On location in Lee County

TUPELO – The cinematographer was hip-deep in a lake with about $10,000 worth of camera equipment on his shoulder.
The director was in a boat with another movie camera. Next to him, the hair, makeup and wardrobe person also served as official photographer, as she snapped still shots of work in progress.
And what about the star?
He was in another boat trying his best to catch a fish for a pivotal scene in songShine Production’s first feature-length film, “Fish Story: The Curse of Mocatawbi Pond.”
“We’ve been filming all during September, and we’ll work a week and a half into October,” said Russell Fox, director.
“Since we started, it’s been 12-hour days for the most part,” said Bric Repult, who wrote “Fish Story” and plays the main character, Gilbert Hooke.
The multitasking cast and crew has filmed in Baldwyn, Okolona, Wren, Saltillo and Tupelo, trying to bring fictional Mocatawbi Pond to the big screen.
“Gil loves to fish. His wife wants him to be more responsible,” Fox said. “During a fishing trip, he falls prey to an old Indian curse.
“He gets wrapped up with some robbers and thieves, and he has to battle the curse. He’s trying to do it right.”
The movie’s executive producer, vazVanelli, owner of songShine, said the goal is to showcase Gil’s story at major film festivals, like Sundance and Tribeca.
“And the Tupelo Film Festival, of course,” Vanelli said.
Achieving dreams
With a budget of $75,000, “Fish Story” is a true independent film. That’s why Samantha “Sam” Garrett oversees hair, makeup and wardrobe.
“I also play a nurse,” she said.
Rex Harsin handles the cinematography duties, Ken Calloway is the sound man and Rob Bessey serves as key grip.
“I’ll do the visual effects,” Bessey said, “but that comes later.”
About five years ago, Vanelli turned 50 and assessed his life up to that point. He decided to plot a course into the film business. But he realized he couldn’t make the transition alone.
“If you want to accomplish extraordinary things, you must first help others to achieve their dreams,” he said from the shore of Elvis Presley Lake, while his team prepared to film the fishing scene.
“This is Bric’s dream. This is Rex’s dream. This is Russell’s dream. This is Sam’s dream,” he continued. “All of these different dreams come together. I’m just helping them to achieve them.”
Step by step
The dreaming started small in 2005, when Vanelli began assembling talent and equipment. The songShine team made commercials, moved up to music videos, created animated shorts, then made a live-action short that was named best Mississippi-made film at the Tupelo Film Festival.
A feature-length comedy seemed like a logical next step, and Repult had the story. A Tupelo audition hauled in Northeast Mississippi actors Kenny Cook, Jim Fraiser and Amye Gousset.
Other actors came from throughout Mississippi. New Orleans-based Lance E. Nichols, a preacher in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” plays Wormy, owner of the bait shop that Gill frequents.
“I’m also in negotiations with several local musicians to provide music for us,” Vanelli said.
All of those people are collaborating on a family-friendly film that may someday come to a screen near you.
Actually, if you’re in Northeast Mississippi, it’s all but certain that “Fish Story” will come to a screen near you.
The filmmakers are hoping their work also will be seen far and wide.
“Worst-case, we’ll make some DVDs and try to sell them. That’s the minimum,” Fox said. “What we really want is a distribution deal and get this out there.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal