Hockersmith and MediaHead co-founder Eric Gustafson, a commercial shooter and editor, were initially motivated to begin screening films by the sheer quantity of short film work being done independently in Atlanta. "We work in film and TV production, and we probably know 40 people who are working on interesting film projects on their own," Hockersmith says. "Everyone I know, by day they're doing car commercials, but at night, they're budding Martin Scorseses, putting together their 20-minute shorts."
Aspiring filmmakers face a paradox trying to break into the business, Hockersmith says. "It's kind of an endless loop. It's like that old ad campaign: 'I can't get a job because I don't have experience. But how can I get experience without having a job?' And then you hear 'Army! Navy! Air Force! Marines!'"
His advice for would-be auteurs is to join the ranks of the not-so-few, the proud, the makers of short films. "Most filmmakers I know make shorts to cut their teeth on something and sharpen their skills, but I think they have aspirations to use them as calling cards. They want a producer or someone to look at their film and say, 'I like what you did with $2,000 -- how about making us a music video or made-for-television feature?' Which would ultimately lead to feature work. It's like the saying, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.'"
Seeking to showcase the work of independent filmmakers, Hockersmith and Gustafson founded MediaHead in 1998. "When we started MediaHead in 1998, we looked at the invaluable work that IMAGE was doing, and wanted to take it a step further -- to offer a venue for local filmmakers on a monthly basis. MediaHead offered 18 consecutive monthly programs, and there was no shortage of material or audience for it."
A mostly self-taught filmmaker with a degree and day job in graphic design, Hockersmith's producing and directing work includes Toyota commercials, corporate industrial films and two music videos for Man or Astroman?, shown on seven national and international music video networks. But he considers his first "official" film to be a 10-minute experimental short titled "Postmodern Revelations." "I premiered it at the Fountainhead in 1999, but never submitted it to competitions and film festivals, mainly because in them I used music from The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur without authorization."
He's one of the contributors to the upcoming "Locals Only" program. IMAGE program director Mark Smith, who selected the lineup with Hockersmith, says, "We tried to pick a mixed bag of across-the-board genres, and one of the biggest challenges was not to pigeonhole. MTV has been such an influence on filmmaking that when people make shorts, they think they must play to short attention spans. They can be great, but we also wanted ones more narrative-based, that play to character, almost like potential features."
You can see some influences in the "Locals Only" films. Charles Bryant's "Technical Knockout," a five-minute account of a love affair, has narration purposefully like Annie Hall-era Woody Allen. Tony Schaff's "Get Outta Here," named for a fictional car-themed game show, is cued to TV comedy, while "The Missing Basic" by Ari Kuschnir and Gustavo Gonzalez, about a scientist trying to unlock his capacity for dreaming, evokes Darren Aronofsky's Pi.
Hockersmith's own "Far As I'm Concerned" looks almost exactly like an actual country music video, but it's in fact a parody built around a persona of singer Earle Monroe. "Earle Monroe is a big fan of Andy Kaufman's performance art, and he's a country singer like Andy Kaufman was a wrestler," Hockersmith explains. "'Far As I'm Concerned' is tongue in cheek but professional enough that it might make you think twice."
Currently Hockersmith's production company, Continental Breakfast Inc., is working on a commission for five industrial training films. "It's not the most glamorous job out there, but it's a chance to flex muscles, to show off my skills as a writer/director/producer -- and it pays." He points out that such work can lead to unexpectedly exciting things, such as his industrial fund-raising film "The Mystical Arts of Tibet," which premiered in May 1998 at a formal reception for the Dalai Lama. Hockersmith didn't get to meet the Lama, but admits, "I was actually more stoked to meet Philip Glass."
Hockersmith is developing original, creative ideas of his own as well. "I have a concept for a 30-minute television project, a dramatic narrative about a talented hypnotherapist and how he helps people. I want to produce it locally and use local people." But such pursuits keep Gustafson and himself from arranging MediaHead programs as often as they'd like. "MediaHead is just a couple of guys who work out of their apartments. Eventually Gus and I said, 'This is cool what we're doing, but we want to do our own stuff,' so we had to put it aside. Now it's a special event kind of thing."
He maintains that a monthly film program provides an enormous boost for cultivating the local filmmaking community and keeping them in town. "Filmmakers get frustrated because there's no scene in Atlanta, not a place for individual artists to get their work showcased on a regular basis. If there's not something like a monthly screening in place, they're more likely to throw up hands and say, 'I need to go to a more competitive environment, like New York or Los Angeles.'"
Smith points to Dickie Rigdon, whose black-and-white short "Googol" provides the abstract but amusing adventures of a lovelorn fellow in a gorilla suit. "It's experimental but simple, and has a definite style of its own. These are the type of people we want to keep here in Atlanta. A show like Locals Only is a way of saying 'Stay here, you're a vital asset to the community.'"
Hockersmith says MediaHead's free screenings often drew up to 200 people, and he has similar hopes for Locals Only. "The ultimate goal of any independent artist making a short is the opportunity to show it to a big audience, and there aren't a heckuva a lot of places for that. The audience is the ultimate proving ground, and it's where you learn if you're really entertaining other people, or just yourself and your roommate." He considers this. "Maybe there should be a 'Gong Show' for shorts."
"That's too cruel," Smith says. "But I'd go see it."
Locals Only will be held Thursday, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. at The Fountainhead Lounge, 485 Flat Shoals Ave. Admission free. Call 404-352-4225. www.hockersmith .iwarp.com.
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