At his first major film festival in Palm Beach, Jeremy Osbern got a pretty good idea of what he'll have to do to make it in the movie biz.
"I learned that buzz is everything," said Osbern, a Kansas University senior in film studies, whose 16-minute short "The Passion" won immediate praise from reviewers at the Palm Beach International Film Festival in April.
"It was kind of mind-blowing because there were all these films shot in New York and L.A. And then there's this kid from Kansas with the cheapest (budget) film there."
Osbern said this unique standing among the filmmakers probably helped win his film the attention of reviewers and later, of festival-goers.
"It's kinda weird how fake people can be. People would come up and say how much they liked the film and then it'd come out that they hadn't even seen it, they'd just read about it. It's a whole other world," he said. "I tell people, when I came back I had to adjust to the real world again."
The real world -- for Osbern and many other Lawrence filmmakers -- is a wide stretch between the coasts with scarce public venues for showing their work. But rather than resign themselves to traveling to festivals for audiences, Osbern and a few other KU filmmakers have created their own: The Hometown Film Festival.
The first installment is Wednesday's three-hour showing at Lawrence's Granada Theatre, featuring 21 shorts (averaging seven minutes each and as long as 20 minutes) all made in the Lawrence area. The show will then travel to Omaha, Neb., and Sioux Falls, S.D.
"We're trying to add more of a personal element by having the filmmakers there for people to interact with and see the faces of the people behind the camera as well," Osbern said. "If we could just get people coming out of the woodwork, we'd love to see what other people are doing in this area.
"The more we can all help each other out and bring more people into the fold, the better. I'd just really like to see a film community explode in this area."
Anatomy of a scene
Lawrence is already home to a steady stream of cinematic work, though it's often small or unnoticed, said Kevin Willmott, veteran filmmaker and KU professor. Willmott -- whose last film "C.S.A. -- The Confederate States of America" has been nominated for an award at this year's Sundance Film Festival -- said he chooses to shoot projects in Lawrence because his stories spring from this area.
"When you make a movie here, it's an entirely different experience than in L.A. or most places," he said. "In some ways it's an advantage. Not trying to be the L.A. thing, but be the Kansas thing, offering people something that's different, that they can't get in L.A. or New York."
"One of the reasons I came to Lawrence is I knew 'The Day After' was shot here," said Willmott, who grew up in Junction City and has been here since 1992. "When I was trying to make 'Ninth Street' -- I was still living in New York -- I was trying to find a place I could go back to and find support to make a feature film. I had no money."
Willmott's "Ninth Street" script -- set in 1968 Junction City -- notably landed volunteer work from Hollywood actor Martin Sheen, but he said the help he got from Lawrence filmmakers was critical.
For his part, Osbern said Lawrence's greatest strength as a film community was the ability to draw on volunteer crew members and actors around town as well as on KU's equipment and facilities. He said film shorts that take $10,000 to make on the coasts might cost $1,000 or less here.
"The passion for filmmaking is here. People work on each other's projects all the time," Osbern said. "We've got a really great creative pool around this area. I'd definitely say we're creating a film scene in this area."
Besides making that scene more visible within Lawrence, the goal of the Hometown organizers is to spread their work beyond this area. To do so, all the money raised at the event will be used to send local films to larger festivals around the country.
"One of the most important things for filmmakers at these festivals is making connections, whether it be a distributor or a production company or just somebody that works in the industry that you make as a friend," said Osbern. "If filmmakers from around here go to festivals and build up a pool of connections on the coasts, I think local film would be better for it."
After the Lawrence screening, co-organizers Chris Blunk and Chris Ordal are taking the Hometown Film Festival to their own hometowns -- Omaha and Sioux Falls, respectively.
"Sioux Falls is pretty similar to Lawrence," Ordal said. "It's a really good suburbia-type place to grow up ... with a lot of groups trying to do theater, art, film -- but without a lot of ways to get people to see it. I think us bringing the festival up there will really help them. We know there are other people out there, but there's no way to get their work out to the public."
Osbern added: "We want to show people films that will make them laugh and make people think. We're hoping that some of these, if not all of them, will impress people and show them that there is something going on in this area. Their friends and neighbors are making films that -- through Midwestern influences -- maybe they can relate to a little more than something that was made in L.A."