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.

5 Playwrights - 5 Directors - 5 Casts of 4 Actors -- 1 Night Only with FEST 24!

fest 24

FEST 24: 5 playwrights, 5 directors, and 20 actors create and perform 5 new 10-minute plays in 24 hours. Always entertaining, always a whirlwind - and not to be missed! You'll truly have a unique experience at this one-night only performance!

This is how it works --

  • 7 pm - Saturday evening (August 23rd):  5 directors show up at Trustus Theatre and pick (from a hat, we can only assume) one of 5 playwrights and 5 casts of 4 actors. A matter of minutes later, the playwrights (not all currently in SC, but all with ties to SC) each receive an email with instructions that they have until 7 am Sunday morning to create an original, 10 minute play that includes 1 specific prop and 1 specific line of dialogue, (which will be announced to the public just before 8 pm on Saturday evening.)


  • Night falls, playwrights write, actors and directors sleep - restlessly.


  • 7:30 am Sunday morning (August 24th): directors and casts show up once again and meet with artistic/criminal mastermind Chad Henderson who delivers unto them brand new, never performed plays, fresh from the printer and the exhausted imaginations of the now sleeping playwrights.


  • 8 am until 7:59 pm Sunday -- directors and casts rehearse tirelessly


  • 8 pm Sunday -- YOU show up to Trustus theatre (there are a few seats left, but not many) as the 5 brand new world premiere plays are performed to witness the kind of innovative, cutting edge theatre arts Columbia can now get accustomed to.


This is how we do it now.


Introducing the actors:

fest 24

and the directors:

Heather Lee


Elena Martinez-Vidal


Robert Richmond


Dewey Scott-Wiley


Larry Hembree


And the playwrights:

Sarah Hammond

A resident playwright at New Dramatists since 2007, Sarah's plays are Green Girl, The Extinction of Felix Garden, Circus Tracks, Kudzu, and House on Stilts. Honors include the Lippmann Family “New Frontier” Award, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Heideman Award, commissions from South Coast Repertory and Broadway Across America, and a residency at The Royal National Theatre in London. String, her musical with Adam Gwon, won the Frederick Loewe Award at New Dramatists, a NAMT residency grant, the Weston Playhouse New Musicals Award, and was chosen for the Eugene O'Neill National Music Theatre Conference. Her plays have been produced at the Summer Play Festival at The Public, Trustus Theatre, Hangar Lab, City Theatre Summer Shorts, Live Girls! Theater, Collaboraction, Tulsa New Works for Women, and several universities. Her short plays are published in Ten-Minute Plays for 2 Actors: The Best of 2004 (Smith and Kraus) and Great Short Plays: Volume 6 (Playscripts, Inc.).

Randall David Cook


A New York-based playwright who originally hails from South Carolina. In recent years he's had two plays premiere Off-Broadway: in 2007, Fate's Imagination opened at the Players Theatre (Entertaining...Tasty plot twists and some very funny lines, The New York Times), and in 2006 Sake with the Haiku Geisha opened at the Perry Street Theatre (Witty, Observant, The New York Times) and was chosen as one of Backstage magazine's Picks of the Week. His one-act play Sushi and Scones was broadcast by the BBC, and his two screenplays (Quintet and Revelation) were both finalists for the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. He is the Resident Playwright of Gotham Stage Company, the writer of the annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards (for best of dance on Broadway and in film) and an active member of the Dramatists Guild.

Robbie Robertson


A playwright, screenwriter and a graduate of the University of South Carolina and UCLA’s professional screenwriting program. Robbie’s first play, Mina Tonight!, was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been produced in regional theatres across the nation. He is also the writer/director of the musical theatrical production, The Twitty Triplets, which has been produced at Trustus and other local venues over the last two decades years (and set to return in 2015). Robbie’s screenplays have placed in several national contests, and his latest, Sweet Child of Mine, was named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. Last year in NYC, Robertson staged a sold out run of his staged adaptation of the film Satan in High Heels, a work that received its first staged reading at Trustus. In 2013, he was awarded the SC Arts Commission Fellowship in Screenwriting. Robbie thanks Larry Hembree and Chad Henderson for their sincere interest and courage in mounting new works.

Dean Poyner

An emerging playwright, Dean was selected as a Kennedy Center / ACTF Core Member Apprentice at the Playwrights’ Center (Minneapolis, MN) for the 2010 / 2011 season. His plays include: THE MORE BEYOND (developed with Playwrights' Center, Kennedy Center, The Puzzle Festival NYC, The Flea, Semi-Finalist for the 2011 Princess Grace Award), BELLHAMMER, a modern allegory set in the world of Christian Professional Wrestling (developed at Carnegie Mellon University, Semi-Finalist for the O'Neill Theatre Conference), the full-length drama PARADISE KEY (Winner of the 2010 Trustus Theatre Playwrights' Festival, produced at Arena Players Repertory Theatre in NY, Trustus Theatre, Hyde Park Theatre), the Zombie-thriller H apocalyptus (produced by The Salvage Company at the Cairns Festival, Queensland Australia, and at Piccolo Spoleto Festival, developed at The Garage Theatre in San Francisco, and in residency at The Studios of Key West), the full-length drama, LOSING SLEEP (Winner of the 2008 Helford Prize in Drama, and produced Off-Off Broadway at the American Theatre of Actors), and the full-length, two-person comedy, COMPANY TIME (developed under luxurious circumstances at the Players Theatre, NYC.)Dean's screenplay SALK, the true story of the discovery of the vaccine against Polio, won the 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation student screenplay award. Dean graduated from WheatonCollege, Wheaton, IL, with degrees in Philosophy and Communications, and received his MFA in Dramatic Writing at CarnegieMellonUniversity where he was a two-time recipient of the Shubert Foundation Fellowship. He is a Principle Artist with The Salvage Company (NYC), and a proud member the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild of America.

Michael Thomas Downey


Downey has written plays before and he hopes the knowledge of that makes you feel like the two hundred bucks you're shelling out for a celebrity impersonator to join you at the "legitimate theater" tonight isn't going to waste. The important thing to remember is that Mike is getting out there and is no longer aware of his grotesque limitations. Mr. Downey (Janet if you're nasty) likes huffing gin, shouting at cars, and collecting wall hangings that have printings of that footprint dealie about Jesus. He's six foot one inch tall and would love to talk about the 1984 film "2010: The Year We Make Contact" with you over tea and Bavarian sage rugelach. His wife and children tolerate his frequent Finish Jenkka dancing…barely.





The Twitty Triplets are back…and front and sideways -- a Guest Blog by Robbie Robertson

“It’s like doing acid while reading a Flannery O’Connor short story in a dark room, illuminated by the reflective light of a twirling disco ball.”

That was the description I recently heard by a much smarter man than myself as he summed up “The Twitty Triplets,” my upcoming musical creation presented by Trustus Theatre in the old Tapp’s Fountain Room. I think it's a compliment and plan to embrace it as such.


Yes, after their first performance 20 years ago, The Twitty Triplets are back— brassier, bossier and better than ever. For the uninitiated, I discovered the Twitty Triplets performing back in 1992. They were working girls, night shift operators at the old spork factory on Augusta Highway, simple triplets who dreamed of a glittery, musical future. They had just started to sing in public when I met them at the Triangle City Christmas pageant. You’ll recall town officials would transform the two-story Zesto ice cream cone into an overly large Christmas tree that served as a seasonal centerpiece for Triangle City, Gaston, and other citizens of South Carolina’s “Speed-dee” corridor.


I’ll never forget the Twittys when they took the stage and sang All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth wearing seasonal Bedazzled sweatshirts sponsored by Augusta Highway’s Dentures and More. It was a brilliant marketing move and I knew these girls were headed for bigger, brighter, and more legal venues. I took them on as clients right after the spork factory closed (about the time Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded as KFC and started in house spork production).  With no day job distraction, the Twittys were free to concentrate on their music and we hit the ground running.


First off was an opening act for a city of Columbia Animal Shelter fundraiser, where dogs weren’t the only things howling that night. I’ll never forget when Aynor Twitty climbed up on the main dog cage to sing her rendition of  Diana Ross’ popular disco hit, Upside Down. The 13 audience members literally gasped when Aynor’s song culminated in an acrobatic move where she was indeed, held upside down, by fellow triplets Monetta and Cayce. Unfortunately, Aynor passed out from the head rush, blowing limply in the wind, until she was rushed to what was then known as Lexington Hospital and Lawnmower Repair. (She turned out fine but, to this day, Aynor cannot recall the lyrics to Upside Down and the name Diana Ross causes a severe eye twitch and throat flush.


But since that time, The Twitty Triplets have built a large and loyal following of nearly 36 bill collectors fans, performing their Happy Half Hour Show at Crockmeyer’s Again (the rebooted name after fire destroyed the original bar); The Blaney Drag Strip Concession Stand Show; and, of course, The Swansea Black and White Ball, (“Where ALL are welcome”).


The Twitty Triplets were described as a “musical melee” by late, great State reporter Jeffrey Day and, “A disco disaster that crosses the line of good taste,” by August Krickel, now the theatre editor for Jasper Magazine. And now, they stand proud, poised, and ready to perform for a brand new audience as they bring “Melodic tunes from a professional act in a casual atmosphere” to downtown Columbia in the Tapp’s Fountain Room.

With only six performances for a limited crowd of 60 lucky listeners per night, The Twitty Triplets invite you to open up a cold PBR and enjoy the musical ride, August 23, 24, 25, 30, 31 and September 1 at the Tapp’s Fine Arts Center. Cash bar opens at 7 pm each night and show begins at 8 pm. And on both Friday nights, August 24 and 31, enjoy a post show disco karaoke party. General seating for all shows! To purchase or reserve a ticket, call the Trustus Theatre box office, Tuesday – Saturday, 1-6 pm. Tickets are 15 bucks.


And follow The Twitty Triplets online at on Twitter @TwittyTriplets.


(Robbie Robertson is a playwright and screenwriter, and a graduate of both the University of South Carolina as well as UCLA’s professional program in screenwriting. Robertson’s first play, Mina Tonight! was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been consistently produced in regional theatres across the nation. He brought 60s TV to life by directing a staged version of Gilligan's Island at Trustus Theatre and his screenplays have placed in several national contests. His latest—Sweet Child of Mine—was named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the 2010 Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. He recently completed a staged adaptation of the film Satan in High Heels and will revive one of his first theatrical productions—The Twitty Triplets—as part of Trustus Theatre’s New “Off Off Lady Street” series. He is currently developing several independent television and film projects in addition to his work as a marketing and communications consultant.)