A short film by Blue Ridge resident and filmmaker Marc Hutchins earned the Audience Choice Award at the fourth annual Virginia Indie Film Festival in Richmond in February.
For Hutchins, the award was great, but the audience’s reaction to his family comedy, “Goodbye to Muffy,” was even better.
The 12-minute film will be up on his website sometime next week, where the world will be able to see what the festival audience found so entertaining.
he film festival was held at the historic Byrd Theatre in Richmond and was presented cooperatively by the Virginia Film Office, the Virginia Production Alliance and RVA Magazine/RVA TV. The festival featured independently produced documentaries, short films and feature films from Virginia filmmakers. Grand prize winners and audience choice award winners were announced in each category.
Hutchins owns the film company Alexander Films, which has done commercial work locally for about eight years. About two-and-a-half years ago, Hutchins said he got more into support work for video and film. That also allowed him to start doing independent films.
“That’s always been my passion,” the Atlanta native explained.
The commercial work pays the bills, but being a filmmaker is like being an artist, and he hopes his interests combined with other local filmmakers will lead to the attention of the local arts community.
“Goodbye to Muffy” is a story about a family that has to deal with the death of a fairly new pet– a cat named Muffy.
Hutchins said it was great hearing the audience at the film festival laughing at “Goodbye to Muffy.” “The fact that the audience liked it is better than the award,” Hutchins said. “You’re sticking your neck out with a comedy. You know if they (the audience) get it or not.”
A synopsis of the film says: “Following the death of a family cat, family-pet pictures and a funeral become the plans of the day.” It was filmed in “the best part of Forest” and “is a family-comedy the whole family can enjoy.”
Hutchins said filmmakers aren’t looking for commercial success with short films. “It’s more of a spec film to pick up other work, and a chance to work with other professionals in the area. It opens opportunities for other work.”
“Goodbye to Muffy” cost about $5,000 to produce, Hutchins said.
But the film also gives him something to show on his website. While he’s done work on other productions, most has been as a subcontractor. Last fall, he served as location manager for the independent film “Lake Effect.” That film is being produced by Life Out Loud Films and was filmed at Smith Mountain Lake.
While film has become a passion, Hutchins realized early on that he would likely have to be in another line of work to put food on the table, so he didn’t major in film in college. Instead, he went into teaching, and that’s what he was doing when he moved here from Florida. He taught in Bedford and Roanoke City before going into film production full time in 2004. “I didn’t want to get a degree in film and end up working at Starbucks,” he explained.
As an 8-year-old he dreamed of becoming a stuntman and actor, and he did take some acting classes, but a family and kids kept him grounded, although he did work on getting to the point he was able to do film work part time.
That started with writing scripts, translating that into filming, then acquiring cameras, sound equipment, lighting and the other necessities to start filming. He started locally doing some commercials. A part of his business at Alexander Films is renting film equipment, too.
“The beauty of independent film making is you can go anywhere,” Hutchins said when asked about the opportunities for the film industry in this part of Virginia. “I’m part of a group that likes this area, and there are lots of opportunities here.”
And he does think there are possibilities of more filmmakers coming to the area. “Will they rush in, probably not,” he added.
Hutchins does hope to produce another films, possibly some spec films for TV or to pitch to a network.
One he’s particularly interested in would allow him to work with one of the Roanoke City high schools—Patrick Henry. He’d like to do a film that focuses on the six pillars of character that are the foundation for CharacterCounts! He believes such a film could be used by schools, and he thinks PHHS would be ideal because it has film and drama programs that would allow students to work together.
He’s also interested in working with an organization like the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge to create a film inititive that could lead to accreditation for those involved in filmmaking. He thinks that would make it easier for other filmmakers to come to the area since they would know they can get folks who are qualified to work on films.
Hutchins’ film about Muffy is the result of his own observations in the industry, too. As the father of eight, he said he’s found something really lacking in family films. “Many family films are faith based, but not every family film has to be,” he said. “One of my goals is to do family films that everyone can enjoy, from grandmother to the 4-year-old.”
From the audience reaction to “Goodbye to Muffy,” Hutchins may be on his way.
The Virginia Indie Film Festival was created to support and showcase Virginia independent filmmakers who produce a wide variety of short films, videos, documentaries, commercials, feature films, television shows and content for new media outlets. Films for the festival were selected by juries from the VCU French Film Festival, the James River Film Festival and the Virginia Film Festival.
Another area film was the winner in the documentary category at the festival. “A Gift for the Village” from Lucky Dog Productions in Roanoke, a film about a cultural bridge built between the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Himalayas of Western Nepal, also received the audience choice award.
Information about cast members, a trailer, the film itself and a clip from “Goodbye to Muffy can be found at www.goodbyetomuffy.com.