While one may think of Los Angeles, Hollywood or New York in association with the moviemaking industry, local filmmaker Michael Williams looks no further than his hometown of West Point, Mississippi, to pursue the cinematic arts.
Williams recently received a $5,000 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission to help fund his newest feature film, “Rosemary,” which he intends to shoot primarily in West Point.
Receiving the fellowship is a high honor, said MAC executive director Malcom White in a press release about the grant.
“Artists who receive grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission represent some of the most gifted individuals in their respective fields,” White said. “These outstanding artists carry on Mississippi’s legacy of artistic excellence, and MAC is proud to support those who enliven and enrich their communities with the creative spirit.”
The MAC, funded by the Mississippi Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several other organizations, seeks to promote the arts in Mississippi through various private grants and educational programs.
According to Williams, the freedom MAC gives the artists in determining how to use the grant is immensely helpful.
“The biggest thing is that this grant gives artists freedom on how they want to use it. You can either use it to directly support a new project or just to support the artist as they’re making progress on new work, so that’s what I’m doing,” Williams said. “It gives me the ability to free up my time so I can take time away from paying work to pay the bills, to be able to actually make progress on the creative side of this project.”
Williams said the grant enables him to dedicate a much greater amount of his time to the project.
“If it wasn’t for that (grant), I would be spending a lot less concentrated time working on it, it would take a lot longer to get the project off the ground, it wouldn’t be as focused and I wouldn’t make as much progress,” Williams said. "So, now I’m able to make that progress and have the time to do it."
Williams, who is the president of Starkville's Magnolia Independent Film Festival and a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, has directed numerous short films as well as two previous feature films, “OzLand” and “The Atoning.” He plans to use his filmmaking experience to make “Rosemary” even more successful than his last films.
“I can use all that I’ve learned to really take the next step with this next film and make something that’s going to be hopefully more successful and accessible to everyone,” Williams said.
According to Williams, “Rosemary” is “a psychological drama about an elderly woman who’s driven insane by an abyss that appears in her basement.”
Because of the complex nature of the main character, one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of the film will be the casting of Rosemary herself.
“We want to try to find a name for the lead actress in the film, because that will help us not just with fundraising but distribution in the long run; and it’s a very intense role that’s going to need an established actress, but we’d also love to find someone who’s also passionate about the project,” Williams said.
In addition, funding will also be challenging, as it is for nearly every indie filmmaker, pointed out co-producer Jeremey Burgess, who will handle the more logistical side of the filming process.
“The biggest challenge, to be candid, is funding," Burgess said. "That’s the biggest challenge for any indie filmmaker that’s not making studio films.”
Burgess also emphasized the value of pursuing the cinematic arts in a southern state like Mississippi, as Williams is doing with “Rosemary.”
“It’s about telling stories from a region where we tell our stories to each other. They’re all passed down; they’re all treasured stories in the South,” Burgess said. “We want to put southern stories more on the map, especially one that Michael’s got here with 'Rosemary.'”
Williams, who hopes to start filming his new project in nine months to a year, expressed his excitement to begin work on "Rosemary."
“I feel like these characters, these stories are very important, way more complex and more worthwhile than my previous films, so I’m just really excited about the stories, the characters,” Williams said. "I feel like it’s a really good project that shows a lot of growth."