Working on my first feature documentary, I Didn’t Do It, has been wrought with unique challenges due mostly to the ongoing court cases related to the film. Last April I was working as a reporter in Oxford, Mississippi when news broke that ricin had been found in letters mailed to the President of the United States and then Sen. Roger Wicker. The letters were traced to North Mississippi. Then the story got closer to home as the suspect is arrested and brought to Oxford. Paul Kevin Curtis was a tribute artist living in Corinth, MS and was arrested by cooperation of 13 government agencies that were 100% sure he did it. The problem was, he didn’t do it.
In a classic John Grisham style story, the tribute artist had been framed by a karate instructor. Curtis was released after a few days and I met with producer Hudson Hickman for lunch and talked about what a wacky story this was and how someone should turn it into a movie. (mostly I thought it should be a Coen brothers film.) But after a few minutes we both turned the conversation from “someone” to “we” should make the movie. I reached out to attorney Christi McCoy and within 48 hours had the life rights of Kevin Curtis. We have been filming off and on over a year since that time while still raising funds to finish the project. It has been a challenge because normally with narrative, you raise the funds, and then make the movie. But with this story continuing to grow, we couldn’t sit on it until all the funds were secured. So, luckily my cinematographer and I are in a relationship and have worked many a weekend on no-budget films, so we have found creative ways and called in many a favor to get some amazing footage.
Another challenge is that Everett Dutschke has been behind bars in a jail that only allow family to visit. We have written letters and he continues to try to prove the guilt of Kevin Curtis. The story for awhile felt like it was going nowhere. That all changed the other day when Dutschke took back his plea at his sentencing and now has opened himself up to a much larger sentence with a future court date. And we are now possibly obtaining access to Dutschke for the documentary which now makes for a more compelling story.
The story itself is complex and challenging and as much about the government and our civil rights as it is about social media and egos as it is about man versus man. But at the same time we have been doing crowd funding which is its own full-time job. As I write this we are 3 days out from our campaign and $40,000 shy. We will fail. I am taking awhile to accept that as I have never failed at what I set out to do in film before, not even previous crowd funding campaigns. But it taught me a valuable lesson that you should always ask for less than you really need and hope you get more. We are now turning our eye to more grants, more private funding and donations directly to our website. For me, as a no-budget filmmaker, ongoing begging for money and ongoing meetings with potential investors is like walking into another world and shaking your head a lot so people hope you get it. Give me a challenge on a set, make me figure out a shot, or let me manage some talent, but when it comes to money, as a filmmaker, it is hard to have to be the business manager, the talent manager, the producer, the director, the PA, the grip and more in one person. But with indie projects, sometimes, you just don’t have the luxury to just wear one hat. But there is nothing new or or original about finding your way as an independent filmmaker. What is unique about our story is how lucky we were to have such a national story with some large implications fall into our laps in a small town in the middle of Mississippi. Not many people get Elvis and the President with ricin and intense court drama all wrapped up in one little story. Well, not outside Mississippi, anyway. Around here, it is just yet another true but bizarre story. But we are excited to get this story out next year. Please follow along on our journey by visiting ididntdoitmovie.com orfacebook.com/ididntdoitmovie or twitter.com/ididntdoitmovie.
By Melanie Addington