An Interview with P.J. Starks – By Misty Layne

If you’re a Kentucky native, specifically in the town of Owensboro, you might be familiar with the Unscripted film series started by PJ Starks, which features a range of local and regional films, free food and drink and a little twist that makes it extra exciting. This summer will be the 2nd year of Unscripted and I recently chatted with PJ about the history and future of Unscripted. Read on to find out all the amazing things PJ is up to!

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ML: This is the 2nd year of Unscripted, a six week film series of which you are the creator. How did you originally come up with the idea of Unscripted and what was the catalyst?

PJ: It stems from several things. Helping filmmakers get their projects recognized by creating venues for them to display their work and my love of DVD special features. I had put on a film series before, but it was pretty typical. I wanted to do something a little different, something unique. That’s when I started toying with the idea of taking an audio commentary and doing it in real time. An experience that the audience could participate in; where they could ask the filmmaker questions about the film as it screens in front of them, rather than just listen to them talk. That’s where the idea of Unscripted came from.

ML: Right now Unscripted is only in Kentucky, correct? Are there any plans to take this to a national level with Unscripted being hosted in different small towns across the country?

PJ: Right now yes. On a national level? That would be amazing. I have spoken to some friends of mine in surrounding areas and the Indiana Filmmaker Network about taking the brand on the road. There have been conversations about it, however, I haven’t actively worked on setting up venues anywhere else. That is a possibility.

ML: The twist that makes Unscripted a unique film going experience is that after a first viewing of the film and a brief Q&A with the director, the audience then gets to watch the film a 2nd time and participate in an interactive “anything can happen” audio commentary experience. Can you explain to us how exactly this process works and how the audience AND people’s reactions and feedback have been to this?

PJ: That concept was one of the coolest and most stressful at the same time. It takes the control out of the film maker’s hands and creates an atmosphere where anything goes. That’s the whole point, but you never know what kinda hell an audience member might unleash if they completely hate the film. I honestly had no idea how it would turn out. Thankfully, it has turned out to be the most popular part of the series and actually started a buzz that brought people in that normally may not attend an event like this. The reaction has been incredible.

ML: This year as well as featuring local and regional indie film, you’ll also be featuring local live music. Would you say that this is becoming as it continues more of a local arts festival than just a film series? What inspired you to add local musicians to the event this year?

PJ: I don’t know if I would call it a festival as much as it’s a celebration of the amazing types of artistry we have in our region. It’s definitely aimed at bringing in local artists, but the venue is open to artists from all surrounding states if they want to participate. As a matter of fact Brad Jones, who directed both Dada and Write of Passage, will be Skyping in from LA to participate. The same goes for film maker Jonathan Martin who wrote and directed An Evening with My Comatose Mother. We’re trying to expand a little from just the local appeal to something a little more broad as well.

I’m always looking for way to incorporate other types of visions and artistic abilities within my film endeavors. The local music scene has been really popular for a while and it only seemed natural to add new elements and help other artists showcase their talents.

ML: The entire event is free (including drinks and popcorn!!). How did you convince local sponsors to help out with this event to make it entirely free? If someone else wanted to do something similar how would you suggest they go about getting sponsorship?

PJ: I realize that there is a certain amount of “business” in everything, but I don’t consider myself a business man. I just have a lot of ideas and visions and when I set my mind on something, well I make sure that I can get it done. When I passionate about a certain concept I seek out those who are likeminded and can be equally passionate about the idea. I simply approached Family Video and Malco Cinema with the idea and they loved it. Family Video has been a part of several projects I’ve done over the years and the Malco knew of me and my events. It didn’t take much convincing to get them excited and they jumped on board. The best advice I can give is to be honest with your intentions. If you’re in it for money then make sure everyone involved is looking for the dollar signs. If you’re wanting to create something unique, something that isn’t and hasn’t been done in your area then do it.

ML: Unscripted is also presented in partnership with the local library, Daviess County Public Library. How did the partnership with them come about?

PJ: Jim Blanton was one of those passionate individuals I spoke about previously. He saw the potential and became really excited about this project. Without him believing in my vision and opening up all his resources, there’s no way this thing would be what it is right now. Ryan Henry, Wes Johnson, Jarrod McCarty and the whole team at the Daviess County Public Library have really stepped up to help make this a special event for the community and I’m really excited to watch it grow.

ML: This year’s festival features Dada, The Telemarketer, Boscoe, Lucid, Write of Passage, Nearly Dead, An Evening with My Comatose Mother, Joey and the Checkout Line and Vanities, which looking at the poster seems to be a pretty wide range of films. What process do you use to select the films presented at Unscripted?

PJ: It needs to be all genres to appeal to a wide audience. They also need to be short films because of the format of the program. It makes it easier to sit through the same film twice. I will say that watching the film without the live commentary and then with are two completely different experiences, which is why it has become so popular. As far as selecting the films, I seek out local/regional film makers who are looking to push their projects. Some of them are friends and others are artists I’ve met along the way. I put feelers out and then wait for the submissions to roll in. One we get the films we decide which ones best suit what we’re trying to accomplish and to a degree, content comes into play. The most important aspect is that the writer, director or a producer can be available to facilitate the live audio commentary. Once I get an “ok” from the film makers, the films are scheduled and off we go.

ML: When you say the films are local or regional do you mean that they are strictly from Kentucky or are Southern in general?

PJ: I try to gather projects that are from Kentucky specifically and then the surrounding states. However, I’ve made friends with some film makers over the years who have amazing projects and aren’t from my immediate area. They’re excited and willing to be a part of the event. I would be stupid to turn them away. Plus, by allowing films from outside the area it opens up our event to different perspectives on film and the filmmaking process. That’s really what this event is all about.

ML: What do you see for the future of Unscripted?

PJ: In all honesty, I created this event for the community so I suppose it’ll continue as long as there’s interest and right now that seems pretty strong. I’d love to start creating Unscripted venues in other areas like you had asked about. I think there’s a lot of potential for that idea. Especially since there’ll never be a shortage of short film. I just hope it keep growing and expanding. I’d love to see an Unscripted week-long event where it’s almost like a festival. That would be pretty awesome.

If anyone is interested in having their short film screened at future Unscripted events they can email me at starks.pj@gmail.com, they can like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/unscriptedxperience or check out the official Unscripted page at www.dcplibrary.org/unscripted.

ML: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or any other upcoming projects?

PJ: I was recently asked by John Thompsett to help be Co-Coordinator for the first annual horror film festival at year six of The ScareFest in Lexington, KY. The convention is one of the largest horror and paranormal events in our area and had over 14,000 in attendance last year. It’s been an incredible opportunity and right now we are looking for submissions for horror/sci-fi shorts and features. If anyone is interested in submitting please contact me at starks.pj@gmail.com and check out www.thescarefest.com for more info on ticket prices, guests and more.