(All photos courtesy of JamesWorks Entertainment)
Starting with just a tape recorder, director James Kicklighter began to create stories, dabble in plays, and other various productions while growing up in Bellville, Georgia. Thus, ultimately leading him to the director’s chair and head of his own production company.
In 2005, Kicklighter started his company, JamesWorks Entertainment, so he could continue his love for storytelling.
Describing his early days, he says, “My mom thought I had a talent for storytelling, so when I decided I wanted to start the company, she said that I could do it only if she would co-chair it with me. Today that is still the case, and she essentially serves as a silent partner as the rest of our team makes the creative and business decisions.”
“Each film gets harder as the stakes rise. When you’re running around the country with a camera and a bare bones crew, it is exhilarating to have the freedom to do what you feel like without anyone to answer to. But as budgets go up and the principle players have more prestige, then you really have to consider many factors that were not there before. For example, is the product you made going to satisfy the investors with distribution and awards? If it doesn’t, then it will be much more difficult finding financing for your next project… As the productions grow bigger, so [do the numbers of] people to coordinate. At the end of the day, film production is not only a creative product but an important logistical venture. If the trains aren’t kept running, the whole production will crash and burn. As we progress, it is more important than ever to tackle these challenges with more planning and precision.”
Followed is his latest release, exploring a zombie epidemic that cripples an alternate version of America. Zombies follow those of the living who have secrets to hide, possible secrets that relate to the whole origin of the epidemic. This is not your average zombie flick, where they run amok feasting on living flesh. Instead Kicklighter creates a visual utopia that’s lighter in tone, merely begging the question: What have we done?
And that is what Peter tries to piece together. Peter (played by Australian actor Erryn Arkin) is a college professor, who at first glance is a socially-conscious professor.
“Careful and responsible. I do everything right. I am the most responsible person you can imagine”, he says. But soon after a school rally where a representative sheds light on the epidemic, he becomes the recipient of a zombie follower all of his own.
The zombie (played by Abigail de los Reyes) is a little girl draped in the meticulous zombie garb and walk, haunts our antagonist to no avail. Although she is desolate and barely utters a sound, her presence strikes fear and guilt. Peter tries whatever he can to get rid of the zombie, even writing a check to the girl made out to charity, but he may be a little too late in the charitable department. After confiding to his girlfriend Jenna about the zombie’s appearance, she simply implies to just ignore her, stating if he keeps paying attention to her, he will never get rid of her. Even his colleague Jackie implies ignorance of the zombie by saying, “There is nothing in that thing to cause you to be angry or to feel guilty… you’re alive and that thing is not. Don’t throw away all of this for roadkill.”
At about 20 minutes long, James Kicklighter has woven together a delectable short film with a stellar cast that ignites the story with a human touch. The principal actors Arkin and newcomer Abigail de los Reyes heavily rely on body language to help narrate their dialogue. Reyes is captivating as the zombie girl lost in the throes of the oppressed. With a blank stare and long, sad impression of failure, her presence truly strikes a chord. And a chord is struck with Arkin’s character, Peter. Arkin perfectly personified the individual we all feel like at times, when pushed in the corner with an issue of such worrying magnitude, constantly denying any wrong doing in the past. Edith Ivey, from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is wickedly appealing as Jackie. Wickedly appealing due to the fact that she would console Peter in a matronly way one moment and in the next, vividly show her disgust for the zombie followers, calling them roadkill.
The film also highlights Kicklighter’s impressive attention to detail in order to enhance this alternate reality. The movie is based on a short story written by Georgia Southern University professor and Hugo Award Winning writer, William McIntosh. While attending the same university as McIntosh, James had full access to the writer of the source material during his senior year.
“[Such access] became a tremendous blessing as we started making these changes.” Kicklighter stated. “I was able to pick his brain for ideas and concepts that I wanted to apply in the film version.”
According to Kicklighter, even though it was not in the short story, he made all the zombies minorities in the film and all the non-zombies white folks.
“We created an opening scene that was two sentences in the story that provided exposition to this symbolic world that an audience has simply not seen before in a zombie picture, thus helping us to bring people into the concept.”
His team has submitted Followed to a few film festivals this year at AFI Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival, Savannah Film Festival, and Melbourne International Film Festival, among others and is currently awaiting word. Suffice it to say, Followed belongs at those festivals. More recently, the film debuted at NFFTY 2011 in Seattle, winning the Audience Choice Award. Everything from the first scene swooping over the lavish stage of a unifying rally, to the endingʻs most endearing moments, Kicklighter provides a rich visual story that complements McIntosh’s intelligent short so well.
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