While Charleston’s independent film community may not appear, on the surface, to be thriving, people are constantly working to get their creative visions out into the public eye. With the ascendency of the digital age and the easy-to-use video uploading capabilities of websites like MySpace.com and YouTube.com, independent filmmaking has become anyone’s game (well, anyone with access to a high-speed Internet connection and digital equipment).

No one understands or accepts this paradigm shift more readily than the youth of the nation, and two young Charleston filmmakers – 26-year-old director Rob Lewis and 24-year-old Renaissance man (producer, director, actor, editor, gaffer, etc.) Tom Michal – recently had their first brush with fame when they entered a contest associated with the FX Network show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was picked up by the network after a group of friends presented a three-page treatment and a $200 pilot to a honcho at FX, and the contest was calling for other low-budget comedy pilots. Lewis and Michal uploaded a five-minute pilot called The Hard Way Out, a clever mash-up of a mockumentary, action cop show, and earnest buddy movie.

“We wrote the script in 1999,” Lewis says, “but it was kind of unattainable in that it called for blowing up cars, a jet-ski duel involving a helicopter exploding, police car crashes – so we never got that made. But what we did do was shoot, like, five scenes from it that didn’t require any of those things … then when we saw the contest, we decided to take the footage we already had and do a mockumentary, Office-style show that’s behind the scenes of a bad Miami Vice-style show.”

“There must’ve been thousands of entries and FX ended up picking 20 finalists,” Michal says. “We were not a finalist, but we did get a lot of support in the message boards. For, like, one tiny, gleaming moment I thought we were going to win.”

Michal and Lewis, who met in the film studies program at Trident Technical College, are both currently working full-time in the medium; Michal is an editor with WCIV-Channel 4, and Lewis is a videographer with SCETV. Both expressed a desire to create and/or be a part of a united group of Charleston independent filmmakers.

“I’ve always envisioned getting people involved and making a group like a community theatre group, but for film,” Michal says.

“If both of us had our choice, we would stay in Charleston and make films with our friends,” Lewis adds. “Fame and glory isn’t the goal … what it boils down to is that we’re kids making films and that’s what we like to do.” –Sara Miller