Lowcountry Indie Short Film Festival
5 p.m.
$5 per block of films, $2/members
Olde North Charleston Picture House
1080 E. Montague Ave.
North Charleston

It’s a 2,500-mile trip from Los Angeles to Charleston. That’s a long way to come for a one-off screening of a short film. But Sumter native, talented moviemaker, and recent American Film Institute (AFI) graduate John Patton Ford recently made the trip to attend the Charleston premiere of his latest project, Patrol.

This 18-minute drama has a smart concept. Norm is a divorced dad who tries to impress his young son by impersonating a cop. He’s actually a parking garage security officer, an occupation that’s not so impressive to a 6-year-old. Norm only has two days to convince the boy he’s a top-notch cop before he loses him for a long, long time.

“Stories drawn from real life appeal to me,” says Ford, who also wrote the film. “I like telling something down to earth.”

When Ford studied Trident Technical College’s Production One course in his early 20s, he was already planning similar dramas. His early shorts included Ed Lee, Journeymen, and He Can Hear It, the tale of a musician who goes blind, gets into financial trouble, and has to sell his dead wife’s piano.

“The first day he walked into my class I could tell he was talented,” says Trident instructor and filmmaker John Barnhardt. “When I saw He Can Hear It, I knew the kid was light years ahead. I wasn’t surprised when he got into the AFI.”

He Can Hear It is particularly cinematic, showing a directorial confidence beyond Ford’s years and a strong performance by local actor Daniel Jones. It won the Rebel Planet Short Film Festival in Hollywood.

At AFI, Ford developed Patrol (patrolmovie.com) as his thesis film. He invited Jones, the star of Journeymen and He Can Hear It, to play the desperate dad. “Danny is so good it’s crazy,” Ford laughs. “He never really trained as an actor, so he’s not aware of the tools a lot of actors have. But he understands who he is because of all the shit he’s been through. He’s comfortable with himself — he knows what he wants, what he likes, and what makes him happy. Plus he has a great face that can do tons of stuff.”

Jones, the star of dozens of indie shorts, jumped at the chance to star in an AFI film. “He left his wife, his kid, and his job back in Charleston to come make the movie,” says Ford, “even though I couldn’t pay him. He believed in the project that strongly.”

Jones only has good things to say about his director. “John has the dedication, drive, and talent of the kind of people I want to circle myself with, the kind that see things through,” says the actor.

Ford finished his film in June 2009 and then set his sights on the film festival circuit, submitting Patrol to over 50 different events including next year’s Myrtle Beach and Charleston International Film Festivals. Patrol was recently accepted into the Hollywood Film Festival. Local audiences got a chance to see the movie at the Terrace Theatre on Sept. 13.

“John Barnhardt called me and said he wanted to screen the movie in Charleston,” Ford explains. He quickly agreed, wishing to see the film in front of a “pure” audience that wasn’t as jaded as his movie-savvy LA peers. The other big reason for his trip here was to plan his next big project.

“I really want to make a feature film in Charleston,” the director says. “One, because the people are unique and the place looks incredible. Two, because it would be cheap.”

In LA, locations and insurance cost an extortionate amount to secure. “Here I can get great production values with a small amount of money,” Ford says. At his estimation, that small amount is around $100,000. Not only does he have to find the budget, but he also has to do it quickly.

Right now, Ford can depend on his talented classmates to crew the movie, even though to them “South Carolina sounds like Bolivia, it’s so far away from LA.” But in a couple of years, they’ll be working the big gigs and “flying here and not getting paid won’t be so appealing.” However, Ford’s determined to carefully plan the story he wants to do, not capitalize on a temporary opportunity.

Whether he makes this deadline or not, Ford’s star continues to rise. Patrol was a finalist in the prestigious Angelus Student Film Festival, and two AFI grad school screenings sold out. Ford’s parents were there to share his big moment.

“It was the first thing of mine that my parents had seen after I’d been making movies for years and years,” Ford says. “They got to see it in a theater full of people. It was very satisfying.”

Back home, the filmmaker’s determination serves as a motivation for others. “I was proud to get him back here,” says Barnhardt. “He’s a real inspiration for the Trident students. He’s looked up to quite a bit although he won’t accept that — he’s way too modest.”