A short film written and produced by Georgetown grad Chris Maloney could very well be making its way through the film fesitval circuit later this year.
Set in rural Tennessee, Dogwood tells the story of Charlie, an elderly school bus driver, and the friendship he develops with Rowan, a boy who was recently placed in foster care along Charlie’s bus route. Both in need of someone to talk to whether they realize it or not, Charlie learns the saddening details of Rowan’s displacement and becomes a reliable figure for Rowan, spending time and doing activities with him until he is placed in permanent housing, by then having formed a bond that enriches each of their lives.
Maloney graduated in 2004 from Georgetown High School, where his introduction into professional videography began.
“My formal education with film and video happened my senior year of high school when I ended up in an independent study video journalism class,” Maloney said.
Although the budding movie enthusiast moved away from Brown County at the age of 18 to pursue degrees in journalism and film, Maloney said his work is heavily influenced by his family life and Brown County roots.
“It definitely influenced who I am as a filmmaker,” Maloney said. “I tend to gravitate toward stories that take place in rural settings, which is something I owe to being raised in Brown County. Even this story itself owes something to my time in Georgetown. It tells about the relationship between a little boy and his school bus driver, which is something I feel like I understand, having spent 10 years’ worth of weekday mornings and afternoons on a school bus. It also explores the foster care system, which is something my family was involved in from the time I was very small.”
But at that time, Maloney did not yet know how those experiences would influence his future career as a filmmaker.
After high school, Maloney attended Ohio University as a journalism student and later attended the New York Film Academy. Despite the impressive resume, Maloney credits a hands-on approach for helping him succeed: learning through doing.
“I think I’ve learned most of what I know by doing,” Maloney said. “Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but I really need to be engaged, often physically, with whatever it is I’m working on. Just thinking through something doesn’t always work with me, so sitting and listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration is effective only up to a certain point.”
Maloney’s interest in film began when he was a young boy, when going to the movies with his family was a special treat.
“My dad’s sisters often took me to see movies, which was always a big deal,” Maloney remembered. “Since there was no movie theater in town, going to the cinema always felt like an adventure. But beyond that, it began to occur to me that the movies were products of people who worked together to tell stories, and that idea really fascinated me.”
One day, Maloney noticed that at the end of all his favorite movies, the words “Directed by Steven Spielberg” flashed up on the screen, which made him want to know more.
“I went to the library, checked out a book on Steven Spielberg, and from there I was pretty much hooked,” Maloney said. “And then I discovered Siskel & Ebert, which became part of my weekly routine. I was starved to hear people talk about the movies in an intelligent way, and with them, I got it. Every Saturday night I watched these two film critics, by myself in my bedroom, and learned so much about what makes a movie work. From there, it sort of morphed into the learning by doing idea.”
Fascinated by this new world unfolding for him, Maloney borrowed his parents’ video camera and made short movies with his friends.
“I borrowed a camera, started shooting, and sort of jumpstarted my education,” Maloney said. “The work ethic I observed as a kid probably has something to do with the way I learn, and certainly has something to do with how I approach filmmaking. Now I still make movies with my friends. The only difference is that, thankfully, more people see them and it’s become my job.”
For Maloney, choosing the right script was easy: he already had one in mind and couldn’t shake the creative urge to transform the tale into film.
“I wrote the script on my own because I had to,” Maloney said. “It was a story that haunted me, and I knew it would continue to haunt me until I put it down on paper, and ultimately, on camera.”
The relationship between the two characters was inspired by Maloney’s relationship with his own grandfather and his own realizations about relationships as he grew up. Yet underneath the story of a friendship between a bus driver and downtrodden child, Maloney takes the story deeper, elaborating on the pain of an old man who gets one more chance at life.
“[That] has largely shaped who I am as a person and as a storyteller,” Maloney said. “I realized, as an adult, that the version of Grandpa I got was drastically different than the version that his kids got. This realization got my wheels turning, and led to me wanting to tell a story about an old man, full of regrets and burned bridges, who gets a second chance at life through an unexpected friendship with a little boy who needs someone to love him. That’s really where this story comes from – the idea that there are second chances in life, and that kindness, no matter how small or unnoticed, matters. The tagline on the poster speaks to this. ‘It’s never too late,’ it says. And I think that’s true.”
Maloney used the platform Kickstarter to raise the entire budget for the movie. He exceeded his goal of $7,000 on March 6, money which will go toward compensation for the cast (excluding Maloney), rental fees for camera and sound equipment, food for filming days, fees for film festival submissions, and other filming-related costs. Had it not been for the fundraising, however, the movie could not have been made.
“I knew that going into it, which is what made this whole campaign so important to me,” Maloney said. “And I’ve been so touched by the generosity of everyone who has contributed. We’ve received donations from people I haven’t seen in years and many people I’ve never even met.”
As of this week, Maloney is still in the production process, although he does have the locations and crew picked out for his film and is in the very early stages of auditioning actors. To make the feel as realistic as possible, Maloney is really shooting the film in the small Tennessee town where his grandparents grew up, filming scenes at a nearby school, local woods, and even filming the actual house his grandfather owned.
“I’m interested in casting people who have little to no experience because I want raw, honest performances without any acting ‘tricks’ getting in the way,” Maloney said.
Filming begins in June and is expected to take one week, although post-production work and making the screening rounds once the film is completed is expected to take months.
“Post-production should only take a couple weeks, with a projected finish time set for July,” Maloney said. “I will spend at least six months sending it to film festivals, hoping to garner enough attention to get the chance to make a feature length version. I am also planning to submit it for consideration by the Academy of Motion Pictures, where it could potentially be nominated for an Oscar.”
The script for Dogwood has made it to the advanced rounds in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, although now that the fundraising is complete, the intensive work of actually producing the film can finally begin.
“So many people have put their faith and trust in this movie, and that’s a lot to consider as I go about shooting this film,” Maloney said. “I want to do a good job for everyone who took a risk by getting involved.”
For more information about Dogwood visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/492825014/dogwood-short-film or follow him on Twitter using the handle @MaloneysMovies.
Maloney currently lives in the greater Boston area with his wife and daughter.