Welcome to the South
Charles Box Jr. shows a personal side of the U.S. that you wouldn’t normally get a sense of in big budget films. This film does not just observe a community to enlighten viewers. Welcome to the South tells the story of Tyran, who is born into a difficult life and will begin a journey to battle out of “the South,” an environment that fights to bring him back down. Charles Box Jr. shares with us his own journey in making the short film and what is next to come.
~The Fine Artist
What made you decide that you wanted to work in film? How long have you been working in film?
I think it’s a part of knowing who I am. I was a writer initially and I was going to be a political speech writer, but as I was going through undergrad in college, honestly, I saw that filmmakers had more influence than people in the government so I just focused my energy on getting the message to the masses the best way possible. Just look at the evolution of media . . . film seemed to be the best way to do it.
I see that you have a company called Mailbox Productions.
Yes, that’s my own company that I started. I came to Florida after I graduated from Chapman and I wanted to be able to call the shots and run the show. It’s taken some time and work, but I was able to save [money] and tell the story the way I thought it should be told.
What filmmakers influence your style?
I’m a producer-writer by trade. This is actually my first time directing. I’m heavily influenced by writers like Aaron Sorkin, Stephen J. Cannell and David Chase. I also like Cecil B. DeMille. Jerry Bruckheimer is probably my all-time influence in the film industry. As far as directors, I think the guys that I went to film school with were my biggest influence to direct. I’ve watched those guys create shot sheets and spend countless hours getting the scripts done and coaching their actors. One friend I worked with in particular named Tyrone Huff . . . we worked on 6 or 7 projects together. I was influenced by his drive and passion for film. We constantly bounce ideas off of each other still today.
Did he help with Welcome to the South or was this a personal inspiration for you?
Originally, he was supposed to direct, but budget affected the script. I know he’s a great director and he influenced me to get my work together. I had to make it at least good enough for him to say it’s good, then I know I’m in a good place.
In the end, what was your inspiration for Welcome to the South?
I think my biggest inspiration was growing up in the neighborhood that we filmed it in, the Tampa Bay area. My biggest influence was that I remember kids growing up like that . . . just a collection of stories from my childhood and growing up. Different things happened in my house and it just created this story over the years.
There is a line about the south, being at the bottom and it pulls you back down.
That is a true statement. I’ve seen so many of my friends who were stellar athletes in school. People go to college and they come home for Christmas and they never go back to school. Or people are influenced by others in the neighborhood. They can do better, but for some reason they return to the neighborhood and then they never leave. All the opportunities in the world that are given to them academically, athletically, and musically . . . the majority come back and they get with the people who never left or don’t aspire to do things.
At first, I didn’t realize the narrator was the younger son. It seems like it’s the older son. Was this an intentional surprise for the audience?
Yes, it was. And actually the short is the beginning of a feature film. It was intentionally done because I want the audience to understand that growing up, this kid was in this environment, in this neighborhood, but he has to aspire and do better.
That does answer another one of my questions. It did feel like the film was about to show Tyran’s journey and I wanted to see what would happen next to this character.
Ultimately, the story is about this boy and how he survives, without letting the same thing happen to him that happened to his brother.
How was your relationship with the actors and how did you discover them?
I put out a casting call and the boy who plays the older brother responded immediately. He was 17 at the time and he sent his reel, head shot, and resume on his own, even though he has a manager. And he told me his story and how he wanted to act. His mother didn’t know he had submitted for the role. He submitted his information at two or three in the morning. He had the look; I just needed to know if he could act. Fifteen minutes later, I got his reel and he was pretty much cast from that point. His agent and manager told him not to come, but he came and had a great time.
Cree Davis [who plays Tyran’s mother] was a theater-trained actor who said she read the story and she did not have to get paid. She wanted to do this film.
We sat in the room separately with each actor and spoke about the script as a whole and what they thought about their character. The actors had their own personal experiences that they could relate to within the script.
The story seems to be about the consequences of our choices (the mother and older brother), yet there is this light at the end with the younger son, Tyran. He didn’t choose the life set up for him, but he has a chance to leave it behind. What was the message that you wanted to come across in the short and the feature?
The choices that you’ve made can haunt you for the rest of your life. Every decision you make impacts someone; do your best to make the wisest decision.
What advice do you have for other filmmakers?
I was a little older than the average grad student. If you didn’t know, I was in the Marine Corps prior to going to school. Once in school, I won this competition and a producer for the competition asked me how I planned on getting my projects done. I said, “I’ll just take what I have, my abilities and resources and get it done.” He said, “That is the best thing you can do, to be resourceful.”
Go with what you have, when you can. It is about timing. Sometimes you have to wait. I had that script since 2000 . . . ten years I had that story. I always thought it was a timeless piece.
Welcome to the South will play at the Peachtree Valley International Film Festival (Aug. 23-25, 2013) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Charles would like to thank the cast and crew of Welcome to the South, Ralph Clemente, Valencia Community College Film Program, Plant City, the Plant City Police Department, the Health Central Hospital, Family & Friends of Plant City, as well as his parents, Andre Jones, Marvin Box, and Ernie Burries and Tubthump Mag.