Robbie Robertson Talks About Indie Grants & Whistler's Mother

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Jasper: Tell us about your good news from the SC Film Commission.

Robbie:  My short screenplay, WHISTLER’S MOTHER, was recently selected as one of three shorts to be produced by the Indie Grants program which is administered by The South Carolina Film Commission and coordinated by Trident Technical College. I will be producing and co-directing with Lorie Gardner, CEO of Mad Monkey Productions, and one of my frequent collaborators.


Jasper:  How does Indie Grants work?

Robbie:  The Indie Grants is the only one of its kind program in the nation, using short films for production development and job training, while also creating international industry exposure for the state’s film industry. Funding the projects creates training environments for emerging crew and professional development opportunities for South Carolina filmmakers and other artists. 

Each Indie Grants project will employ Trident Technical College film students in its production, giving students hands-on training under the filmmakers and other production professionals, and acting as a bridge to full-time professional employment. Along with my project, Whistler’s Mother, the other projects selected for production include Abducted, written by Josh Barkey of Fort Mill with Ben Joyner attached to direct; and People Moving Through Time, a partnership with Indie Grits Labs & the Nickelodeon Theatre, written and directed by Roni Nicole Henderson and produced by Seth Gadsden of Columbia.

In the past, Indie Grants shorts have been official selections of top international film festivals, such as Sundance, Slamdance, Palm Springs, Austin, Stiges, LA, Cucalorus, DragonCon, Tallgrass, and many more. The projects have also attracted an impressive roster of working professionals in the entertainment industry including Oscar-winning Cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic, Ant-Man), actor AJ Bowen (You’re Next, The Sacrament), DP Peter Simonite (The Perfect Guy, 2nd Unit DP on Tree of Life), writer Brad Land (Goat), Casting Director Avy Kauffman (Lincoln, Life of Pi), and Script Supervisor Martha Pinson (Wall Street, Hugo, The Aviator). 


Jasper:  Now tell us about your project.

Robbie:  My project is a fictional back story exploration of the famous painting WHISLTER’S MOTHER by James McNeil Whistler. As a child, I was always intrigued and rather scared of the painting and imagined what was the real story behind this infamous mother. In researching the real-life family, I learned the Whistler family lived in Russian in the 1830s and lost a young child and my imagination started running wild from that point forward. The story really started jelling for me when I also uncovered an ancient Russian fable about an evil child killing witch named the Baba Yaga. I found a way to blend the two stories and have created what I call a dark fable about a desperate mother, codependent relationships born of tragic loss that also result in the birth of creativity. I also hope to use the short film as a “proof of concept” to create a feature version of the same story.

Deciding to partner with Lorie Gardner, one of the most brilliant business people I know, has helped me elevate the scope of this project and we are so excited to bring this story to life. The official logline for the script is: The artist James Whistler spent years trying to capture the essence of his mother for his most famous work of art. Not to create a masterpiece, but to save his mother from possession by the Baba Yaga, an evil Russian witch. 


Jasper:  What happens next for your film?

Robbie:  Right now, we are in preproduction with Brad Jayne and Kevin Peterson from the Indie Grants program who are serving as producers on the project. I’ve also been working with a wonderful script consultant named Geoff Gunn who has helped me prep a shooting script. We are also working with a casting director from Charleston named Matt Sefick who is sending out audition notices to agents on both coasts.


Jasper:  When will we get to see the finished product?

Robbie:  All Indie Grants projects have to be shot between November 2017 and February 2018. So, with any luck—and maybe some magic from the Baba Yaga—we’re looking at next summer for a finished product.


Robbie Robertson is a playwright, screenwriter and a graduate of the University of South Carolina and UCLA’s professional screenwriting program. His first play, Mina Tonight!, was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been produced in regional theatres across the nation. In 2015, Robertson produced a sold out run of his staged adaptation of the film Satan in High Heels at both Dixon Place and TheatreWorks in NYC. Robertson’s screenplays have placed in several national contests, including his comedy, Sweet Child of Mine, being named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. Robertson was also a Top 10 Finalist in the 2016 London Table Read My Screenplay contest with his original pilot, DENMARK (an adaptation of Hamlet set in 1940s South Carolina) and the same work was named one of the Top 100 Pilots of 2016 by The Tracking Board in Los Angeles. Most recently, Robertson’s drama, AT-RISK, was a Top 25 Semi-Finalist in the 2016 Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest. He is currently developing AT-RISK with producer/actor Kristian Alfonso (“DAYS OF OUR LIVES.”) Robertson was the recipient of the SC Arts Commission 2014 Media Screenwriting Fellow and is looking forward to producing and co-directing his first short film, a supernatural thriller that reveals the backstory of the woman featured in one most iconic works of art in modern history—WHISTLER’S MOTHER.