After the financial crash of 2014, Wilmington is regaining its status as a movie hub. 2021 has been a banner year for Wilmington and North Carolina as a whole, with post-pandemic demand for streaming content bolstering movie production.
However, it is not only the mainstream projects that contribute to this success. Independent film companies and festivals encourage innovation from local filmmakers, as well as UNCW’s own film studies department. Current UNCW students and alumni are finding ways to produce their own passion projects within industry activity. “Birdies,” a newly produced golf comedy that premieres Jan. 28, is one such movie, with four of its six production company members being UNCW alumni. One of the production members, Jamie Lane, is currently a student.
Lane, a non-traditional majoring theater student, is a Wilmington-area resident. He returned to Wilmington after many successful years of work in theater just before the pandemic hit, which later allowed him to continue his education and reconnect with old friends. It was one of those friends, Brandon Luck, who brought him onto the project.
“I entered [to the project] about 3 years ago, but the rest of the Tight Lies team have been working on this for about 12 years,” Lane said. “It all started with a bunch of ‘golf joke’ skits. It made them popular online and with the golf courses they went to, and then inspired one of our producers to write a full script. It’s his baby that we all fell into.
Troy Carlton, the film’s director, writer and editor, loosely based “Birdies” on the life of Arthur “Arty” Scott, a golf pro and party animal. He spread different elements of man’s life into his main characters resulting in a unique golf comedy. It’s a slobs versus snobs tale of a rivalry between two golf course owners, the ramshackle Twin Pines and the pretentious Magnolia Pointe. As their annual tournament approaches, the owner of Twin Pines must find a way to win after betting his golf course on the outcome. Washed-out golf pro Jake Baxter could be the key to victory.
Carlton and other members of the Tight Lies crew – Samuel Reed, Luck and Reid Doyle – had planned to move from sketches to producing the film when the tax credit incentive program ended in Carolina. North, blocking the film industry. Many filmmakers left the state to follow the industry money, and the team put “Birdies” on hold until halfway through the pandemic.
“In a weird way, COVID has provided us with this opportunity,” Lane said. “It’s a movie that nobody makes, in a time when nobody makes movies. We decided we just had to do it, otherwise it would be years later without a movie being made. Turns out we couldn’t have timed it better.
Being Wilmington locals, the team had connections across town who lent both equipment and encouragement to their film, which got them started. “We rented the cameras and lighting equipment, but a lot of it was given to us by Lighthouse Films in Wilmington, a local production company that Troy had ties to,” Lane said. “Then when it came time to find sets, the other guys had already built relationships with several golf courses through the sketches. The owner of Beau Rivage was so supportive that he let us use his facilities for free.”
“And then the other golf course we used for free, Ironclad, was being renovated. It was coincidental. We were able to film while they were demolishing and rebuilding, so we were able to make it look run down and then everything nine, exactly when we needed it. None of this was on our part. It’s perfect timing stuff.
“We all grew up here, so we know people who know people who know people,” Lane said. “So it’s not just us, it’s like the community made this movie, donating their stuff.”
With such local support as their foundation, the Tight Lies team only had to worry about production. However, as a five-man team, they had to take on more than the average on a mainstream set. Lane and his partners jumped between several roles throughout the filmmaking process.
“Troy was the director and principal cinematographer, but the rest of us four did everything else,” Lane said. “I would go from acting in a scene to holding the boom mic, doing my close-up and then helping someone else. Everyone but Troy and Sam acted in the movie, but even they were extras when we needed it. With a crew of five shooting an entire movie, “Birdies” is a testament to hard work.
Despite the greater responsibilities he took on, Lane favored the independent approach. “[Film is] a difficult industry to break into,” he said. “It’s rare that someone lets in – you have to force entry, most of the time. So for us, making it independent was half necessary, but also, we get to own it that way. It’s an opportunity for us to retain creative control, licensing, everything in our name. It’s our project, and there’s a lot of pride in that.
However, the work is never done in an independent production. The team is developing its post-production marketing strategy. They also made the decision to retain control over the distribution of the film to maintain ownership throughout the process. Together, it’s a lot to do, but Lane is hopeful about the film’s future. Without a big word, “Birdies” has already made the buzz.
Lane’s experience in theater and film has taught him valuable lessons about the drive needed to succeed in the industry. “Number one, with anything in art, you have to really want to do it,” Lane said of his advice to budding artists. “It’s not a question of accomplishment, but of wanting. This is what will drive you to success. And then you have to create your own content while you chase the paycheck. This is what will set you apart. If you pursue this for the right reasons, you will be creating your own content anyway.
‘Birdies’ reflects those feelings well in its production history – it’s a passion project produced by a group of people who had something unique to offer and went out of their way to create it. Lane and the crew at Tight Lies’ dedication to their film from start to finish points to a bright future for independent filmmaking and cinema in general. It’s not just about the product, but about the motivation to see it made.
“Birdies” will premiere at Thalian Hall in Wilmington on January 28, 2022 and will be available to order online on February 2, 2022. Tickets and pre-orders are available on the film’s official website. There will be updates on their social media as well as future screenings, which can also be viewed through their site.