Hartselle teen's film captures award at festival
Lauren Branas, Hartselle Enquirer
Someday Lee Fanning might step up from underground and become a celebrated genius in the small, prestigious circle of Hollywood's minds behind the movies.
But for now, Fanning has to be happy to climb one rung of the ladder at a time. He is one step closer with the honorable mention award in the high school narrative category for his film "Cocaine Nights" as part of the 7th annual George Lindsey University of North Alabama Film Festival. The high school category contained four entries.
This recent Hartselle High School graduate said most of his films deal with the theme of violence. His current project called "If We Never Get Back" is about an ex-baseball player stuck in a violent world.
"I guess violent themes just have to do with being a teenager," Fanning said with a shrug.
"My influences are American directors Orson Welles, John Ford, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, and German director Fritz Lang. I love pre-1970's Disney, Jim Henson, and Star Wars," Fanning said.
He is also heavily influenced by the writers Raymond Chandler and Jack Kerouac; the musicians Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, and The Replacements; and the comic book writers/artists Frank Miller and Will Eisner.
His favorite films are Citizen Kane, Star Wars, The Searchers, Fantasia, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Ed Wood, M, The Dark Crystal and Bride of Frankenstein.
Most of Fanning's movies incorporate the same array of actors, who are friends of Fanning. He said it usually takes seven to eight actors per movie. He also foots the bill, which he tries to keep minimal.
Fanning's resume consists of 11 movies written and seven movies produced while in high school. He submits them to various film festivals like the one at UNA and the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham.
He dreams of being the creative force behind his movies. Fanning eventually wants to be writer and director and leave the business aspect to someone else. For now though, he has to be writer, director, producer, camera crew and sometimes actor. However, he does have a few friends who help out extensively with music and costumes.
All but one of Fanning's movies are shot in black and white. He just purchased a new camera that he calls an "old style home movie type of camera."
"It's more expensive, but I like it better," Fanning said.
The next step for Fanning is college at The University of Alabama this fall. He plans on double majoring in theatre and film. On top of that, he will pursue a minor in creative writing. Fanning does not believe education is the only key to a successful career in movies.
"You have to know people. That's what it's all about," Fanning said.
He has had some experience on other sets as well. He was a production assistant, basically an errand boy with a glorified title according to Fanning, in American Idol Ruben Studdard's music video that was shot in Birmingham.
Fanning was not satisfied with Cocaine Nights' modest success. "It was underdeveloped. But I hope I'm getting better," Fanning said. He continues trying to improve with every film.
To watch Cocaine Nights, go to www.studentfilms.com.