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Film written by local man set to premiere Sunday
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Zoë Newman (left) and Brian O’Sullivan play daughter and father in a scene from “Scavenger’s Daughter,” a film written by a local man. (Screenshot from “Scavenger’s Daughter”)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A movie written by a Bassett man will premiere Sunday in Roanoke.

“Scavenger’s Daughter” will premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center at Hollins University.

Admission is free, according to Doug Cheatwood, who directed the movie. Cheatwood, who works as a cashier at a grocery store and as a night clerk at a hotel, also is a member of a Roanoke-based eclectic pop/rock band.

The movie’s script was written by Ben R. Williams of Bassett.

“The movie is 35 minutes long,” said Williams, 29. He described the film as “a darkly comic drama. It has some parts that I think are very funny, but it’s not a comedy” and is about “people hatching a plan which goes awry. It is definitely for mature audiences” due to “some discussed sexual content” and language, he said.

The movie was Cheatwood’s first attempt at directing, he said.

“I’ve always wanted to direct. I love the process of envisioning something and then sculpting it into reality. And it wasn’t as big of a leap (from his role in the band) as you might think. There was a bit of a learning curve, but fundamentally, I found it to be pretty similar to what I do in (the band), which is just recognizing resources and then bringing them together to form something cohesive,” said Cheatwood, 33.

Cheatwood said he realized early on in the process that he needed a good story and contacted Williams, whom he described as “one of the best writers I know — affable, easy to work with, fast ... Also, he’s worked in theater. So he had experience with actors, which was something I lacked.”

Williams has self-published three books, had two plays produced, and also has done staged readings and performances of his work. He works as a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin.

Williams and Cheatwood got together to discuss the potential project, “and we sat on the porch, throwing around ideas. A couple of hours later, we had agreed on a story.” It was one Williams had in the back of his head for awhile, Cheatwood said.

As he and Cheatwood initially discussed, the film was to be 10 minutes long, but the script grew to 24 pages, Williams said.

“Generally, one page of film script translates into one minute of film, and we added a few scenes as we went along,” Williams said.

A couple of weeks after their initial meeting, Cheatwood said, Williams brought him the script, which features a teenage girl who hatches a plan to earn enough money — with her father’s help — to go to the college of her choice.

“They will leave broken lives in their wake,” Cheatwood said.

He described the movie as “definitely a micro-budget operation” that cost little more than $1,000 to produce, “maybe not even that,” Cheatwood said. Executive producer Todd Webb paid more than half the cost, according to Cheatwood, who said he paid the main actors, “but everybody else was working for fun, including myself.”

As far as equipment, “I had bought some” before, and some was borrowed, he said.

“The one thing that Doug and I talked a lot about was that we did not want” to create the kind of movie that is often made on a low budget, Williams said.

“Sometimes with low-budget films — and this one is extremely low budget — you get a camera, a bunch of friends together and just start filming. Our goal was to come in with a strong script and have the movie planned out. Everything in the movie is planned out and intentional,” Williams said. “There is very little ad-libbing, and after people watch it, hopefully they won’t feel like it was a low-budget movie.”

Williams, who also did the casting for the project, said he focused on recruiting actors who either are established in the Roanoke area or who are up and coming. Williams said he was “glad to bring in” the three main actors: Zoe Newman, who plays Monkey, the daughter; Brian O’Sullivan, who plays her father; and Drew Dowdy, whose role is a doctor grappling with personal demons. “They are really good at what they do, and I think they added another layer of professionalism to the movie.”

After the three main actors were selected, Cheatwood said, “we had rehearsals to make sure everybody understood the story, understood their characters and were just generally on the same page. In a lot of ways this part was the most like being in a band, with each actor finding the notes and learning how to play off the others. You can feel when everybody gets it. I think we rehearsed five or six times before shooting.”

Between rehearsals, Cheatwood made storyboards (a graphic organizer used to help a director preview the movie), scoped out locations, made all manner of to-do lists and gathered props as he tried “to make sure everything was in place for the shoot. There are so many variables in filmmaking. If you haven’t imagined everything you possibly can ahead of time, it can spell disaster for the finished product,” he said.

After the premiere, Williams and Cheatwood have a few more viewings of the movie planned and are working to do at least one of those in Martinsville.

“Then, we are hoping to submit it to some festivals. We haven’t put a lot of focus into that right yet, because the goal of the last few months has been getting it together and previewing it in Roanoke so all the actors and their friends can see it,” Williams said. “And Doug is a genius. I’m a huge admirer of his work.”

For his part, Cheatwood said he would “definitely like to make more movies. It’s enormously fun and satisfying. I may even try to do a feature-length next time.”

When asked about future storylines, he replied, “I have a couple stories kicking around. And I know Ben (Williams) has at least one he’d like to try.”


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