Keva Keyes has been in the movie business for 18 years. Mostly she works in the costume department, “but I’ve done a little of everything, from production assistant to locations assistant to casting,” she said.
Keyes, 45, has worked on “The Hunger Games,” “The Patriot,” “Army Wives,” “Lincoln,” “Righteous Gemstones” and “Mr. Mercedes,” among other projects.
Now she wants to write and make her own feature film. So she signed up for Indie Grants’ new Wide Angle Project.
“I did a little bit of filmmaking in the past,” Keyes said. She wrote screenplays and directed a short movie in 2009. But then she had two children and other duties to attend to. “I’m trying to get back to writing. Effie offered that push that I was looking forward to.”
She’s referring to Hollywood producer Effie Brown, who is perhaps best known for “Dear White People” and “Real Women Have Curves.” Brown is lead mentor of a new initiative launched by Indie Grants.
The South Carolina Film Commission and Trident Technical College started Indie Grants in 2010 in support of artists working on narrative short film projects. Thanks to grant money made available to South Carolina filmmakers, the program has funded about 30 projects since it got started.
Led by filmmaker and Indie Grants Producer Brad Jayne and Program Coordinator Jessica Garner, the Wide Angle Project gathers aspiring screenwriters, directors, technicians, designers, stylists and others who come from underserved communities for special training and mentorship.
Wide Angle got underway late last month when about 25 African-American filmmakers were convened for a daylong in-person workshop with Brown. They will continue to convene each month, consulting virtually with Brown, as they advance their various film projects. In April, Brown will return to Charleston to meet again with participants and offer final assessments of their work, perhaps helping to identify a few filmmakers who ought to apply for Indie Grants funding of up to $35,000.
Jayne called the initiative an “incubator.”
“They are building their projects and building themselves as filmmakers, with Effie as mentor,” he said.
Brown offers tough love. She is committed to sharing her experiences and knowledge with others, especially those “outside the dominant culture,” she said.
“Talent can be found anywhere, it just needs to be cultivated,” Brown said. Artists on the margins of society need access to resources and opportunities. Everyone shares the same basic aspirations, she said. Everyone roots for the same heroes
At the initial workshop, Brown worked with each participant.
“I took them through their 'what' and 'why' — what was important to them, what was the story they wanted to tell ...”
Some wanted to explore gentrification, others cultural appropriation, others community and solidarity. Still others, like Keyes, hoped to make a movie that’s tells a fun story and is merely entertaining.
“Everybody has a story to tell,” Brown said. “But how do you get that story out to the world? That’s where access and resources come in.”
For the next few months, the inaugural Wide Angle Project group will have regular access to at least one professional with bold ideas, a successful track record and a provocative view of the world.