Stars of the South

 

Savannah has a strong reputation as a film friendly town, and there are more than a few savvy residents that keep the city in the cinematic spotlight. Some make movies or train the filmmakers of tomorrow while others preserve Savannah’s celluloid past and produce the next generation of indie films. Others scurry to make peace between production companies, city residents and the government. While some promote the Savannah Film Festival from a distance, dedicated souls spend their days in the trenches working out the details of the yearly event.

WHO: Bobby Zarem

WHAT HE’S DOING: For the last six years, the widely touted “legendary New York publicist” has been offering the Savannah Film Festival the benefit of skills that launched such cultural staples as Pee-Wee’s Big AdventureTommyPumping IronSaturday Night Fever and countless personalities. Zarem, who concocted the iconic “I love NY” advertising campaign, uses his connections and know-how to coax filmmakers into showing their films here and stars into coming to watch them.

HAILS FROM: Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia.

WHY SAVANNAH: Zarem says he always knew how special the city was, saying, “The fact that I was a Savannahian (and part of Savannah) helped me get through a lot of times because I knew I always had Savannah as a part of me to fall back on and that other people didn’t have it.”

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: To expose the city to the world and maintain the stature of the film festival by building on the quality of the audience as a testing ground for films rather than turning the festival into a film industry business convention like Toronto or Sundance.

FUTURE PLANS: Eventually to reside fulltime at his childhood home in Ardsley Park, and read.

QUOTE: “I use Savannah a lot, the city itself, as a way of getting people interested in showing movies there. I communicate to people that Savannah is the most beautiful city in the country, interesting historically, and stunning architecturally. I let everybody know how developed and sophisticated the Savannah audience is.”

 

WHO: Len Cripe

WHAT HE’S DOING: As managing director of the Savannah Film Festival, Cripe is the man behind the green curtain when it comes to festival planning, operation and execution. His duties include sponsorship relations and development, customer relations, and screening 500-600 films each year. He works with media contacts and special guests, develops panels, reviews what’s going on at other festivals and keeps up with the arts and film industry in general.

HAILS FROM: Kansas City, Kansas.

WH Y SAVANNAH: At 21, while stationed with the Rangers at Hunter Army Air Field, he met “the most beautiful woman in the world” and after three years in Boston earning a master’s degree, he returned to marry and settle in Savannah.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: Since coming onboard with the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1999, he has directed the tremendous growth of one of the city’s and college’s signature events. With a mind toward integrating the festival into the cultural fiber of the city, Cripe says the model for the festival is “not based on another festival as much as it’s based on a feeling—and Savannah, as we all know, is such a great and opening and welcoming and inviting city. I think that’s what our festival thrives on.”

FUTURE PLANS: Currently working on film projects with his wife, with whom he owns a small production service. Cripe says, “I’m always looking for opportunities to grow the film festival” both qualitatively and quantitatively.

QUOTE: “The public and the students see there’s a certain level of audience sophistication in Savannah and it says a lot about the people who live here too that they are willing to support a film festival and all the many arts and events that take place here.”

 

WHO: Annette Haywood-Carter

WHAT SHE’S DOING: After more than 20 years in Hollywood, where she worked as a script supervisor and director (among other jobs) on 28 feature films, she has jumped from the crew side of film to direct and guide a new generation of filmmakers as a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

HAILS FROM: Born in Mississippi, Haywood-Carter was raised on a variety of Southern college campuses by her academic parents.

WH Y SAVANNAH: While raising two children in Los Angeles, she began to scale back her writing and directing duties to spend more time with them. She moved here in 2002 to accept a professorship at SCAD, where she teaches directing actors, screenwriting and film directing.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: Having directed the likes of Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio in some of their earliest films, Haywood-Carter is now set on developing a screenplay with her husband for a feature film based on a Savannah writer’s novel about the town. Saying that the South has opened a vein of original creativity in her, she has just completed Waker of Parrots, a script set in Savannah that she says makes The DaVinci code and The Passion of the Christ look like Sunday school.

FUTURE PLANS: Haywood-Carter has her eye on new media and the convergence of technologies that create camera phone auteurs and blog publishers. “I don’t know what the future is but I want to be part of it,” she says. “I’m not looking to carve out a niche where I do the same stuff I always did.”

QUOTE: “My dream, my expectation, is to make feature films and shoot them here. And with this extraordinary location and all of the professional expertise in the film department, both professors and students…it’s kind of the perfect environment.”

 

WHO: Jay Self

WHAT HE’S DOING: As director of
Tourism and Film Services for the city, he acts as a liaison between city government and the entertainment industry. Most film commissions are solely a marketing apparatus but in Savannah, Self coordinates projects and issues permits. He lures production designers and location managers to the city by making a visual and economic case for Savannah. He also manages how the city deals with tourism, an entirely different angle on representing Savannah.

HAILS FROM: Originally from Texas, but spent his formative years in Nashville, Tennessee.

WHY SAVANNAH: Moved here in 1995 to help start the Film Services Commission, before it had the “Tourism” tacked on to it.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: Directing the economic impact of visual production toward the Creative Coast; and bringing an increasing number of commercials, television shows, independent films and high-end photography to Savannah, to the tune of over $2 million in the first two quarters of 2006. Self says, “the exposure the city receives is just the gravy on top.”

FUTURE PLANS: Self says, “With the [new tax] incentive, and the interest generated because of it, we’ve had numerous films scouting in Savannah.” To continue nurturing student films and small independent films.

QUOTE: “In Tennessee I was asked many times to find period areas and when I first came to Savannah…I was just absolutely amazed at how uniquely beautiful this city is. I’ve traveled a lot in Europe and I can’t think of any European city that’s more beautiful than Savannah. And, professionally, I was very intrigued by its ability to act as a chameleon on film. It can play so many different places, so many different periods, so many different feels, that cinematically it really is unique.”

 

WHO: “Hollywood” Ron Higgins

WHAT HE’S DOING: A one-man preservationist for Savannah’s film history, he is owner and operator of Savannah Movie Tours, which takes tourists and interested locals around the city to view the real-life locations of some of the more appreciated films shot in the city. He’s also expanding into other local haunts with his latest tour creation, Scary Movie Tours.

HAILS FROM: Savannah, Georgia.

WH Y SAVANNAH: After traveling to California to seek his fortune in the film world, Higgins returned after 14 years later to his native Savannah, where he says he does his best writing. Higgins has written 13 screenplays for films he hopes will some day be shot in Savannah.

MISSION FOR SAVANNAH: Using his knowledge of the entertainment industry and its local history on the Creative Coast, Higgins is focused on nurturing homegrown cinematic talent. He hosts yearly film camps that introduce kids and adults to make-up and costuming, cameras and other basics of moviemaking.

FUTURE PLANS: Higgins refuses to limit his dreams and has formed his own production company, through which he’s now producing his second film, a project directed by SCAD student Tom Verrette. Higgins also is working on his vision of a Georgia Film Museum to highlight the various films that have been made about or in the state.

QUOTE: “Why do we have to depend on Hollywood to shoot here? My thing with the film camps is to get these kids and adults…interested in filmmaking so they can choose what area they want to pursue…10 years from now, people who have left Savannah may be back writing about Savannah and filming here…these films are being viewed at film festivals around the world and picked up by major studios…so the whole world can see Savannah.”