Filmmaker John Appleton brings Effects of Gravity to Winston-Salem

by Mark Burger

The a/perture theatre (311 W. 4 th St.) has rapidly become Winston-Salem’s haven for foreign and independent cinema, offering film fans to experience movies unlikely to play the neighborhood multiplexes.

That is certainly true in the case of Effects of Gravity, which will be screened Sunday at 8 p.m. This low-budget, independent film marks the feature directorial debut of John Appleton, who made it basically “because I wanted to make a movie,” he says.

Having made short films during his teenage years, Appleton did a two-year stint at the School of Filmmaking at the UNC School of the Arts, “but I dropped out/got kicked out,” he notes. “It was becoming too Hollywood for me.”

But he never strayed too far from the arts.

He’s an accomplished musician, having played in such bands as Pregnancies, the Saint Peter Pocket Veto and his solo project, Apathy Like You Mean It, and has also dabbled in music promotion.

“I go through phases,” he says. “For two years, I was in a music phase, and now I’m in a film phase.”

Not surprisingly, Appleton’s favorite filmmakers tend to be indie stalwarts, such as Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg) and Harmony Korine, whose Mister Lonely “was sort of a masterpiece,” he says. He revels in their off-center sensibilities and their unique outlook on life and film.

Much of the film was shot in and around Winston-Salem, with some scenes filmed at in Asheville, Charleston, SC and at Hanging Rock Mountain. Wherever Appleton went, his camera went with him — rolling all the way. Appleton followed his friends with the camera, creating the story as it happened. He estimates that as much as 95 percent of the film was improvised. “If we went bar-hopping or to the beach, or sat at home watching TV, I brought my camera,” he recalls.

“It’s not plot-driven,” Appleton says.

“Basically, it’s real life and real people. I let them be who they are. It’s almost a docu mentary.

I didn‘t even know who the lead characters would be. It evolved over time. As it began to take shape — whatever loose shape it has — I did begin to create a scenario to fill in the holes.”

The film stars Hannah Lee as Hannah, a young Korean woman desperately searching for her missing (to say nothing of imaginary) husband. Instead, she hooks up with Payne (Payne Fulcher), himself a bit of an eccentric, and a relationship blooms. But, like all relationships, the bloom is only short-lived.

In a classic example of life imitating art, Lee and Fulcher also became an off-screen couple.

“As I was shooting the film, in real life they were slowly starting to become a couple,” Appleton says. “In the broadest [sense], it’s a love story, but by no means is it just boymeets-girl, boy-loses girl… there are a lot of other things it examines.”

The two leads aren’t actors, but aren’t without experience in the arts. Like Appleton, Lee did a short stint at the UNC School of the Arts (in the School of Design and Production), and Fulcher is about to graduate the School of Filmmaking. They were already friends, and jumped into the production with enthusiasm.

With his first feature behind him, Appleton is looking ahead to his second. For this one, “I’m writing a screenplay. It’ll be made in a more conventional fashion, not as spontaneous as Effects of Gravity.”

Nevertheless, “I’m happy with it,” he says.

“I just know I wanted to make a film.”

As this marks the first public showing of Effects of Gravity, Appleton is anxious to hear feedback from the audience. “It’s very much an experimental film. I was not trying to emulate any formula. Depending on who you are and how you perceive things, it could be considered romantic, but it’s entirely unconventional.”

Admission is free. For more information about the goings-on at the a/perture cinema, check out the official website:

wanna go?

EFFECTS OF GRAVITY Sun, May 9th at 8pm a/perture theatre 311 W. 4th Street