Movie Time When Worlds Collide

East Tennessee filmmakers need the $$$ Oprah vs. Cormac McCarthy

City Beat

The mayor's $614 million budget proposes that $90,000 be set aside for the East Tennessee Television and Film Commission. That's $25,000 below what Michael Barnes, director of the ETTFC, had originally requested for 2007-08.

ETTFC is a Knox County funded agency that serves as the official liaison between the region and all television and film productions.  

â“We're not exactly sure what the impact is going to be,â” Barnes says. â“We're funded by taxpayer dollars, and we have to be very careful with those dollars. Not everybody sees it the same wayâ. [$90,000] had been my request last year and in budgets past, so we'll proceed with that.â”

He adds, â“We are adjusting accordingly.â”

It's nevertheless an exciting time for filmmaking in East Tennessee, according to Barnes. â“This month we have Brooks Benjamin filming The Boys of Summerville all throughout this region,â” he says. â“Paul Harrell won the Sundance Film Festival short film award in 2001. And he starts filming June 6 on Quick Feet, Soft Hands .â”

Harriman, Tenn., may soon welcome Jerry Eisinger and his film crew for a project tentatively titled Strength for Tomorrow . Eisinger's last project, a comedy called Local Affairs , was almost filmed in Tennessee, but, as Eisinger explains, they were able to team up with a production company in Florida, which saved his project enough money to make it worth his while to film out of state.

â“They're gonna save us about $400,000,â” he says. â“The Florida Film office did pursue us pretty strongly [with a competitive film incentive package].â”

To make Tennessee more competitive with neighboring states, a new $10 million incentive program, which had been kicking around the state legislature since last summer, finally went into effect at the end of March. The program is designed to entice filmmakers with a rebate of their production's â“below the lineâ” costs. For instance, productions that film in Tennessee and have a budget of at least $500,000 are eligible for a 13 percent rebate.

If filmmakers hire at least 25 percent of their cast and crew in Tennessee, then they're eligible for another two percent rebate. But Perry Gibson, the new state film commissioner, is quick to point out that this money is not to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The state film commission, along with the economic and community development office, will have the final say when it comes to actually funding productions.

â“We have our passions, we have to pay for it somehow,â” Barnes says. â“There're more filmmakers coming out here every day.â”

Scott Norwood recently showed his new documentary at the World Grotto, as a part of its Cinematini Tuesday night screenings. It's called Timetravel_0 , an exploration into the vast conspiracies and prognostications surrounding an internet chatter, John Titor, who claimed to be from the year 2036. The bulk of the documentary was filmed on the West Coast, before Norwood returned to Knoxville to film a few last-minute scenes. A couple of the interviews that made it into the final cut take place at West Town Mall.

Norwood's next project, Spare the Rod , promises to be even more ambitious. â“We have [actor] Mickey Jones interested in this project,â” Norwood says. â“If you saw his picture, you'd know exactly who he is. He always plays a biker. He's got the long, red goatee. He's played sub-characters in so many movies that you probably wouldn't know him by name.

â“We'll be filming in West Tennessee, because those are the locations we already got locked downâ. The lighting, the grips, all those people, we'll hire them in Tennessee.â”

And come 2008, the governor has announced plans to set aside an additional $10 million for the film incentive program.

â" Kevin Crowe

Cormac McCarthy was a little more than relaxed, slouched low in a soft leather chair at the Santa Fe Institute's library, in a posture unusual for someone 73 years old. â“This is a first for me,â” he smiled, an understatement. In 40 years of publishing well-received novels, it was McCarthy's first television interview ever, only his third interview of any kind, and the person facing him in the other chair was Oprah Winfrey.

The talk-show host admitted that McCarthy originally turned her down: â“No way am I gonna do that,â” the Knoxville-raised author told her cordially. Oprah told him she'd come out to New Mexico to do the interview herself, that she would take up less than an hour of his time, and that she'd give him 48 hours to think it over. We wonder whether she also promised that there would be no sofa. But when she called back, she was surprised to hear him reply OK. Almost immediately, she said, she flew to New Mexico â“before he could change his mind.â” She said McCarthy told her his first TV interview would also be his last.

He said a few interesting things, about the intellectual camaraderie he feels with the scientists at the institute, where he spends much of his time, and of being more appreciative of fatherhood in his advanced years. She asked why he doesn't write more about women, and he responded, with masculine terseness, â“Women are tough.â”

It was, in some ways, your typical Oprah episode. She played up the book in predictable ways: The intro to the postapocalyptic novel , The Road , had an ominous Exorcist -style soundtrack of a sort they play with lots of victim stories. She hinted at the timing of the broadcast when she called the harrowing story of desperate survival â“a perfect Father's Day gift.â” And when she got the author to admit he was inspired to write the book by the prospects of his eight-year-old son, John, she asked some Oprah-style questions: â“Is this a love story to your son?â” she asked, and then accused him of blushing.

Without naming names, Oprah cited McCarthy's second wife Annie DeLisle's story of their years in Blount County, when the couple lived in extreme poverty even after the author had a reputationâ"among academics, at leastâ"as a major novelist. Queried about why he turned down paying offers to make book appearances and speak, McCarthy replied, â“I was busy. I had other things to do.â” He admitted he had made it a goal to make it through his life without working much. â“If you're really dedicated, you can probably do it,â” he said.

She asked him about what it's like to be a major success, a best-selling author with movies in the works. Do you even care about that? â“I honestly don't,â” he responded. â“So what?â It's OK.â”

At least, that's what we think he said. We heard the interview at full volume at the Preservation Pub, where McCarthy is one of the philosophical icons depicted on the wall, and though we could hear every word Oprah said, McCarthy's low mumble was just below the pub's minimal weekday din. There was some speculation at the bar about whether he was actually talking. See if you can hear him any better listening to the show's website, oprah.com.

â" Jack Neely

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