Local filmmaker Michael Williams was recently awarded a $5,000 Mississippi Arts Commission Fellowship Grant for his contribution to art in the form of film in the state.
And the grant will be used to boost the development of his next feature film.
The Mississippi Arts Commission awards nearly $1.4 million in grants to support and continue the development of future film projects. The funds are received from the state Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Williams, of West Point, applied for the grant with a proposal and examples of his work.
MAC Executive Director Malcolm White said, "Artists who receive grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission represent some of the most gifted individuals in their respective fields. These outstanding artists carry on Mississippi's legacy of artistic excellence, and MAC is proud to support those who enliven and enrich their communities with the creative spirit."
He plans to primarily utilize the grant to free his time to work on projects like "Rosemary," his psychological drama about a woman who is driven to the brink of insanity by a mysterious abyss that emerges in her basement.
Williams said the grant will give him time to write, develop and get the film to the point of fundraising to secure a budget.
"It is thrilling while also thought-provoking, heartfelt, and complex,” Williams said. “It is a project that I feel shows growth and maturity in terms of storytelling since my previous feature films. Like my two previous films, I plan to shoot this film in Mississippi utilizing as much local cast and crew as possible.”
The production team for “Rosemary" includes Jeremy Burgess and Mindy Van Kuren.
Williams began making films in 2004 while in high school with his youth group at church.
"Back before YouTube was a thing, so in 2004-2005, I was making short films with my youth group at church and just kind of showing them that way," Williams said.
That was before Williams found out about the Tupelo Film Festival and made a submission.
"When I went to that festival with that film, I realized that I wanted to go to school for film. I wanted to be a filmmaker and actually work in film," Williams said.
Williams then met Phillip Gentile, a mass communication and journalism professor at the University of Southern Mississippi who put a bug in his ear about a film program there.
At the time, Williams had plans to attend Mississippi State University without a determined major. It crossed his mind to take Gentile's advice and transfer to the University of Southern Mississippi and see where it went.
Over the years, William took his craft seriously and entered professional work in 2007 as a camera assistant before transitioning to take the role of cinematographer.
"While working as a cinematographer, I continued to write and direct my own films, including dozens of short films and my two previous feature films 'OzLand' and 'The Atoning,'" he said.
Years later in 2015, he decided to pursue film full-time as a cinematographer and writer/director. Work on that level is unpaid and it wasn't an easy choice to pursue it, he said.
"It was something I knew I needed to do to actually make a leap forward in my career as a writer and director," he said. "Because while you're owning a business and paying your bills that way, you're very focused on maintaining that business and making a living that way, and it took a lot of creative time away from me so I kind of decided to close the business full-time."
Williams owned his own video and photography business that he started in 2010 after graduating college, and closed it toward the end of 2015.
"Thankfully, MAC's artist fellowship opportunity not only rewards the work and accomplishments by filmmakers like myself but it can also give the support one needs to make progress towards the development of new projects," he said. "As a full-time artist it is difficult to find that time away from paying work to make real progress on the development of a feature film.
"I've been doing films since 2004 and you don't really know what that body of work really means and being able to have an organization like the Mississippi Arts Commission support artists of all kinds saying that your work is valid, that you've contributed to the artist community within the state - that means a lot saying that they think my work is worthy of this," Williams added. "And it's an award to say not only do they appreciate the work you've done but also to help you moving forward and do them more."