Everything you've heard is true: the movie industry has more than its fair share of charlatans, liars, and backstabbers. So it was with some trepidation that we called Michael Givens, the Beaufort-based writer, director, and cinematographer. We wondered if he'd gone Hollywood, or if he'd retained his genial Southern persona.
Thankfully, Givens doesn't come across like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. The Anderson native is still a thoughtful, considerate individual. What went right?
Over the past three decades, Givens has battled his way up the film career ladder, gaining a reputation as a top-notch director of photography on movies like Rebel Private and The Celestine Prophecy. More recently he's directed Opposite Day, a comedy starring Pauly Shore and French Stewart. Now Givens is in Folly Beach to direct a new independent feature called Angel Camouflaged for Cinema Island Productions.
Despite the hectic pace of preproduction, Givens has a grin on his face all the time. Although he's entered his 50s, he retains a boyish enthusiasm for what he does and where he does it. "This is different from my last movie, where I was a hired gun. I wrote this one, put it together. It's my baby," Givens says.
When he found his main location in Folly, it was as if the script had been set there all along, even though it was originally intended for the Florida Keys.
When he was first offered the movie to direct, Givens turned it down. "It wasn't my cup of tea at all," he says. At that early stage, the story revolved around a restaurant, a couple of brothers, and a volleyball match. "The producer Ken Dalton didn't have the budget to set it in a restaurant," Givens recalls. "All the money would have been spent on food styling."
Even though he said no to the idea, Givens said yes to a trip to the Keys for location scouting. There he proposed the new setting of a bar called Kokonuts, with a trouble-laden heroine trying to make it successful. This would give the writer-director a chance to develop a drama about rock music and people in the industry. Dalton liked the rethink; Givens took the job.
Apart from a page-one rewrite of the script, one of his first tasks was to cast the leading lady. He was delighted to sign South African singer Dilana Robichaux to the picture. Robichaux is best known as the runner-up on reality show Rock Star: Supernova. "I understand she had 10 million votes on the show," says Givens. "She has this amazing Janis Joplin voice."
Robichaux plays Scottie, a disenchanted singer who inherits the bar, confronts her demons, and tries to get on with her life.
Givens didn't have the luxury of choosing to film in South Carolina. The crew ended up here because of our state's tax incentives. "They were better than we could get in Florida," Givens says.
According to co-producer Aaron Steele-Nicholson, S.C.'s reputation preceded it. "The legislators stand by what they say," Steele-Nicholson says. "It's not like Iowa, where they shut down the incentives and pulled the carpet out from under the productions there."
The tax breaks for filmmakers have had a profound effect on the industry. Steele-Nicholson has noticed a migration from Hollywood. "There's no more filming in L.A.," he says, "because it has no good incentives compared to other states. Producers used to run out of the country [to get tax breaks.] Now they're running out of L.A."
While the reality of a Hollywood exodus may easily be an exaggeration, at the moment, South Carolina offers a 20 percent in-state employee wage rebate to films that spend a million dollars or more here. There are also cash rebates for using in-state supplies. "We can bring a lot of money and jobs for the community," says Givens. "But Georgia's better for incentives. We can't sit here and let work go to sister states. We should be doing better."
Steele-Nicholson concurs. "All the states are one-upping each other. South Carolina's got to keep up with Georgia. A lot of South Carolinians are going there to work instead of staying here." Givens cites a new, unnamed project that is set in Beaufort that will be shot in Savannah because of the tax breaks there. His solution is to work with the legislature, explaining to them how important filming can be to local jobs and the economy. He feels that his movie shouldn't be the only one shooting here at the moment; it should be the smallest out of six.
Givens says, "My message to the legislators is, I'm coming for them."
Ideally, Givens would like to be shooting most of his films close to home — the key to keeping that good-natured grin on his face. "What a treat it is to work here," he says. "It's only an hour and a half drive to work. Usually I have to get a plane. If I could make it to where I could do 90 to 95 percent of my work in South Carolina, I'd like that.
He adds, "Don't think I'm not working on that."