OWENSBORO, KY (4/25/12) – At some point, we all have that feeling that once we leave our hometown we will never come back.
Owensboro’s own P.J. Starks expected once he moved off to Florida that he too would “never come back.” P.J. moved away with plans to achieve his filmmaking dreams.
“Unfortunately, everyone including the trash man wants to make movies in larger metro areas,” admitted P.J. “Returning home gave me the chance to help start something that no one else was doing in our area, at least not to the professional level that we've taken it.”
Indeed, P.J. is now widely recognized in his hometown as the mastermind behind Owensboro’s first ever film festival, “The River City Festival of Films,” which drew in a crowd of over 1,000 people in 2011.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here—how did P.J. Starks get to such a point? What life experiences have molded and shaped him along his journey through this mortal coil?
P.J., now 30 years old, became interested in film early on during his teenage years. Originally, he wanted to be an actor, but turned his attention to directing in high school when he discovered his love for being behind the camera.
While attending Owensboro Community and Technical College, P.J. was asked to write a script for an independent study. Ambitiously, he wrote a feature length film which he titled Third Shift.
“I was working third shift at a local hotel at the time,” explained P.J. “I thought, what better time to make a movie, so I did just that.”
While Third Shift was in post production, the former supervisor of OCTC’s educational access television station (OCTV) offered P.J. a position as a videographer/editor. P.J. graciously accepted the offer and was excited to be getting paid to do something he was truly passionate about.
Shortly after accepting the job, P.J. moved to Florida with his supportive wife, Katrina, so he could attend film school at Full Sail University. While residing there, P.J. scored a job at Universal Studios and made it through four hurricanes during the summer of 2004 before his house was destroyed and he was forced to return to his hometown of Owensboro.
“We were only there for a few months before the hurricanes sent us packing,” P.J. stated. “The last hurricane was the worst. It was eighteen hours long and we were in the eye for six of it. Ultimately, it tore the roof apart.”
“It wasn’t all for naught,” says P.J. of the experience. “I was told my drive was there but I needed to make something marketable. I walked away with some great advice.”
P.J. returned to his job at OCTV and dove immediately into a new project, a sequel film he dubbed Second Shift. This time P.J. went big from cast to production. He hosted a large premiere for the film and upon doing so realized what he might be capable of. He was starting to become recognized locally and doors of opportunity were being opened to him.
He and a colleague went on to tag-team a film they titled Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street.
“Hallows Eve went on to be far more successful than I thought it would,” stated P.J. “It was featured on major websites such as Arrow in the Head, Dread Central, Bloody-Disgusting; had two dozen reviews; hit multitudes of news feeds and even made blurbs on HollywoodReporter.com and USAToday.com.”
The movie premiered to an audience of over 200. The movie premiere doubled as a charity. All the proceeds were given to OCTV 71, which is a local non-profit group.
P.J. even held a DVD release for Hallows Eve in 2009. It was promoted with a concert where five bands from the original soundtrack for the movie played live on stage at a local FYE music store.
“What can I say, I like to make things big,” P.J. said.
His successes with Hallows Eve allowed him to network and collaborate with other local/regional filmmakers such as Lewis D. Chaney, Neil Kellen, Marx Pyle, Jakob Bilinski, Joe Atkinson and more. P.J. had the opportunity to work with Hollywood alumni as well. Specifically, P.J. assumed the roles of co-producer and co-editor for David Breckman’s short film, Murder in Kentucky.
Deciding to take a short break from horror, P.J. decided to go with a concept he had been sitting on for awhile. He created a short psychological drama he aptly titled, A Mind Beside Itself. He was excited to finally have his vision for his past idea come to life.
“A Mind Beside Itself was my chance to prove to the filmmaking community that I was capable of much more than cheesy one-liners and splatter effects,” said P.J. “Between the awards and praise from critics, I'd say that I reached my goal. Lee Goldberg, who saw the film, said it was a more mature work and ‘a far better and more professional looking film than Hallows Eve.’”
In the following months, P.J. worked as director of photography and co-editor for Lee Goldberg's movie Remaindered. Shortly after, he took on the role of associate producer for Joe Atkinson’s independent feature, Reality.
While staying busy on projects, P.J. was hard at work sending A Mind Beside Itself out to different film festivals.
“At one point I was contacted by someone and they asked me to send them the short to their festival in Russellville, KY,” said P.J. “That struck a chord with me. I thought it was fantastic that Russellville had its own film fest, but it raised another serious question in me. Why doesn't Owensboro, the third largest city in the state, have its own festival?”
From there, with the help of a friend and his wife, P.J. began the process of putting together The River City Festival of Films, Owensboro’s first and only all-genre film festival.
“That in itself was an insane undertaking, but with passion and drive we pulled it off on Saturday, October 15th, 2011 at our local mall. The festival is also a charity event with all the proceeds going to a local and deserving group called New Beginnings.”
Fifteen short films were screened over the course of eleven hours, a variety of Q&A's were hosted and the festival had many filmmakers onsite in the event’s floor area to talk with guests.
P.J.’s growing production company, Verite Cinema, also partnered with Kentucky Wesleyan College to put on The Indie Film Series, a series that features local and regional filmmakers while including some educational components.
“Continued education through the arts, as well as giving back to the community, are two of our major goals at Verite Cinema,” explained P.J.
“I'm sure you've seen a pattern at this juncture,” P.J. told SurfKY News during the interview.
When asked about current projects, P.J. went on to explain that, “Right now, I'm an associate producer for the indie horror film, Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh, from Jakob Bilinski, as well as the web-series, The Book of Dallas, from Joe Atkinson, both out of Evansville, IN.”
P.J.’s latest horror effort, which is also in pre-production, is titled My Horror Project.
“My last film was a thinker and now I just want to do something fun. I gravitate towards the horror genre as I'm a huge fan myself. I just want to make a film where someone says a cussword before they die. That sounds like a good time to me,” P.J. quipped.
The synopsis for his latest work is as follows:
“Grant, a documentary filmmaker, along with his trusty cinematographer Kevin and two Producers rent an alleged demonically possessed home with a very sordid past. While the Producers are hoping to cash in on what could be the next supernatural reality phenomenon, Grant has other plans. A harsh skeptic, Grant plans to make an over budgeted spook house flop to prove a point: that ghosts don’t exist and to shatter the mythos of the ‘haunted house’ once and for all. It isn’t long before Grant begins to discover the malevolent secrets hidden within the walls of the decrepit Victorian manor. As the mystery unfolds and the body count rises, Grant is forced to make a deadly choice: let his film die or finish what he’s started and see this project to the grisly end! My Horror Project… an experiment in fear.”
P.J. explained to SurfKY that, like Hallows Eve, there is more beneath the surface when it comes to My Horror Project. While it appears to be “just another Paranormal Activity wannabe”, it’s actually a paranormal horror film that is very self-aware, P.J. added.
“Much like Scream was to slashers, I look at the new project as the modern answer to supernatural thrillers,” explains P.J. “I'm not re-creating the wheel, but I am making a film that should please genre fans on many different levels.”
Also, with the success of the first year of the film fest, P.J. is prepping for year two of The River City Festival of Films. It will take place on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 and the event will be hosted by Kentucky Wesleyan College.
“This year we're at a nicer and larger facility. It's going to be bigger and better than the year before. With the addition of feature films, we're adding master classes and seminars into the mix with the Q&A's. It's going to be a blast,” P.J. exclaimed.
P.J. loves working with others and helping other local filmmakers screen their works. As he tells SurfKY News, “That’s why I'm so happy and excited that things worked out with the film festival. There is no viable option for local filmmakers to show their films and the festival not only gives them that opportunity, but it gives them a chance to meet up with their filmmaking brethren.”
P.J. is also working on securing films for series two of The Indie Film Series, which will take place in the fall of 2012 at Kentucky Wesleyan.
SurfKY News asked P.J. why he likes being a filmmaker in a city like Owensboro.
“I was and still am on the cusp of something larger than myself in the way of independent filmmaking in our area, and I find that exciting and very special to be a part of. There is little that I don't like,” said P.J. “Being in a smaller community sometimes leaves little options to expand your filmmaking opportunities as you try to grow. While there are some very supportive individuals and entities in the area, I would like to see more opening their minds to what we're doing. I'm tired of someone not wanting to allow a production because it's something that hasn't been done at their location before. For every supportive person, there are about 3 unsupportive. Sometimes it can be disconcerting.”
P.J. considers his wife, Katrina, his biggest driving force. “Katrina has been involved with all my projects in some fashion going all the way back to before Third Shift. She went from being an extra to being production manager on A Mind Beside Itself to now executive producer on My Horror Project.”
P.J. attributes much of his success to what he considers the “true backbone” of the projects he’s undertaken.
“It's because of all the people involved with a project that I'm able to bring my films to fruition; without them I would be lost. From the production assistants, to the actors, to the script supervisor, producers and the like.”
What does the future hold for P.J. Starks?
“My plans are simple. I plan to grow what I and so few others in my immediate area are trying to accomplish. I plan to network with other filmmakers and make strong friendships and working relationships like I have with Jakob Bilinski and Joe Atkinson. I also hope to create stronger awareness about what I'm doing in Owensboro, and for Owensboro to build a stronger foundation for independent filmmaking through our various projects like The River City Festival of Films and The Indie Film Series.
“What I enjoy the most is the creative process and the collaboration with other passionate and likeminded artists,” states P.J. “It also gives me a chance to work on something unique with the people I love.”
Click the links below for more information on some of Verite Cinema’s works.
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