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by Mark Cheffey
Brian White left Palmyra for the west coast after high school to become a filmmaker, but going to Hollywood hasn’t meant he’s forgotten his roots.
In fact, the opposite is true as he has put all of his money into his biggest project to date, coming back to Palmyra for an entire year to make a film in which he hopes to capture a true and honest depiction of life in the midwest.
With a working title of “Flyover” referring to what East and West Coasters refer to as all the states in between, White and his two close friends are now busy filming in and around Palmyra with a goal of releasing a completed film sometime in early 2025.
Whether it makes any money or wins awards, White said his goal is to help set the record straight about the people he grew up with and around.
“Growing up in Missouri, it was rare that I’d see the Midwest represented in film, and the few instances I did, we were portrayed as drug dealers, criminals and aloof hillbillies,” White said in a statement posted on a website devoted to the film.
“I love filmmaking, I love my hometown, and I felt like I had narratives to contribute to the cultural conversation about the Midwest.”
White’s love of movies and his desire to make them for a living, came as he was growing up in Palmyra.
As a kid he ate up all the movies he could get his hands on by renting VCR tapes from C&R Market.
“Every day my mom went to get groceries, it would be movie, movie, movie,” White said.
Then it wasn’t long before he was borrowing his father’s camcorder, and after learning how to upload the video to a computer and learning how to edit it, a young filmmaker was born.
Granted, his big projects were for his and other’s high school projects, but he became the go-too producer at Palmyra High School.
“I would do all the editing on the projects, and they would get graded on it, and it would be like, ‘cool,’” White said.
An early professional job came as he was finishing high school, hired by Doyle Manufacturing to help develop advertising and marketing content for the local company.
“I was making videos for a big company, and I’m being paid, and I’m working with other people to come up with stuff,” White said. “It seemed like this was a thing I could go for.”
In the meantime, White had been applying to film schools, as well as engineering schools as a backup, and was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship that would allow him to attend Chapman University, in Orange, Calif., south of Los Angeles.
White eventually earned a bachelor of fine arts in film production–“I probably in a folder in a closet at my parents home”–but, more importantly, he made friends in fellow students Eric Colonna and Anthony Lucido, who shared the same vision of making movies as an art form, while making connections in the production world to make a living.
He really didn’t need a piece of paper that says he can do it. He just had to be able to do it and get the word out.
“It’s a word-of-mouth and free-lance-driven at all scales,” White said of video/film production.
“I was a camera professional. That’s what I do for a living,” he said. “Every shot in a movie you see is manually focused by a person. That’s one of my tasks, and its a pretty high intensity task. You cannot miss a focus.”
Such skills are in high demand in a competitive world, and he was soon called upon to set up camera packages for all kinds of projects, but mostly commercials, which he found paid the bills but didn’t fulfill his goals of producing something artful.
“I didn’t want to work on TurboTax commercials for the rest of my life,” White said.
But, the experience did lead to more fulfilling projects that came his way.
In 2021, he was called and asked if he had his COVID vaccination up to date, and if he could work for 12 weeks, straight.
“I said, ‘yes, why?’”
And, he was hired to help make a documentary film about the life of the legendary country music artist, Willie Nelson.
“And, I’m in a group of 16 people traveling around the U.S., visiting Nashville and Austin, Texas,” White said, noting that it also meant a trip to Maui, where Nelson has a ranch house.
White said the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, with the producers now seeking a distributor for it.
Meanwhile, he and his two film-making friends worked on each other’s projects, each taking turns as the directors and producers.
For his project in 2018, White chose to do a short film produced in Palmyra called Flyover, the director forerunner of the film he is doing now.
He wrote the project over a seven-year period and then told his friends they were going to fly to Palmyra and film this whole project in a week.
“We shot it all. I went back to Los Angeles. I get to work and get too busy and then COVID hit.
“I was locked in an apartment, and I say, “Oh, well. I’m going to edit this whole thing now.”
The finished short was premiered at the B&B Theatre in Hannibal where he rented an auditorium that was filled with friends and family for two showings.
With good reactions to what was made, and lots of monetary contributions to back it up, White started taking it to film festivals around the country where it continued to be received well.
“I used every last dollar of that and submitted it to the most prestigious stuff for the next year,” he said, noting it even won Best Film at the Perryville (Mo.) Film Festival.
“It turned out a lot of people want to see things like this,” White said.
The film, which blends humor and vignettes of local places, features a number of people from the Palmyra area as actors, shows a day in which a local horse raiser, played by Tony Hudson, tries to locate a lost calf.
The short is available for viewing at www.flyovermovie.com, where visitors can also learn more about the movie White is making now.
Editor’s note: next week’s story will focus on White’s dream of making a full-length film in his hometown and how the project is developing.