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February 17, 2012

Ready, set, action: New Albany filmmaker making name for himself

NEW ALBANY — After graduating from the University of Louisville, Kentucky native Tom Whitus began writing sports for the Louisville Courier Journal. However, in 1998, he went to New York City, where he made a short film. After that, Whitus was “off and running” with writing, producing and directing feature films.

His films have seen success in film festivals, distribution and cable TV, with “Jr. Detective Agency” currently on Showtime, The Movie Channel and Starz.  

“I still write for the paper, I like journalism. It helps me focus. If I need to write 10 pages in a day, I can,” he said. “I’m used to having a deadline, and it helps me be a better writer. It helps with my vocabulary too.”

After producing his first short film, Whitus went to Los Angeles, but in August 2004, his wife Laura asked him if he wanted to move to her hometown of New Albany, which he did, and they were married a year later.

Even though Whitus now lives in New Albany, he still produces just as many films as he did while living in Los Angeles.

“There are good actors, good crew and good locations (here). The problem with LA is locations that are so heavily permeated and cost prohibited,” he said. “Plus, I don't live there. Here, there is not as many layers of cast and crew members, but you can do a small film. But when doing a larger film with name talent, I have to bring them in here.”  

In the fall of 2010, when Whitus produced “Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice” in New Albany and Louisville, he did fly in talent which included Kevin Sorbo [“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”], Dee Wallace [“The Office” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”], Jacob Hays [several Disney programs] and Mik Scriba [“Bones”].   

However, the budget was kept small and the crew included only 20 people.

“I am a fan of making the film look good, and not a fan of the bells and whistles on set,” Whitus said. “When you see this film, it would never dawn on you that we didn’t spend a million dollars. We maximized what we had.”

By bells and whistles, Whitus means “half a dozen RVs, the multiple grip trucks, honey wagons, limousines pulling up with the stars and extras milling around.”

What they had was a smallish, Canon 5D Mark II, an efficient schedule of 18 shooting days, local crew members and very cooperative locations.

“As long as we didn’t break anything, it was affordable to shoot here, and they made it easy,” Whitus said. Of course the crew didn’t break anything, nor did they close the street off as one expects to see on the big Hollywood set.

“We didn’t create a lot of stir, which is what I like,” he said.

“Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice” was shot in several familiar locations including the Jefferson Villa Motel in Jeffersonville, outside Perkfection in Jeffersonville, the New Albany Police Department, the New Albany Fire Department, Providence High School, Aunt Arties Antique Mall in New Albany and around Whitus’ neighborhood in Silver Hills. Whitus said New Albany was very supportive, including former Mayor Doug England.

Since Whitus is now finished with “Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice,” he’s preparing to film a crime drama, and another film that’s full of CGI and 3D effects.

“Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice” is a family film, and it will show on the big screen at the Derby City Film Festival at 8 p.m. today. The festival will be at Clifton Center located at 2117 Payne St., in Louisville. The film’s next screening will be in Los Angeles on March 22 at the International Family Film Festival.

In addition, Whitus will present a seminar on Saturday for those interested in making their own movie for less than $15,000. He will discuss the most important aspect of a film, which is a good script. Also, how to select a genre, location, cast and crew for that budget.

“The thing about filmmaking, especially feature filmmaking, it requires two things, one a great deal of talent to do it, and two, a great deal of ‘stick-to-it’ attitude,” he said. “It’s the marathon mentality, where you know it’s going to take months and months to do it. Shooting it is the easy part, you might not think so, but it’s because you’re so focused. It’s the editing and music and all that that are the hard part.” He added that, of course, the script must be very well written.

The Derby City Film Festival will hold film screenings and workshops all weekend starting Friday evening. Tickets for films can be purchased individually, and passes are also available for purchase. Panel discussions include such subjects as budgeting, makeup and pitching a screenplay. For more information about the festival visit derbycityfilmfest.com. Information about Whitus can be found at silverhillspictures.shutterfly.com. “Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice” is distributed by Fantastic Films, and a complete list of crew members and talent can be found at imdb.com/ title/tt1436577.

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