Myrtle Beach-based Coastal Independent Films is making a name for itself making movies in the short film industry
Some folks have a side hobby or hustle making something like home-brewed beer or sea glass jewelry. The crew of Coastal Independent Films (CIF) spend their spare time outside of their full-time jobs making movies. Short films that are winning big awards and garnering the kind of attention that piques the interest of one of the best writers of our time.
The Myrtle Beach-based film company banded together about a year ago and has already racked up film festival awards, including Best Documentary for Mr. Myrtle Beach, a profile on local photography legend Jack Thompson, at the Cobb International Film Festival; a triple nomination for Best Music, Best Editing and Best Directing, as well as winner of Best Actress for Sal. at the Top Indie Film Awards; and the Homegrown Horror Award at The Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest in Charleston for Thirst of the Dead.
Oh, and their latest accomplishment? Securing the rights to the Stephen King horror short story That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French, which is now in pre-production. King’s short story, part of his 2002 Everything’s Eventual collection, was originally published in the June 22, 1998, issue of The New Yorker magazine.
“So Stephen King does this program, where student filmmakers or independent filmmakers can purchase the rights to one of his unsold short stories,” says Paul Inman with CIF, “and I’d been looking at it for a couple of years actually, but I was a little nervous to jump in. I finally pulled the trigger and thought this is the time if I want to try. They contacted me within 24 hours after I filled out the paperwork … It’s been a crazy experience and it’s going to be the biggest film we have done to date.”
We’re chatting on the set of CIF’s latest short film, Making Spirits Bright, a feel-good, 15-minute holiday movie that’s scheduled to be released in early December. Cameras and stage lights are set up inside a massive warehouse that sits in the woods on the end of a dirt lane in rural Horry County. Actors and crew in Santa or elf costumes are taking a short break beside a table stacked with bagels. Joel Allen, who wrote the movie manuscript, says he got the idea from his 36 years of working in the news interviewing mall Santas. Making Spirits Bright is a collection of vignettes from the retiree’s research.
“I think that often real life is more interesting than fantasy, so that’s where I got this story,” says Allen. “… My wife and I would watch some of these really awful TV movies, and time and again, I will say, ‘You know, I can write better than that.’ And so after you’ve said that about a hundred times, you have to put your money where your mouth is. It’s interesting to take a spark of an idea, make it into a script, get a cast and crew together, and then you see the final product. I mean, if you can’t have fun making movies, what else is there?”
For Greg French, nothing. One of the founders of CIF, French is a teacher at Socastee High School with a passion for performance. “I’ve always been happiest when I’m performing,” he says. “I was in all of the plays and musicals growing up and, as I got older, I found a way to do it on the big screen.”
That’s how CIF was born in September 2019, when three teachers, a lawyer, a copier repairman, a real estate agent, a few students and more by day united with their love for filmmaking.
“When we started, we just wanted to make films as a hobby. We weren’t looking to be famous or make money,” says French. “We just wanted to make films and release them for free on the Internet for the world to see because that’s what we like doing.” But that doesn’t mean that the CIF team doesn’t take their filmmaking seriously. Since they formed, they’ve released eight films, plus several behind-the-scenes features about different aspects of filmmaking, and they’re in pre-production on four more films within the next few months, which includes the short story by Stephen King.
French says that when they decide to do a film, they’re “all in.” Meaning, there is no job that is above or beneath any member of the group, from operating a camera to holding a microphone, carrying equipment, or any of the hundreds of little things that come up while filming. They’re all in this to learn the art of filmmaking and grow their skillset, which already features a rich pool of talent, like trained actors, stunt performers, camera operators, directors, editors, grips, gaffers—even a composer. And their efforts are paying off, as their films are taking home awards and their recent horror comedy short Thirst of the Dead was even bought by ShortsTV, where it’s now being aired in nearly 70 countries worldwide.
“One thing we didn’t want to happen was to be known as ‘that group that makes horror films,’ or whatever genre, so we’ve covered horror, comedy, romantic comedy, drama, family, documentary and a little of everything,” says French. “If a story isn’t solid, then putting a camera on it isn’t going to help it be any better; in many cases, it may actually make it worse. Most times, one of us will come up with an idea and develop a script around it. Our films are all short format, or under 20 minutes, so it’s a little easier to keep the viewer’s attention.”
Before CIF, French got started in the industry as an actor and stuntman, appearing as a zombie extra in seven seasons of The Walking Dead, in Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, and more.
“When I first got on set, I was completely blown away by the on-set logistics,” he says. “There were at least a hundred people all doing their different jobs, and when I wasn’t on camera I just sat back and watched what they were all doing … I have been on many big sets since then and that feeling still hasn’t gotten old for me. I’m constantly amazed at how that many people working together, yet separately, can create this amazing product at the end.”
As for the “film family” of CIF, they’re just happy to make movies.
“If we win awards, great. That feels good,” says French. “If we don’t, that’s also great. We all got to hang out and do what we love with our friends, which feels even better than winning awards! … Who knows? Maybe we’ll get noticed and evolve into the Grand Strand being the next big movie filming hotspot! But for now, we are just taking it one film at a time and enjoying our time together doing what we love.”
For the latest news and updates on the crew at CIF, visit facebook.com/coastalindependentfilms