The Los Angeles acting dream doesn't work out for most aspiring movie stars. Success and monetary gains end up in the hands of a minuscule percentage.
Michael Curtis grew up in the south bouncing around from Texas to South Carolina. Following an Air Force stint and Alaska Theatre schooling, Curtis moved to LA thinking he might be one of the privileged few.
He didn't own a car at the time. Two full-time jobs were necessities to pay for transportation and an apartment.
The hectic jobs provided Curtis little time for acting.
“I never auditioned for anything,” he said.
Though a crazy experience, Curtis picked up more monetarily advantageous skills.
“I moved to LA to become an actor and fell into editing because I needed to pay my bills,” Curtis said. “It's extremely difficult to be an actor and make any money at it.”
Combining aesthetics and technical skills learned in Hollywood, he picked up an offer to run a post-production facility at the North Carolina School of Filmmaking. From there, Curtis owned and directed an Atlanta-based post house (EditLab) with three edit suites for 15 years.
His outfit completed numerous projects for Turner Broadcasting, but a change was coming.
Curtis and his wife found Lake Sinclair as a perfect getaway from the big city and production life.
“We wanted a place we could get away on the weekends,” the filmmaker said. “We would get depressed when we had to head back to Atlanta.”
After deciding the small town lake life was a better way, Curtis downsized his EditLab business last September and officially moved the operation to a Lake Sinclair base.
The financial sacrifice was worth it.
“I was no longer willing to not be happy. I wanted to take a risk and step away completely,” Curtis said.
His team is specialized by necessity. EditLab's nimble approach provides high-end production value with minimum cost and crew.
A February film featuring downtown Milledgeville's Blackbird Coffee was a personal one-man band production showcasing that nimbleness. This short film depicts two expert coffee roasters detailing the craft. Curtis shot, directed, produced and edited the fun piece.
Use of the EyeDirect tool, that makes people more comfortable looking into the lens because they see a reflection of the interviewer, allowed him to direct and run sound simultaneously.
Certain projects require more planning, but the personal nature of the Blackbird film simplified the process. He describes his style as “jazzy” and “improvisational”.
“At some point you have to do things that feed your soul. Not every project that comes your way is going to be exciting,” Curtis said. “When you find the story yourself, then it's easy for that passion to come through for the audience.”
Curtis does prefer the team approach, which opens his true passion.
“I'd much rather just direct. It's the pinnacle for me. Frankly, that's how I started shooting in the first place,” he said. “My love is working with the actors and the crew getting everybody inspired to do their best work.”
Recent credits include work for the American Cancer Society, the Federal Aviation Administration and TNT Latin America. Work on Academy Award broadcast interstitials for “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” are just a few resume highlights.
The locally based filmmaker survived the so-called “democratization of the film industry.” Affordable editing software flooded the business, thereby pushing prices down and some veterans out of a job.
“It's a vastly different landscape now then when I started. It's kind of destroying the industry frankly,” Curtis said. “Dedicated craftsmen are now competing with someone that could live in their parent's basement. Talent will always rise, but unfortunately it's also having a negative pressure on the industry.”
Using film to expose the Milledgeville community's culture and assets is next on Curtis' checklist.
Coined the Milledgeville Film Collaborative, the venture wants to bring screenwriters, performers and film professionals together in a hands-on way to create original, high-quality short films and feature-length movies.
All the production will be completed locally. This extracurricular labor of love offers college students, faculty or anyone with a love of film to help raise Milledgeville's profile.
“What I'm looking for are great stories, passionate actors and people who are committed to telling those stories,” Curtis said. “I frankly don't care where they are from.”
Short film scripts are needed to get the collaborative moving on summer production. The best, practical script for the local landscape will have a shot.
For the best-case scenario, Curtis said launching a downtown film festival would serve as the venue to premier the collaborative work. It's all about getting the ball rolling for the local economy.
“I love this town. That's why we changed our whole lives to live here basically,” Curtis said. “I see a lot of opportunity. I'm downtown almost everyday, so I'd like to see it thrive and flourish.”
Script submissions go through millyfilm.com. Visit editlab.com for the Blackbird Coffee video and other portfolio work.
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