by ChathamArts Intern, Lisa Li. Lisa is a freshman business and marketing student at UNC Chapel Hill.
After the tragic passing of his parents, Todd Tinkham realized that he could not die without pursuing his dream. He quit his job and turned to film-making. Many short films and several awards later, Todd tackled his first feature film in 2009—Southland of the Heart, which will be showing on March 27th in the Fearrington Barn in Pittsboro, NC, starting at 7 pm.
Part of the inspiration for the film stems from Todd’s 17 years of experience in working with at-risk kids in North Carolina. However, what cemented Todd’s vision was the young and enthusiastic production assistant who would go on to become the lead actress for Southland.
Jennifer Evans first worked with Todd in an earlier short film of his. While she loved to act and even attended film school for a year, she was forced to drop out due to pressing family difficulties. Todd introduced the young aspiring actress to the manager of a theater company, and soon after attended Jennifer’s performance in a play in the winter of 2009. Todd recalls being so impressed with Jennifer’s performance that he started to write a film with her in mind.
“Jennifer is a very inspirational person”, Todd asserted, “The way she looked. The way she moved.” As a result, Jennifer was cast as the lead character (of the same name) in Southland of the Heart, a moving rendition of a troubled teenager’s experiences in life and love.
The powerful storyline of Southland caught the attention of renowned cinematographer Ken James Peterson. Peterson is best known for his work on the hit television series, Miami Vice, as well as the Emmy-Award winning prime television series, Lost Civilizations. Todd once requested to work with Peterson on a short film, and at one point, the two had a conversation about the idea of Southland. Ken was so moved by the vision that he insisted on shooting the film himself. “We’ll worry about money later”, Peterson assured Todd.
Money was an issue indeed. With a budget of $10,000 stretched out over two years of filming, the cast and crew faced endless adversities, but never lost heart. However, the appearance and quality of the film gives nothing anything away about the meager budget it was produced with. Todd attributes the film’s “million dollar look” mainly to Ken James Peterson’s expertise. Peterson was a virtuoso when it came to manipulating a few lights to transform a banal setting into a vivid, magical scene.
Despite this, the funds were sometimes so constricted that Todd did not have enough money to buy food for himself. Throughout the thick and thin, he always had his priorities straight—to make sure his cast and crew was warm, dry, and fed. It became a joke that everyone always ate turkey sandwiches, but at other times, Todd would whip up a delicious homemade meal for all. “I was famous for a turkey soup I made, especially in the cold days.”
Aside from financial difficulties, the cast and crew also had to respond to unexpected situations with resilience and tact. While filming a scene in which Jennifer steals a car and almost gets caught, it had been raining all day, and the gaffer (in charge of lighting) slipped off the roof of a storage shed—he was 60 years old! Thankfully, the man suffered no major injuries, but Todd had no choice but to stop production for three weeks. When production resumed, the weather was no longer consistent with the first half of the scene, so the crew had to use nets to block out the sun and recreate the appearance of rainy weather.
Todd’s ardent devotion to his cast and crew stems from his belief that the most important part about making a film is fostering genuine relationships between everyone working on the film. “The relationships we build were magical”, Todd recalls fondly. Throughout the making of Southland, Todd has now become best friends with Ken James Peterson (with whom he has since worked on several other projects) and Jennifer Evans, among many others. “If we make a good movie, it’s just icing on the cake.” True to the theme of the film, Todd asserts, “Southland showed me anything is possible. It’s about the relationships you form with people.”
Sustainable Cinema is a film series featuring documentaries, narrative and independent films involving producers, directors, subjects and/or locations in North Carolina. Screenings take place Feb-June and Sept-Nov at the Fearrington Barn in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro. Admission at the door is $5 except for special events.
Cash beverage/bar available during films. Admissions proceeds benefit ChathamArts and its arts & education programs. Filmmakers are usually in attendance for post-screening Q&A’s. Join us for cinematic treasures, learn about the art of filmmaking and enjoy engaging discussion afterwards!See www.chathamarts.org for details.
Lisa Li is a freshman Business and Marketing Student at UNC Chapel Hill, and she is amazing at helping keep ChathamArts in the spotlight. We love Lisa!