everyone quiet on the set or locate extras. A PA also has got to know how to read a call sheet. They've got to know the lingo. In many ways, it's a thankless job, but it's the main entry point into the film business."
As a nonprofit led entirely by volunteers, the Charlotte Film Community is truly a community organization. Emmons says "community" may, in fact, be the most important concept behind the group. "Before this group formed, the people working in the industry in Charlotte might see each other once a year," she says. "The idea of a filmmaking community getting together regularly really appealed to a lot of us. In the South, church provides a sense of community for a lot of people. That's what this is for us."
Unlike Hollywood, the Charlotte Film Community is easy to break into. Membership is open to anyone for just $25 a year. Emmons says most members work full- or part-time in the film industry but a few are just film fans who want to know more about what it takes to make a movie. "We are not an exclusive group," the founder says.
You don't have to be a member to attend the group's monthly meetings. Pay $10 at the door ($5 for members) and gain access to the city's vibrant and larger-than-you-might-expect film community. Each month, there's a guest speaker — it may be a producer who's in town or a casting agent with audition tips.
Every meeting is meant to educate and help members get more gigs. As Emmons notes, "'Work brings work' is sort of our unofficial motto."