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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Charlotte native promoting local film
Independent filmmaker talks Hollywood in Charlotte
 
Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014
by Michaela L. Duckett

PHOTO/DFITZ THE DESIGNER
Fred Forte Jr., an independent filmmaker and founder of Forte Jr. Productions, said local artists need a platform. His company is hosting the Charlotte Film Showcase April 19 at UNCC's Center City campus. 

One could say movies produced by Charlotte filmmaker Fred Forte Jr. are dreams come true.

The Charlotte native said inspiration for his projects often comes to him in his sleep.

“I dream a lot,” he said. “I look forward to my dreams. I’m a vivid dreamer. I wake up out of my dreams and hit the recorder on my phone and just start talking… I go back to sleep, wake up and think of something.”

Forte said that as an independent filmmaker, one of the biggest challenges he faces is getting the word out about his films. Even when he does, people are often reluctant to support projects with local, unknown actors.

“One of the first things they ask is ‘Who’s in it?’” he said. “Then, they ask what the film is about.”

It’s a plight facing most of his colleagues in the local film community.

“Independent artists and filmmakers need a platform,” he said. “Charlotte doesn’t really have many platforms for filmmakers to showcase our work. So I took it upon myself to create an opportunity for actors, producers and directors to come out and network with people that are doing the same thing.”

Forte’s production company, Forte Jr. Productions, is presenting the Charlotte Film Showcase April 19 in the auditorium of UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus. The showcase will provide six other filmmakers the opportunity to exhibit their work and earn income from ticket sales.

Tickets cost $10 and are available at CharlotteFilmShowcase.com.

The showcase begins at 5:30 p.m. Each film is less than 30 minutes, and a full schedule and synopsis of each film is available online.

Forte said he plans for the Charlotte Film Showcase to become an annual event to give local independent artists a platform.

“Some of the best work that you will ever see will be done in your own backyard,” he said. “There are great films being done on a local level. You just have to go see it.”

Hollywood is coming

As North Carolina’s film industry grows and Charlotte seeks to add its name to the list of locations known for film, one would imagine that progress would be a boon for the local film community. Forte says not so much.

“When they come, they don’t use us,” he said. “They don’t use our actors. When they do use us, we’re just extras on set. All they use is our resources, such as our locations.”

Forte said if there were more of an effort to support local actors and filmmakers and get their work on the big screen, he would be more supportive.

“But if the goal is just to outsource actors from other places around the country and use them here on our land, that’s not helping our local film community,” he said. “I go to the film committee meetings every first and second Tuesday of the month, and every meeting that I go to I don’t hear about [how we can benefit].”

He said it will just create greater competition between local independents with big-budget Hollywood.

“The more they move in, the smaller we get,” he said. “The less people will pay attention to what we are doing on an independent level.”

Getting his start

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Forte got his start writing plays for local churches and youth groups. It was something he enjoyed as a hobby.

“I didn’t even know this could be a profession,” he said.

After taking note of Tyler Perry’s success, Forte realized that not only could it be a profession but potentially lucrative.

His first theatrical production was 2010’s “For the Love of Money,” which opened at Central Piedmont Community College’s Halton Theater. About 500 people showed up on opening night. Forte took the production on the road, visiting college campuses around North Carolina.

“When I saw the impact that the message had on people, I knew that this is something that I really wanted to get into,” he said. “As an artist there is nothing like having people come up to you saying, ‘I love your work. Keep doing it.’ I thought about my passion and my purpose and saw that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

But it isn’t cheap. Counting up the cost of venues, traveling, paying the crew, financing the set and costumes and promotion, Forte found he was easily spending upwards of $50,000 a year to put on plays. Although much of the cost was financed through grants and donations, Forte found his business model was financially unsustainable.

“It just got too expensive,” he said. “I knew that I had to find another way to tell my stories.”

At the suggestion of his father, Forte reluctantly looked into film, bought a camera and learned all he could about the craft. His first film, “Weight,” a movie about a woman who was raped by an HIV-positive man months before her wedding, won three awards at the 2013 Charlotte Black Film Festival – Best Feature, Best Director and Best Music Score.

Forte now has four short films under his belt. Last year’s “Petey,” a full-length feature film starring “Nolimit” Larry Mims, was released last August. Forte said its premiere night was somewhat of a wake up call.

After heavily promoting the film, he expected the same – if not bigger – response as his first play. However, when the film opened less than 200 people showed up. That’s when he realized how difficult it is to get the support of the community behind independent films.

Forte hopes the Charlotte Film Showcase will help change that. See samples of his work online at www.fjpfilms.com

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