After using one of the private meeting rooms at Morrison Regional Library in early 2016 to make her first documentary, Julie McElmurry wondered what was next for her.
She already had two master’s degrees, so going back to school didn’t sound appealing. A seven-day film-making boot camp would cost her $2,000, and that sounded like a whole lot of money for just a week.
So, in May 2017, McElmurry and her husband sprawled a parade of Post-It notes, scribbled with ideas for the future, on a picnic table. It was there she figured out her next step.
“Instead of sending myself to film school for one week,” McElmurry said, “I decided to do this long-term project and find local people like me who want to learn and local filmmakers who want to teach.”
It was then McElmurry decided to put the $2,000 toward finding teachers, putting on events and basically starting a film school herself.
That was the birth of the Charlotte Unconventional Film School.
Of course, before she could host a class, she needed a place for people to go and a place for them to sit.
Propelled by a $7,000 grant from The Pilgrim Legacy Fund, McElmurry started scouting teachers and topics for Charlotte Unconventional Film School (CUFS). McElmurry rented space from Snap Photography and Business Services on Old Pineville Road in a strip mall next to a Venezuelan restaurant. She wrangled up a few plastic tables and chairs for a ragtag classroom set. Soon, she found herself sharing the joys of making movies with others.
“I want people to connect, learn and create a space where they can find each other and move on from there and have friendships,” McElmurry said. “That’s the most important thing for me -- that people connect.”
At the end of the day, she thought, isn’t that what cinema is all about?
And so it went for a year, McElmurry scheduling 12 classes during a five-month period.
Then, in the fall of 2018, McElmurry met a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library employee who loved the idea of creating a learning-based partnership for Library customers who could benefit from the already established film school. He also happened to be the person responsible for the new Innovation programs at the Library.
“What I loved so much about Julie's work and her organization was her belief that everyone has the ability to learn something new and create something original. The belief that anyone equipped with the right knowledge and tools is a very democratic take on human potential; it’s also a very Library-like mindset. Film just happens to be the medium.” said Seth Ervin, chief innovation officer at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. “Julie also emphasized the importance of reaching diverse audiences and showcasing diverse talent, which is something that matters a great deal to the Library.”
For her first step in the project, McElmurry hosted an event, “Screenwriting for People Who Are Already Good Writers,” at a Library location to see if partnering with the Library would be a good fit.
Nearly two dozen people filled the room one day in October 2018, and the event was a smash success.
Because of that interest, McElmurry and the Library launched the 10-part Make a Movie workshop with classes running from January 2019 through May 2019. The workshop offers teachers as well-regarded as Mike Collins, host of Charlotte Talks on WFAE; author Tommy Tomlinson; and a crewmember from the Academy Award-winning movie Dances With Wolves.
“Ultimately, I want to equip everyone in Charlotte who wants to make movies or to tell stories that haven’t been told yet,” McElmurry said. “It dawned on me the way to do that is to find partnerships with organizations like the Library that can open this up to people so money isn’t a hindrance.”
What should people expect from these workshops?
While each of the 10 workshops stand independently from one another, McElmurry noted it does help if you can go to all of them as in totality it gives a complete overview of filmmaking. The workshop topics range from audio production to how to interview subjects to cinematography basics.
McElmurry stressed, though, these workshops aren’t the end goal for any budding filmmaker; they’re the beginning.
“You can’t expect to attend these workshops and know this stuff. It’s an intense three hours to learn. It’s ideal for people who are curious and who have always wanted to study this stuff. It’s a starting point for people who are self-taught,” she said. “This is their first chance to sit in front of an actual professional teacher and learn from them. As we teach ourselves, we learn, but there are a lot of gaps. To sit there with a professional, take notes and ask questions, there’s nothing else like that.”
The best part about the workshops? Like every Library program, they’re free.
Still, as a new filmmaker herself, McElmurry might just be as excited as anyone for the classes.
“I’ll be sitting there in the room like everyone else, taking notes. I’m the director,” she said, “but I’m also a student at my own film school.”
To register for any of the upcoming 10 workshops in the Make a Movie series, go here. Please note, due to high interest, some workshops may be full or wait-listed.