By Michael McMillian
On the eve of his 13th birthday, will Charlie Tuttle submit to a government-mandated tracking implant, or answer a more dangerous call to adventure?
For years I have been infatuated with what I call 21st-Century American Folklore. As a long-time listener to a popular AM radio show called Coast to Coast AM and scourer of strange-but-true stories on the internet, I’ve spent the better part of the past 10 years soaking up tales of Virginia’s Mothman, who really killed JFK, the Philadelphia Experiment, Roswell, and conspiracy theories surrounding a one-world government that will one day unite all people under the false promise of freedom, peace, and security … and then feed us to the reptilian aliens that have been secretly manipulating global events over the past two millennia (I’m not making that last part up).
These ideas were swirling around in my head when I was thinking about what I was going to do for FUTURESTATES. I wanted to explore an already-established 21st-Century American Folktale – and I immediately gravitated toward this New World Order conspiracy theory that really seems to have a firm roots in the political fervor of 2011 (minus the reptiles, that is). Fear of big government is a hot-button topic these days. I wanted the Big Brother government in Charlie 13 to be one where kids are tagged with “smart” microchips and monitored by a recently revamped United States under the guise of national security. However, I wanted to explore it from a slightly different point of view. Most dystopian future stories from 1984 to Star Wars evoke the image of post-Nazi fascism where dictators look like scary comic book villains in flashy oppressive uniforms. But what if the techno-crats of the future looked less like Darth Vader and more like the iPod? Why would future rulers feel the need to manipulate world events in such a way as to heard the mindless masses to give up their civil liberties when the masses are already voluntarily giving up their privacy each and every day on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever social networking tool is just around the corner? In other words … why look like a villain when you could look like a hero? The world where people have given up natural law for technology won’t look like the trenches of the death star; it’s going to look user friendly. It’s going to look like home. And to me … that’s scarier. But is it wrong if that’s what we want? And what happens to those who don’t want it? How will they fit into society?
These are just a few of the themes I set out to explore in Charlie 13. Ultimately, I think the story is pretty universal. It’s the tale of a 13-year-old kid who is a getting a good look at the world of adulthood and doesn’t like what he sees. I hope people find that aspect immediately relatable. No matter what the future looks like, the transition from kid to grown-up is always a battle of the oppressed versus the oppressors, until one finds his voice and ventures out into the world in search of freedom.
—Michael McMillian, Writer/Director/Producer
If the weather was any indication, the future will be scorching hot.
It was 115 degrees on our first day of shooting, the hottest day on record in Kansas City. I had decided to film Charlie 13 back in my hometown because it is essentially a coming of age story with a sci-fi back drop, and I figure there would be no better place to film the story of a 13-year-old boy pining for a larger world of adventure than the very place I had done so myself more than 15 years ago.
But I forgot about the weather. “Use it!” I kept shouting at my actors. “After all, this is supposed to be the future!”
We shot Charlie over a fun and frantic three-day shoot. I drove home a month beforehand from L.A. to scout locations and cast our actors and hire crew locally. Location scouting was our biggest challenge. Once I had secured my cast of talented actors my fellow producer, W. Dave Keith and I, often with our trusty and talented DP, Tony Ladesich, drove ALL OVER Kansas City looking for our three locations. We eventually got ‘em, crewed up, and then the heat wave hit.
Needless to say the sun-surface-like heat of that first day mirrored the pressure I had put on myself to make something good. Working primarily as an actor over the last 10 years, this was my first directorial effort since I wielded a VHS cam back in high school. In my mind the setting of Charlie 13 was always secondary to the dysfunctional drama of the Tuttle family. If Charlie 13 succeeds, I think it does so because of its heart, not its big ideas (which are mostly borrowed anyway). And that burden lay mostly on the shoulders of Nathan Jurries, a 12-year-old kid who basically never acted before. Well, Nathan turned out to take direction better than most actors I’ve worked with and killed it and luckily we made it through the first day without the heat killing anything (except a few shots when the camera would overheat and give up on us).
When I’m on set as an actor, time usually drags. As a director, I found the opposite to be true. Time could not have slipped away quicker. My basic directorial strategy was keep moving, shoot the scene that’s on the page, adjust actors performances where needed, let go of half of the things you aren’t getting exactly right, and keep moving. And then it was over.
I wasn’t really sure what I had shot until I went into editing a few weeks later. I’m still not sure exactly what the final product will look like as of writing this, but I do know that shot the movie that I wanted. My crew worked very hard for very little and really put their heart into the film and I think it shows. I’m really excited about sharing Charlie 13 with an audience. Just forgive the actors for their sweat stains. The future is rough.
—Michael McMillian, Writer/Director/Producer
Writer, Director, Producer
Michael McMillian’s film and television work includes playing Reverend Steve Newlin on HBO’s True Blood and leading roles in Dorian Blues, What I Like About You, and Saved. Other credits include Veronica Mars, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Big Love, The Mentalist, and Firefly. McMillian co-wrote and produced the award-winning short film Glock, co-wrote the full-length feature film The New Life, created and wrote the graphic novel Lucid, and co-wrote True Blood: Tainted Love.
Lauren Bratman started her career producing music videos, commercials, and web content. She produced the short films Kidnapping Caitlynn, Morning Departure, and Murdering Mama’s Boy; the feature film L!fe Happens; and the Funny or Die Viral Video Idiots. Bratman is currently in pre-production on The New Life and Vincent and was the associate producer on HBO’s The Miles Davis Documentary.
W. David Keith
W. David Keith is a filmmaker, cartoonist, and writer. He has been a producer/director and screenwriter for 10 years. He is active in the Kansas City film community and he is the co-founder of the Wild West Film Fest in Lawrence, Kansas. His film Yeti! A Tale of the Brothers Krong won best of show at the 2005 Manhattan Film Festival. He is also a former Kansas City karaoke champion and improv comic.
Nathan Jurries – Charlie
Two months before his 13th birthday, Nathan Jurries received a phone call from actor/director Michael McMillian. McMillian had seen a YouTube lip dub video that Jurries had done with his sixth grade class and wanted Jurries to audition for Charlie 13. Jurries auditioned for the film at a local talent agency in Kansas City, Missouri and was signed by the agency on the spot. Several days later, he was offered the part of Charlie, and within a week, he had also shot two commercials.
Lauren Braton – Emma
Lauren Braton is a vocalist and actress based out of Kansas City, Missouri. She has performed at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Starlight Theatre, American Heartland Theatre, Quality Hill Playhouse, Musical Theater Heritage, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, and the Kansas City Civic Opera. Her favorite roles include Mary in It’s A Wonderful Life, Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and young Edie Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens. In addition to performing onstage, she has a career in the film/commercial/radio voiceover industry.
Zach Woods – Will
Zach Woods is an actor, personal trainer, and bartender from Kansas City. He graduated from the University Of Central Missouri in 2003 with a BFA in theatre performance. He has been acting in Kansas City for years, appearing onstage and in local commercials as well as industrial film and voiceovers. He played Todd in Unnecessary Farce at the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City as well as appearing as Jonesy in the webisode The Virgin Mattress. This is his professional film debut.
Rusty Sneary – Figure
Rusty Sneary was born and raised in Kansas City, and he has spent time in Springfield, Chicago, and New York. His credits include Carousel, Love Song, This Is How It Goes, On An Average Day and Sci-Fi Triple Feature. Sneary has a BFA in theatre performance from Missouri State University and is co-owner and artistic director of The Living Room.
Jacob Hays – Jack
Jacob Hays’s television and film credits include co-anchoring Disney’s Really Short Report, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, Matchmaker Mary, Jr. Detective Agency, and Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice. He has completed the Boy Scouts of America rank of Eagle, and joined his high school’s swim team.
Kevin Kirkpatrick – Doctor
Kevin Kirkpatrick’s credits include How I Meet Your Mother; recurring roles on Greek and Svetlana; the films Beauty and the Briefcase, Roped, Jesus People, and Wishing Well; and series regular roles on the pilots The Grind, The Other Mall, and Take Me to Your Leader. Other film and television credits include Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, and Cheaper by the Dozen. He also wrote and starred in the short film Terminator: Termination.
Mary Donaldson – Nurse
Mary Donaldson is a Kansas City actor and is currently a film and media student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.