Monday, April 22, 2013

'Nashville Film Festival' Shines Spotlight on Filmmakers


'Nashville Film Festival' Report #1

April 18-21, 2013

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            The "Nashville Film Festival" is in full swing with filmmakers and fans converging on the Green Hills Regal Cinema for the Red Carpet, movie screenings, educational panels, and parties. Following are highlights of activities occurring during the period April 18 to 21.


            The festival spotlights various producers, directors, actors, screenwriters and composers every day. Artists arrive at various times from the lower level of the venue's parking deck. Channel 4's Demetria Kalodimos received a good bit of media attention when she arrived Thursday night for the showing of her highly acclaimed documentary, "Indelible". Others to grace the Red Carpet (so far) include director Richard Speights Jr. ("America 101"), actress Claire Bowen ("Dead Man's Burden"), musician Big Kenny ("Coco D. Nut"), director David Wilson ("We Always Lie to Strangers"), actor Joshua Burge ("Ape"), and actors Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette ("This is Martin Bonner").

(Photo: Channel 4's Terry Bolger on the Red Carpet)

            The Tuesday (April 23) screening of "For the Love of Music: the Story of Nashville" is expected to draw a number of celebrities... possibly The Black Keys, Emmy Lou Harris, Peter Frampton, Bruce Springsteen, and Kris Kristofferson.

            The Red Carpet also was the location for an opening night silent auction. Attendees walked along tables to bid on items such as Southwest Airlines concert getaways, a celebrity guitar, autographed books, and meals at area restaurants.


            Like the recent "Score-Com" and "Film-Com", The NaFF offers a wide range of film-related panels featuring some of the top professionals in the business.

            Sunday's "Master Class" presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences (Joe Leydon, Tom Pollock, Sid Ganis, and Ellen Harrington) offered invaluable insights on the past, present and future (predicted) state of the film industry.

            All of the panelists agreed that digital technology (the ability to download movies anywhere at any time) has had a huge impact (positive and negative) on filmmaking. The blessing: New digital cameras make it possible for independents to shoot quality films. The curse: Some movie lovers are skipping the theaters for a living room or on-the-go experience.

            "We work hard to make movies look and sound great on the big screen," said Pollock, former chairman of Universal Pictures. "I hope we never lose that."

            Ganis agreed, citing the Oscar-winning "Life of Pi" as an example.

            "When I watched 'Life of Pi' on a big-screen TV, I thought it was pretty good," the former Academy president said. "But when I watched the 3D version in the theater with digital projection and sound, I considered it a cinematic miracle. There's just nothing like the movie theater experience."

            Pollock also spent a few minutes talking about the many challenges he faced after the release of Martin Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ". Trouble brewed after an evangelist led a rally protesting the showing of the film in a Mississippi theater.

            "This shows the impact that a film can have on society," he said. "Suddenly, we had 25,000 people protesting outside the gates of Universal. We received 4 million letters, mostly negative. Security guards even cornered a gun-toting intruder in the bathroom. My wife and kids had guards for years."

            Pollock was also at the studio when "Star Wars" was released. The film cost only $8 million to make.

            "I knew the world had changed when the spaceship crossed the entire screen on the opening shot," he added.

            As the director of exhibitions and special events, it's Harrington's job to break down cultural boundaries around the world. The academy faced a number of hurdles when representatives met with filmmakers in Iran.

            "The Iranian government condemned us," she said. "Some of the filmmakers there have been sent to jail. Despite this, they've found a way to get around government censorship. Our mission is to build a community of artists around the world. We all share the same passion."

            Other highlights from the discussion:

            * All of the panelists agreed that politics doesn't factor into the decisions Oscar voters make.

            * The Academy is a "group of individuals", not an "entity".

            * Agents are used for screenplay submissions for legal reasons.
            * The Academy's Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. The deadline for submissions is May 1. Learn more:

            * The Academy Museum in Hollywood will feature 290,000 square feet of state-of-the-art galleries, exhibition spaces, movie theaters, and educational areas.
            * Most of the most successful filmmakers started as independents.


            A host of films, including many made in Tennessee and across the South, are featured in this year's NaFF. You can see the entire list at .

            * "Indelible" -- Demetria Kalodimos' "Indelible: The Case Against Jeffrey Womack" uses interviews and footage from television news reports and interviews to show how "one man was blamed, charged, and ultimately disproved as the killer of Marcia Trimble. Kalodimos expertly merges old news footage with recent interviews to create a surreal, unforgettable experience.

(Photo: Channel 4's Demetria Kalodimos arrives on the Red Carpet)

            *  "Mud" -- A packed house was treated to the premiere of "Mud", a movie starring Matthew McConaughey (as Mud) and the now controversial Reese Witherspoon (as Mud's trouble-making girlfriend). The film is very moving, even prompting a few tears from the people seated around me. The storyline is fairly simple: Two boys find a man named Mud hiding out on a Mississippi River island in Arkansas. As the movie unfolds, the audience learns that Mud's unwavering love for the beautiful tramp Juniper has presented life-threatening problems, including a pursuing band of blood-thirsty bounty hunters. The cast is terrific, especially newcomers Tye Sheridan (Ellis) and Jacob Lofland (Neckbone). Young director Jeff Nichols (who greeted us using Skype) has done an outstanding job drawing out authentic "Southern drawls and mannerisms" in the snaky swamps of rural Arkansas. We'll see what happens after it premieres nationwide on April 26, but the hunch among the NaFF attendees is that "Mud" is sure to win an Oscar or two.

(Photo: Jeff Nichols greets moviegoers via Skype)

            * "This Is Martin Bonner" -- This movie had people talking (positively) after its showing on Sunday. Martin Bonner leaves his old life behind and moves to Reno, Nevada, where he finds work helping released prisoners transition to life on the outside. Meanwhile, Travis Holloway has just been released from prison. The two men form an unlikely friendship that offers them unspoken support and understanding. The verdict: What a surprisingly good independent film. Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette are simply terrific in their respective roles as Martin and Travis. Who knew that a low-budget film could elicit such emotion among moviegoers (during and afterwards)? The movie shows the "real" side of human experience, revealing how poor choices and suffering can lead to healing, understanding and friendship. How do we get back on the path of forgiveness? What do we do when we doubt our religious faith? How do we find the strength to rebuild a balanced life with purpose?


            Certain laminate holders, including NaFF members, sponsors and the press, have access to the VIP tent for the opening and closing parties, and just to hang out. Other laminate holders crowd the Red Carpet and surrounding areas to watch filmmakers arrive and network with the pros. It's a great way to compare notes, get to know your peers, and to encourage budding and professional filmmakers.

          All laminate holders can visit the Jenis stand for free ice cream. We try out a different flavor every time we wander the Red Carpet area.

Coming Up: Coverage for this week's "Nashville Film Festival", including Tuesday's panel "From Song to Sync: The Path to Placement". See all of our stories with photos at .

Other photos from NaFF:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

'Film-Com' Helps Budding Filmmakers Land Opportunities

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            During last week's opening party at the "Nashville Film Festival", an ecstatic couple greeted me with the words, "We received two offers!". They had spent the past few days (working day and night) to land financing and distribution for their independent film.

            Success stories like these are hard to come by. Filmmakers (like songwriters) spend countless hours (sometimes many years) networking at conferences, honing their craft, and knocking on countless doors. More than 150 of them packed the Country Music Hall of Fame's Ford Theater all day Wednesday (April 17) to learn from the top professionals in the field. Panels covered topics ranging from "How to Launch a Television Concept" (scripted or unscripted) and "Financing and Distribution of Documentaries" to "Women in Film & Television" and "Navigating the Studio System". Thanks to organizations like Film Nashville and events like "Film-Com", filmmakers' dreams are coming true (against the odds).

            During the late afternoon session "Navigating The Studio System", moderator Andy Van Roon showed us why he is one of the most knowledgeable (and hard working) film industry professionals in Nashville. He presented excellent questions at the right times and made a point to clarify some of the panelist's complicated (financial-speak) answers.

            The distinguished panelists (Allen Schwalb of Star Partners, John Hadity of Entertainment Partners, David Henry of East-West Bank, and Diego Martinez of Millennium) shared invaluable insights on how to finance a film -- a necessary ingredient for production, marketing and distribution. Following are highlights from their one-hour session.

            To land equity, mezzanine and gap loans and/or investors for your film, it's essential to do the following:

            * Get all of your ducks in a row. Develop a business plan that details all aspects of your project, including production costs and projected sales (both domestically and internationally). How much did similar films cost to market, and what kind of profit (if any) did they make?            

            * Try to involve an internationally known actor to add credibility (and foreign sales) for your project. (Think Magnolia Pictures and Nicole Kidman.)

            * Pre-sales can serve as collateral for your loan. Foreign box office revenues have increased dramatically. Research to find a dedicated, highly respected international sales agent to help land sales in foreign markets. Team up with someone who has a proven track record.

            * Keep after your sales agent (as the producer). Use the Internet to check results. Your film could easily be overlooked, especially if he or she has more than several clients.

            * Remember that all sales agents expect to be paid. Some of them will ask for a fairly large "chunk" (percentage) of the profit.

            * Should you be fortunate enough to land a distribution deal with a major studio, be sure to study the contract closely. The studios recoup certain expenses before you ever receive anything. Some even try to include marketing expenses such as congratulatory dinner parties. Play it safe by having a legal representative represent you in the negotiations.

            * Relationships are very important. Network to build a team of collaborators, mentors, sales agents, investors and distributors. Buy a film industry directory. Introduce yourself in person at industry-related offices in LA, New York and Nashville. Ask for casting advice to help build value for your film.

            * Can you beat the odds? More than 10,000 films were submitted for the "Sundance Film Festival" (for only 34 slots). More than 3,000 were submitted for the "Nashville Film Festival".

            * You need seed money to get started. Get to know your doctors, dentists and others for financial support. New digital technology makes it easier and cheaper to make an independent film.

* * *

Footnote: The "Women in Film & Television" panel offered insights on the challenges women sometimes face when trying to launch a project in the highly competitive, sometimes "male-dominated" industry. Here are a few tips from the panelists:

            * Women can overcome perceived disadvantages if they are business-like, have a tough skin, learn how to play "being female" (as a strength), and be aggressive. "Don't let them get ya!"

            * Female directors should pick their teams very carefully. "Have people who are willing to go into the trenches with you."

            * Remember that some countries are more "male-dominated". One example is Serbia, where female producers, directors and actors may face bigger challenges. When facing a challenge, "let your work speak for itself."

            * Try to keep your weekends free. Hire someone so you can "have a life."

Coming Up: Coverage for this month's "Nashville Film Festival", including the Red Carpet, Demetria Kalodimos, and the engrossing new film, "Mud". See our stories with photos at .

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Music, TV and Film A Perfect Mix in Music City

By Dan Wunsch
MCAU Guest Writer

(This article was published in the March/April 2013 Issue of the Nashville Music Guide.)

     NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Through the years, Nashville is becoming known as "Tinsel Town South" not only because of the LA transplants relocating here, but the city has earned the reputation of being a major film center through three annual major conferences and festivals: "Film-Com", the "Nashville Film Festival", and the "Nashville Screenwriters Conference".

(Dan Wunsch (right) greets New York Times reporter Phil Sweetland during the opening party for "Score-Com" and "Film-Com".)

     Each has filmmakers and film industry executives flocking to Music City from around the world, and the common thread that has made all three successful is the participation of Hollywood insiders, including directors, producers, film/TV executives, actors and screenwriters. Nashville songwriters, music publishers and record labels have a unique opportunity to place their songs and compositions into film and TV by networking at these events.

     "Film-Com" 2013 is scheduled from April 13-19 with sub-events scheduled throughout downtown Nashville. The primary mission of this film industry conference and market is to bring film, TV, investment and distribution companies together with filmmakers for the packaging, funding and distribution of new film and TV projects. The bread and butter of "Film-Com' is industry seminars, pitch sessions to industry executives, and a film market showcasing film and TV projects. Companies sending representatives this year include Dreamworks Animation, SyFy Channel, TLC, Valhalla Television, Millennium Film, I.M., and Global International Distribution to mention a few. 

     Several "Film-Com" events have been designed specifically with Nashville's music community in mind. The conference opens with a workshop/seminar for composers titled "Score-Com" on April 13 at Ocean Way Studios. Last year, the workshop/seminar was mentored by Richard Glasser, head of the music at Weinstein Co.

     The Film/TV Industry Bash is on April 17, and besides being a monstrous networking party, will also feature a panel with the movers and shakers behind the TV series "Nashville": script writer Callie Khouri, producer Loucas George, and creator Steve Buchanan. 

     The "Syncs & Drinks", the largest group of companies and professionals in Music City involved in placing songs in film and television projects, is hosting a networking event on April 18, which will be immensely useful for both filmmakers looking for song material and for songwriters looking to establish relationships with creators of film and television projects.

     The "New Project Expo" takes place at Titans Stadium on April 18, and is an exhibition of films and TV series with networking opportunities with producers and directors. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself as a potential source of music for their currently-in-development or future film and TV projects. 

     For a complete list of events and participants visit and

     As the dust is settling on "Film-Com", the 44th annual "Nashville Film Festival" (a.k.a. NaFF) begins on April 18 and ends on April 25. As in past years, the festival will take place at the Regal Cinemas in Green Hills.  Included in the final slate of fictional and documentary films, selected from over 3,000 submissions, there are several documentary films with music themes from rock and roll and hip hop to boys’ choirs and classic country. Some of the artists portrayed in this year’s crop of films include the Sheepdogs (Canadian rockers); the St. Thomas Boys Choir; the Beatles through the eyes of their devoted secretary and friend, Freda Kelly; Jim Lauderdale; Oakland Hip Hoppers; artists influenced by the Muscle Shoals sound; Cuban rap group Los Aldeanos; artists from Bronson, Mo.; and others.

     Not to be missed is the Opening Night Selection Feature on April 18 of the Film "Mud", directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. This screening is preceded by the red-carpet event, which always includes not only NaFF participating celebrities but also many surprise VIP’s. Bring your camera and find your spot with the paparazzi.  

     The Closing Night Selection on April 25, is the film "Unfinished Song", directed by Paul Andrew Williams and starring Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. The story line is seniors join a local singing group led by a charming and youthful director who reignites his passion for adventure.

     For a complete list of events including not only films but panel discussions and special events, visit .

     Last but not least, the 15th Annual Nashville Screenwriters Conference is scheduled from May 31 to June 2, 2013. This year, it returns to the Union Station Hotel. The foundation of the conference is panel discussions and seminars with the top screenwriters from Hollywood and New York, and this year's invitees will not disappoint. To mention a few, Alec Berg (SEINFELD, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, THE DICTATOR), Nancy Pimental (SOUTH PARK, THE SWEETEST THING, SHAMELESS), Manish Ravel (GIRLS, NEW GIRL, BAD TEACHER), Craig Mazin (IDENTITY THIEF, HANGOVER PART 2, SCARY MOVIE 4) and  Glenn Berger (KUNG FU PANDA, KING OF THE HILL). 

     The cornerstone event for Nashville’s music community is once again the "Music in Film and Television Panel" hosted by Anastasia Brown on June 1 at the Country Music Hall of Fame's Ford Theater. Major music supervisors will offer insider knowledge on how to place songs into films and television. The audience attendees will have the rare opportunity to submit one song to these panelists for their current projects. Actual scenes from projects in post-production will be shown on the big screen in the Ford Theater or script pages read, and each supervisor will describe the type of song required for the scene.

     Success stories from previous panels include placements in DREAM HOUSE, IN TIME, THE DARKEST HOUR, SANTA CLAUS 2 and  AUGUST RUSH to mention a few. 

     "Every label, publisher, manager, song writer and artist in town should attend this financially beneficial and inspiring panel," said Rod Essig, Creative Artist Agency executive. 

     For a complete list of events, participants and special events, visit .

     In closing, in addition to ALL-INCLUSIVE tickets for each of the three major happenings, there are one-day or single-event tickets available, an attractive alternative for “starving artists.” The road to success has many paths. Consider these three major Nashville film conferences and festivals as one of them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

'Score-Com' Hits A Home Run With John Capek


April 13-14, 2013

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            The Nashville Composers Association always does an outstanding job with its annual "Score-Com" event during Nashville Film Month, but this past weekend's seminar has taken the organization to new heights.

            The two-day symposium (April 13-14) at Ocean Way Studios gave budding and professional songwriters/composers invaluable insights on the business and creative sides of writing music for film and television.

            John Capek's credits are noteworthy. He has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, arranger and scorer for films and TV shows, including "A Perfect Storm", "Cocktail", and "Blown Away". He has written songs for Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, and many others. When you add his laid-back charm and experiential (alternative-to-Music Row) philosophy, you have one of the best motivators in the business.

            The composer spoke on two topics during his Saturday and Sunday afternoon sessions: "The Other Half of A Song, Melody and Harmony" (Day One) and "Let's Write An Anthem Together: An Interactive Group Songwriting Exercise" (Day Two).
            According to John, the key to music success rests on several key steps:

            * Find your niche... a one-of-a-kind songwriting approach that no one else has (think Lennon, Queen, Dylan and Nirvana). (John is known for his colorful chord structures, creative rhythms, and unexpected twists and turns.)

            * Develop your social skills to help build a professional network of potential collaborators. (John ended up working with a number of people he met at networking events.)

            * Understand and adapt to fast-changing computer technology. (John demonstrated his use of Pro Tools during the seminar.)

            * Write songs and compositions that build tension, anticipation and surprise by delaying the resolution until the very last moment. (The artist demonstrated this by playing examples from his own catalog, as well as legendary artists of our time.)

            He outlined the process a songwriter/composer takes to find success. In the beginning, an amateur songwriter typically tries to emulate his or her favorite artists (i.e. The Beatles copied Chuck Berry). Later, the writer expands his/her boundaries with risk-taking and experimental writing (i.e. Queen broke through musical boundaries with tunes such as "Bohemian Rhapsody"). Finally, the writer connects with his/her audience through graceful simplicity (one example is the Lennon classic, "Imagine").

            John admits that he is no fan of traditional songwriting techniques taught by Sheila Davis and others. To him, there are too many Taylor Swift wannabes writing in the same predictable way. Their songs essentially sound the same with quick, tonic-oriented melodic resolutions and common lyrical rhymes. To him, every song needs a surprise (both melodically and lyrically). Writing a successful song requires personality, experimentation, long hours, and a certain amount of risk.

               "There are so many ways to bring out your personality in a song," the composer added. "Try keeping every line in suspension until the very end, where you resolve. Explore the total range of possibilities."
            John used several Lennon demo clips to show how the late legendary tunesmith experimented to discover the perfect approach for the Beatles classic, "She Said She Said". Experimentation includes writing nonsense, trying out new chords, and phrasing things in unconventional ways. You continue working until you break through what he calls the "cringe factor".

            As an overnight exercise, John asked the two-dozen composers to write and record a one-minute piece of music based on an emotional experience. He was impressed with the resulting wide range of original music (featuring piano, strings, guitar, and sound effects), telling members of his audience that they have a "bright future."

            John closed by having the audience collaborate on the writing of an original song for film or television. First, attendees were asked to write a letter about their imaginary experiences in Afghanistan. Then he used selected lines for the lyric. Later, he used his piano to choose the rhythm and instrumentation for an experimental recording.
            Attendees left feeling invigorated and encouraged... and ready to experiment!

Footnotes... The Morning Sessions and the Big Party

            The morning sessions (Deidre Emerson, Scott Hallgren, John Pisciotta, and Stacy Widelitz) were equally satisfying and informative.  Here are a few highlights:

            * Have a lifelong yearning to learn and adapt to what's happening now.

            * Success is not going to wait for us.

            * We're moving in the direction of "Star Trek".

            * Unlearn... then re-learn.

            * You must have "thick skin".

            * Be as business-like as possible.

            * You have to re-invent yourself every five years.

            * Don't give everything away for free.

            *  Producers look for "emotional value".

            *  Self-promotion comes down to relationships.

            *  "This is the Wild West"... Keep your business house in order.

            *  Always file a cue sheet.

            * Be in control of your own copyright.

            Saturday night's "Score-Com"/"Film-Com" party was sensational. Scroll down for photos.

Coming Up: A story on this week's "Film-Com", followed by a series of stories on this year's "Nashville Film Festival". See the stories and others at .



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tennessee Films Announced for 'Nashville Film Festival'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The "Nashville Film Festival" has announced the film line-up for "Tennessee First" to be screened at the 44th annual festival, scheduled from April 18-25 at Regal Green Hills Cinema.
These films were all made by, about, and for the people of Tennessee. From quiet memories, to nights shattered by violence, these varied stories will take you on a wild ride from the Mississippi to the Appalachians.

“We are so excited about giving as many filmmakers as possible a shot at making the festival,” said NaFF Artistic Director Brian Owens. “We are deeply committed to supporting our Tennessee filmmakers.” 

Owens joined the Nashville Film Festival in 2008.  This year’s NaFF is his 6th Nashville Film Festival as Artistic Director. 

“Every year we have more local filmmakers submit to NaFF and we see that the overall quality is going up,” said Executive Director Ted Crockett. “We plan to expand our showcase for Tennessee films next year by expanding our "Tennessee First" opening night to a full day of screenings.”

The "Nashville Film Festival", like other major film festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca, is open to the public. Tickets may be purchased to any of 200 events, including films, panel discussions and parties. NaFF brings in filmmakers, celebrities, and industry insiders to mingle with people who enjoy film on the big screen.

The 'Tennessee First' feature films include:

"Indelible: The Case Against Jeffrey Womack" (Director: Demetria Kalodimos) -- The murder of Marcia Trimble has been called Nashville’s crime of the century. One man would be blamed, charged, and ultimately disproven as a killer, yet the stain of suspicion remained indelible.

"Music City USA" (Directors: Chris McDaniel) – A behind the scenes look at the artists, entertainers, and musicians that put the music in Music City. The people and places that make Nashville tick. A resilient city filled with creativity and heart.

"Nashville 2012" (Director: Jace Freeman and Sean Clark) – From underground wrestlers and street musicians to environmental activists and empowered immigrants, this accumulation of gritty narratives combine for an intimate portrait of a city.

"Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again" (Director: Dave Pomeroy) Explore the fascinating world of “The Human Jukebox” Sleepy LaBeef. No artist alive has a better grasp of American roots music.

"TWO: The Story of Roman & Nyro" (Director: Heather Winters) – The journey of songwriter Desmond Child and his lifelong partner Curtis Shaw, and how they met Angela Whittaker, the woman who would carry their twin sons, Roman and Nyro, into the world.

"Worm" (Director: Doug Mallette) – When the miracle product Fantasites, a parasite that returns our ability to dream, hits the market, the world quickly gets swept up in the phenomenon and Charles is no exception.

The Tennessee First short films include:

"Another Corner" (Director: Josh Harrell)
"The Children Next Door" (Director: Doug Block)
"The Melungeons" (Directors: Ian Cheney and Thomas Schienagel)
"Pigeon Kicker" (Director: Daniel Long)
"Tonight We Are Born As Stars" (Director: Brandon Langley)
"America 101" (Director: Richard Speight Jr.)
"Brother’s Keeper" (Director: Robert L. Poole)
"Cleaner Than Most" (Director: Jennifer Bonior)
"George" (Director: Josh Link)
"Mancipo" (Director: Samuel Ryan Willey)
"Pretty Monsters" (Directors: Ryan Parker and G.B. Shannon)
"Still Here" (Directors: Tyler Evans and David Lavender)
"Whether You Like It or Not" (Director: Wes Edwards)
"Wild Sands" (Directors: Warren Lewis, Allen William, and Scott Stewart)

Nashville Film Festival (NaFF), April 18 – 25, 2013, presented by Nissan, brings the world to Nashville in an eight-day celebration of film. Attended by filmmakers and industry insiders, and open to the public, NaFF screens more than 200 films from nearly 50 countries.  NaFF celebrates the diversity of the human voice and vision by curating program segments to include Latino, Black, GLBT, Jewish and Kurdish films. Founded in 1969 by Mary Jane Coleman, it is one of the oldest (44-years) film festivals in the U.S.  As an Academy Award Qualifying Event, NaFF draws filmmakers and celebrity guests to its red carpet at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16. The Festival annually garners notice from the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal online, MovieMaker Magazine, Film Festival Today, IndieWire, Variety, Billboard, New York and Script Magazine.

Learn more about the "Nashville Film Festival" at


Monday, April 8, 2013

Nashville's 'Tin Pan South' Closes On High Note


Day Five: April 6, 2013

            We ended "Tin Pan South" with two terrific shows: the early show at the Listening Room (featuring Ben Glover and Amy Grant, with special guests Billy Montana and Matt Jenkins) and the late show at the nearby Rutledge (featuring Aaron Barker, Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Wallin (with wife Camille), and special guest Wynn Varble.

April 6 (Saturday):


            The schedule for this show listed only two names: hit writer/CCM artist Ben Glover and CCM crossover artist/writer Amy Grant. On these two names alone, the house was packed to standing room only. There were no complaints when country artist and hit songwriter Billy Montana and hit writer Matt Jenkins turned up as surprise guests. I caught Matt's brother, Paul Jenkins, at Winners on Friday night. Talent sure runs in the Jenkins family!

(Photo: Billy Montana)

            Billy Montana performed his now-classic tunes, "Bring On The Rain" (Jo Dee Messina), "House Of A Thousand Dreams" (Martina McBride), and "Suds In The Bucket" (Sara Evans). Billy said a friend had called him saying, "Hey, they're playing your song on 'American Idol'." When Billy turned on the TV, contestant Kelly Pickler had just finished singing "Suds". He heard Simon Crowell comment, "Of all the songs you could have sung, why did you pick this one?" An open-jawed Montana pointed at the TV and yelled out, "But that's my song!"

            Billy said he moved here from upstate New York in 1989 in his '77 Monte Carlo with two kids and one on the way. In '93, he lost his publishing deal. He then commented to a friend, "What I need is a Garth cut." He got one 14 years later with "More Than A Memory", a song Lee Brice and Kyle Jacobs had been working on and brought Billy in to finish. Billy said that Lee's line, "Dialing six numbers and hanging up...", was what really sold Garth on the song.

 (Photo: Matt Jenkins)

            Matt Jenkins sang the upbeat "Blue Jeans Baby", "Running Out of Air" (Love and Theft), and "Fade Into You", which will be featured this fall on the new "Nashville" soundtrack album. The song was cut by Clare "Scarlett" Bowen.

            Besides writing pop, CCM and country hits for others, Ben Glover has several albums out on his own. We were treated to his incredible vocals on the song his wrote for his wife, "I See You". He also performed "Hard To Love" (Lee Brice) and "I Can't Outrun You" (recorded by Trace Adkins and Thompson Square).

(Photo: Ben Glover)

            Amy Grant sang the familiar "I Will Remember You" from her multi-Platinum album "Hearts In Motion", and "Find What You're Looking For" from her last album, "Somewhere Down The Road". I was happy to hear some new songs from her upcoming May album release, "How Mercy Looks From Here". I wasn't disappointed. The title cut is all I hoped it would be. She was inspired to write the song after an emotional roller-coaster year (the loss of her mother, the death of a friend in Afghanistan, and the joy of her step-daughter's wedding). She invited her producer, Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard and Audry Assad), to join her on "Our Time Is Now". There was a certain sound that Phil Ramone had captured on an old Simon and Garfunkel album. Amy called Ramone to inquire about it. He graciously told her what he'd done, adding some stories from his long career. Phil died a few weeks after that conversation. The song "Our Time Is Now" features the legendary Carole King. The evening ended with Amy's new duet with James Taylor, (love tells us) "Don't Try So Hard".

(Photo: Amy Grant)

            Afterwards, while washing my hands in the men's room, I struck up a brief conversation with the guy next to me. "It's a special night, isn't it?" he said. "It sure is," I answered, feeling fortunate that I was one of the lucky people to see and hear such a remarkable group of writers.

-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Writer

THE RUTLEDGE (Second Show):

            We ended "Tin Pan South" where we had started five days earlier. The Rutledge was the perfect setting for a show filled with tongue-and-cheek ribbing, self-deprecating humor, entertaining stories (serious and not-so serious) and unforgettable hooks and melodies (some coming from self-proclaimed farmers and hillbillies). One of the performers even chewed tobacco as he sang. Some of that rubbed on me (not the tobacco). I woke up thinking of song ideas I never expected to have.

(Photo: Aaron Barker)

            Aaron Barker (the Blue Bell Ice Cream jingle singer) was a gracious host. Acting more composed and laid back, he expressed his love of songwriting, telling the large crowd how special it was to perform on the same stage as Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Wallin (with wife Camille), and special guest (the crazy cowboy) Wynn Varble.
            "Nashville is the last songwriting community," he said with a note of heartfelt seriousness. "When a fellow songwriter is in trouble, we all come together to help."

            Aaron put on a wonderful show, performing velvety-voiced classics such as Lonestar's "What About Now" and George Strait's "I Can Still Make Cheyenne", "A Love Without End, Amen", and "Goodbye, Farewell, So Long". He closed with "Baby Blue", a surprise first cut (and number one hit) by none other than George Strait.

            "We'd lost just about everything," said Aaron, looking back on hard times in Texas before making it big. "Suddenly, out of the blue, I received a check from BMI. It had a lot of numbers. Somehow, my publisher had gotten one of my songs to George Strait. It was the number one song, but I didn't even know it. When I showed the check to my stepdad, he thought it was a sweepstakes promotion."

            That surprise hit and large check obviously changed Aaron's life. He eventually moved to Nashville, writing hit after hit after hit... and a few Blue Bell Ice Cream jingles.

            Chris Wallin made no apologies for his love of "suped-up" classic cars. He remembered being at a car show when he learned his song "Something to Be Proud Of" (Montgomery Gentry) had hit number one. Knowing a big royalty check was on the way, he left the lot driving a 1966 Chevelle.

  (Photo: Chris Wallin)
            "We need to be proud of what we have... even if it's still in the shop," he laughed.
            The artist used his rich, Southern-as-can-be baritone to sing current and/or soon-to-be classics such as "Man", "Love Me If You Can" (Toby Keith), "I'm Trying" (Trace Adkins), and "Don't Blink".  On more than one occasion, he raised his left hand to show off a finger he had accidentally injured earlier in the day. He was concerned the paper cut might affect his guitar playing, but it didn't.
            "'I'm Trying' reached number 40 and stalled," Chris noted before singing the song with his wife, Camille. "When Trace Adkins got arrested for DUI, the song immediately jumped five spots."

            Chris handed his guitar to (bass diva) Camille a couple of times during the show. She has a great voice that complements her husband's... almost a country-accented combination of Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna and Etta James. It's nice to hear the Southern blues in country music. The audience thoroughly enjoyed her performances of the growling "One Way Ticket To Gone" and "A Good Cry".
            Family man Lee Thomas Miller sang and played songs celebrating lost love ("She's Cryin' On Her Suitcase"/Casey James), the rush of life ("You're Gonna Miss This"/Trace Adkins), and manhood ("I'm Still A Guy"/Brad Paisley). He was proud to introduce his wife, who was sitting in the audience. Their "Miller bunch" kids were at home with the babysitter.

(Photo: Lee Thomas Miller)

            The crowd howled with laughter when he performed "Hillbilly Porn", a hilarious protest song that received scrutiny (and the misspelling of the word "hillbilly") from a reporter at The Washington Post. The song chides Nashville's former mayor and other city leaders for investing in "the naked giants" statue at Music Row's Roundabout.

            "The reporter treated me like a stupid country hick who didn't appreciate art, and I played along," Chris said. "Her story was scathing."

            Chris added that the mayor wasn't particularly happy about being mentioned in the song. "The mayor bought us some hillbilly porn... what's the tambourine for..."

            Wynn Varble wasn't listed in the program, but we sure were glad he was there. He kept us in stitches every time it was his turn to play. The cowboy-hatted farm guy (with a tobacco tin in his back pocket) always provided a joke before galloping into various trailblazers, including " A Little More Country Than That" (Easton Corbin); "She's A Little Too Country For Me", "Things That Never Cross A Man's Mind" ("American Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler); and "Waitin' On A Woman" (Brad Paisley).

 (Photo: Wynn Varble)

            Then he got serious, telling us how Willie Nelson had selected one of his songs for a recent album.

            "When my phone rang, a guy on the other end said, 'Hello, this is Willie'," said Wynn with as much seriousness as he could muster. "I didn't believe it was him at first. He said he'd lost the recording I sent him and wanted another. I said, 'Sure, I'll send you 500 copies of the song if you want 'em.' A while later, I got a call askin' for the lyrics. He was in the studio recordin' it."

            The audience listened intently as Wynn sang about a cowboy's adventures on Chisholm Trail, through Death Valley, and across dusty plains. Some of them had heard the Willie Nelson version... others hadn't.

            Then he sang the chorus: "But I ain't goin' down on Brokeback Mountain... No, I ain't goin' down on Brokeback Mountain...." The room erupted with laughter. Political correctness wasn't in Wynn's vocabulary, but it didn't seem to matter. He had just about everyone singing along with him by the end of the song. (Please don't tell the reporter at The Washington Post.)

            During the past five days we've heard and seen just about everything when it comes to songwriting. It's truly been an amazing week... more than a memory.
-- Chuck Whiting, MCAU Editor

Do you have an unforgettable "Tin Pan South" story/experience to tell.  Please send it to us at .

"Tin Pan South" Schedule:

(Photo: Camille Wallin)

(Photo: Chris Wallin)

(Photo: Amy Grant)

(Photo: Listening Room Stage Shot... By Miranda Sullivan)

(Photo: Listening Room Stage Shot... By Miranda Sullivan)