The Arts

Lake of Fire premier fires up Greensboro

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Filmmaker Les Butchart is the first to admit that Lake of Fire has been a long time coming. The independent drama, filmed on location in Greensboro, Ramseur and Franklinville, will be screened Friday at the Community Theatre of Greensboro (CTG) with members of the cast and crew in attendance.

Ariel Burke, in her feature debut, stars as Lucy Speckle, a small-town girl newly returned home after a year in prison for killing the man who allegedly raped her. There are those in town who admire and sympathize with her, others who firmly believe she got away with murder, and at least one with vengeance in mind. This is a town of secrets, hidden agendas, deception and corruption.

“I’m a fan of the Southern Gothic idiom, especially Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner – and I was reading Flannery O’Connor just prior to writing the screenplay,” recalls Butchart, who also directed Lake of Fire. “Also, I wanted to feature Ariel Burke in the film because I knew she was incredibly talented and could carry a film. My goal in writing it was to explore the Southern Gothic idiom for myself, to write a contemporary Southern Gothic piece, which I see as a dark canvas upon which to show little moments of grace and glimpses of redemption. But the impetus/inspiration was simply to write an original, compelling story that could be made on a low budget using convenient locations and great North Carolina actors. All of us wanted to showcase what’s possible for an indigenous film made on a low budget, with a solid story. This is the same impetus, I suppose, for every indie filmmaker, but this was the first time we had a budget to work with for a project we had complete control over.”

Although the CTG event is billed as Lake of Fire’s premiere, the majority of production took place in 2010. Explains Butchart: “The original title was Swimming in a Lake of Fire, but a distributor who showed some early interest was convinced that a shorter title would serve the film better, so we changed it. The first draft was finished in 2010 but the market for indie dramas was dismal, and I still wanted to give it a proper score, so we held onto it until we could afford to give it a custom score and colorize it. I ended up doing the color work, which was more than a little laborious, and Joel Everett (from Clemmons) did the score.

“We’ve had several small distributors express interest … but I knew enough about film distribution to not sign away the rights at that time, and the year it went to Cannes was another sad year for original indie films without name actors – a tough sell in any market!”
So a lengthy post-production period “was both frustrating and an opportunity,” says Butchart. “If there had been no delay, I would never have found Joel Everett to do the score, and just doing the score took almost a year!”

The solution was the formation of New River Releasing. “We have decided to do our own ‘digital direct distribution’ – the new term for self-distribution,” says Butchart. “Thankfully, a lot of new resources have grown up around VOD (Video on Demand) and all the new digital films everyone and their brothers and sisters seem to be making, so our plan is to leverage as much exposure as possible through as many VOD channels as possible.

“Our plan is to use Lake of Fire as a test case, followed by The Hive (a murder mystery filmed in Greensboro), another feature we’re finishing up for release next year. If all goes well with New River, we’ll try to help other filmmakers figure out the VOD approach, which doesn’t preclude festivals and theatrical releases, but should help create revenue streams for films without putting a filmmaker at the mercy of small distributors. I’ve watched two other features that I co-produced fall into the abyss of distribution, so I’ve been determined to treat Lake of Fire with kid gloves. I had no control over the other features, but I’m responsible for Lake of Fire, and it’s my baby.”

Lake of Fire was very much a family undertaking, with Les one of seven Butcharts who worked on the production: wife Susan (co-producer/caterer), son Lucas (co-producer/editor/first assistant cameraman/script doctor), son Ben (actor/dog wrangler), daughter Rosie (prop master/extra), grandson Sebastian (extra), and daughter-in-law Anne-Fleur (grip).

Observes Butchart: “The fascinating thing to me is that, even thought I’ve always known that filmmaking is in my DNA, I didn’t know or presume that it would get into their DNA. But all of us genuinely enjoy the process and the hands-on work itself – scouting locations, discovering actors, designing and building sets, and all that’s involved in shooting a film day-to-day. Up before dawn, sometimes working all night.

“But we all have day jobs and other careers too, so who’s to say that we’ll ever have another chance like Lake of Fire to work on one film together?”

Want to go …? Lake of Fire will be screened 7 pm Friday at the Community Theater of Greensboro, 520 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $6 (at the door) and $7.50 (on-line). For advance tickets or more information, call 336.333.7470 or visit https://ctgso.org/. The official Facebook page for Lake of Fire is: https://www.facebook.com/lakeoffiremovie. The official website for New River Releasing is: http://www.newriverreleasing.com/.

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