Local filmmaker shoots for success

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

By Emily Ford
Jason Parnell thinks he could have the next “Rocky” on his hands.
The 30-year-old graduate of South Rowan High School isn’t comparing his new film, “The Bam Theory,” to “Rocky.”
But a lot of other people are.
Instead of boxing, “The Bam Theory” centers on mixed martial arts fighting, popularly known as MMA. The movie has generated buzz on MMA websites, and Parnell and screenplay writer and director Bear Frazer, who both graduated from Pfeiffer University, appeared Saturday night on FOX Charlotte’s “Got Game” to talk about the film.
The movie stars Matt Coleman, a real MMA fighter from Lynchburg, Va., as Bam Thomas, a small-town fighter who has to give up his Ultimate Fighting Championship dream after his father’s death. Years later, 23-year-old Thomas decides to re-enter the ring at the urging of his best friend.
In one scene, Thomas runs up the steps at Monument Terrace in Lynchburg, where the movie was shot.
Very Rocky-esque.
Parnell, who is producing the film, touts “The Bam Theory” as the first MMA movie to focus on character and story, not just bloody fight scenes.
Bam Thomas deals with a messy break-up, his father’s suicide, a deadend job, even his mother’s outrageous mortgage in a fierce foreclosure market.
“A real guy with real-life issues,” Parnell said.
Parnell and several other 20- and 30-somethings with ties to Rowan County just finished shooting the pitch film, a 10-minute movie similar to a TV pilot that they will use to secure funding for a major motion picture or sell to a production company. They also will prepare a 20-minute version for film festivals.
The crew has returned to Salisbury to complete the project at Six Foot Kitten Productions in a downtown studio above Stringfellows.
Salisbury serves as the homebase for most of the people who worked on the movie.
“If you look at Salisbury, it’s on the verge of a real arts movement,” Parnell said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on here. There’s a great music scene, a great art scene.
“It’s a town that embraces local people doing local things.”
Jerod Jacobs, a 1997 East Rowan graduate, owns Six Foot Kitten Productions and is production manager for the film. James Crabtree, who also lives in Salisbury, was the boom operator in Virginia and assists with editing.
Keith Furr, who served as assistant to the cinematographer, is from Rowan County. Salisbury resident Adam Henry was the lighting director.
“I always knew we’d do great things, but I just didn’t know we’d do it together,” said Parnell, whose parents are Kim and Dickie Parnell.
Parnell said he wanted to take a Rowan County crew to Virginia, rather than relying on freelancers once they arrived.
“I knew they were good, and I knew they were fast,” he said.
The crew finished what normally would have been a two-week shoot in two days, shooting 15 scenes, two training shots and opening footage in about 28 hours.
They had a limited budget, which demanded an expedited schedule.
To come up with funding for the project, Frazer and Parnell used Kickstarter.com. The website helps artists raise money for creative projects through donations from friends, family and even strangers. Parnell, who has worked for everyone from Clear Channel Broadcasting to the Charlotte Bobcats to FOX TV, used his connections to secure autographed items as rewards for people who donated money. Contributors included fighters Jake Shields and Carlos Condit and musicians Zoltan Bathory from Five Finger Death Punch.
The movie raised more than $3,200 in 43 days.
Frazer, who began writing the script for “The Bam Theory” in October 2009, set the movie in Lynchburg after observing camaraderie among fighters and fight fans there.
Like the character in his movie, Parnell dreams big.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve always set out to be a Ted-Turner type,” he said. “I have a passion for mass media and want to conquer every area.”
Parnell also performs music and manages musicians. One of the artists he represents, Chelsea Childers of Rowan County, just completed eight shows in California, he said.
“It’s all part of my philosophy to surround myself with positive people doing positive things,” he said.
Frazer has written four Bam Thomas films. If the first movie is successful, three sequels could follow.
Or, as Parnell would say, when the first film is successful, three sequels will follow.
“We don’t talk in ifs and coulds,” he said.
When they complete the pitch film next week, Parnell and Frazer will hit the pavement in New York and California, pitching the movie to film executives.
They’ve already hired a publicist in Los Angeles, talked with someone at Universal, and “we have a ton of connections in New York with the music industry,” Parnell said.
If the film makes him a multi-millionaire, Parnell said, “I will always make sure I take care of my people back home.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.