Quiet on set — Spartans in film



Mentor and cast member Sean Winfrey dresses as an evil puppet for an electrical repair scene. Even with heavy scheduling conflicts, all crew members worked hard to meet deadlines for their Memphis Indie Festival short film submission.

Four unlikely friends fight the evil puppet master in an unlikely turn of events in the short film, “Community Theater.” Each actor worked through tough filming schedules and deadlines to create a film full of comedy and horror. (MIKEY GRAVES//USED WITH PERMISSION)

Hot chocolate — this is what first brought Mikey Graves (11) into the world of film. At the age of four, Graves was asked to act in a local holiday commercial for Oak Court Mall, his one job being to stand around drinking hot chocolate. Just like that, Graves’s work in film began. 

Years later, Graves has continued acting for smaller roles that led to a passion for both films and filmmaking. Now, as a producer and script-writer, Graves has turned his fascination into a hobby that allows him to channel his creative talents. 

“I need an outlet to do my creative work with and filmmaking is what came to me,” Graves said. 

In 9th grade, Graves learned of the Memphis Indie Film Fest, giving him the perfect opportunity to explore the technical side of film. Although the film,  “Charlie’s Reprise,” was written by Charles Santo (12), Graves made up the entirety of the art crew. 

“I did “Charlie’s Reprise’’ and it was just a really great experience so I decided ‘Ok I’m going to sign up for this again,” Graves said. 

After the script was complete, it was time for casting, but the crew did not know who to ask or who to pull from. Graves took the problem into his own hands, asking the Thespian Society for help. Ultimately, four students from White Station took him up on the offer. 

 “I started asking around, like, ‘Hey! I’ll pay you in pizza if you come act for my short film,’” Graves said. 

This filming experience allowed both those acting and those behind-the-scenes to tune in to their creative sides and find perfection in the imperfection of film. 

“The amount of creativity that went into the script … it sounds silly, and when you watch [the film] it is, but it’s fun,” Eden Holding (10) said. “And the fact that [Graves] could take something so strange and make it work … I really respect that.”

For the 2022 Memphis Indie Film Festival, the project Graves has been working on since 10th grade is a genre of horror comedy — a “Breakfast Club” meets horror style short film called “Community Theater.” Since his crew was interested in being behind the camera, Graves was left to write and produce: his special touch being creepy puppets and creepy kids. 

“We have [the characters] come together, and they need to fix up this theater, but, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s an evil past to the theater,’” Graves said. “Kids went missing, evil puppets, there’s a great villain monologue: it hits every major scene in a bad horror movie. We make fun of it, and then we move on.” 

The filming process for “Community Theater” was vastly different from Graves’s first film, “Charlie‘s Reprise,” where filming only took seven hours each day for three days.. 

For “Community Theater,” a week and a half of filming was spent at the Central Library, but even with the perfect cast and crew, scheduling days to film proved to be a daunting task. Eventually, cast members woke up at 5:00 a.m., got keys to the library before opening and finished the film in one go. 

“[Filming] wasn’t stressful, but that day [filming so early] was tiring,” Holding said. 

To finalize the film, transitions and music were added. After this, the final cuts of the film were sent to the editor to be revised. The group then waited for the Indie Memphis Film premiere, which was not until August, leaving both cast and crew to bide their time until they could see the final product. 

“The longest part is the waiting, anticipating for it to come out,” Graves said.  “You don’t know when it’s gonna happen, but it happens, and that’s honestly the best feeling when you can see yourself and your work up there on the screen.” 

Ultimately, the film did not receive an award; however, Graves will continue producing for the film festival. Memphis Indie Fest provides all filmmaking necessities, allowing Graves the creative freedom he needs as a director. The creativity of Grave’s work helps his cast grow into their role as actors and become more comfortable with themselves as Graves equally grows as a director. 

“Working with your friends is always fun … but they can call you out on your mistakes … and you’re like ‘Ok cool, I can work with that,’” Sarah Cameron (11) said. 

Graves has also applied for a film internship, hoping to use it as an opportunity to continue his love for the arts. Graves’s hard work allows people who work with him to feel his passion. 

“You can tell he has a deep appreciation for [film] … It’s a very personal thing for him … I can tell that he really loves it, and that’s really great to see in a director,” Cameron said. 

Graves’s film projects mainly stem from his friends, who unknowingly contribute to a new film idea just by saying something that spurs an idea that Graves can not help but write down. 

“I really couldn’t do [my work] without my friends and my crew, because they’re all such amazing people who are willing to come together to do ridiculous things for me,” Graves said. 

Graves finds joy in being able to meet up with friends and produce something all his own. Even when his film work is stressful and time-consuming, he finds that the positives of film outweigh the negatives. Although he does not know for certain if he will pick a career in the film industry, Graves thinks he could see a future in scriptwriting to stay connected to film. 

“It’s really just the fact that if I wasn’t doing [film], I don’t know what I would be doing,” Graves said.