ETSU’s Rusty Sheridan producing short version of longer work with aid of RDC grant

Contributed To The Press • Feb 3, 2017 at 10:11 PM

Filmmakers, according to Rusty Sheridan, usually shoot a short film and then make a feature-length adaptation. This East Tennessee State University faculty member, however, is doing things in reverse with his current work, “Madam I’m Adam.”

Sheridan, an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication, is using a $10,000 grant from the university’s Research Development Committee to produce a short version of a longer work.

“It’s two projects, really,” he said. “It began as an idea for a feature film, and what I’m doing with my RDC funding is making a short adaption of the feature-length script, which I’ve already written. I’ll then use the short adaptation to go to film festivals and basically showcase the idea of the film, in the hopes that I can then raise additional funds to shoot the full feature-length version.”

Sheridan has worked various crew positions on several Hollywood films, including “Shallow Hal” and “Talladega Nights.” His background as a director, however, is in commercials and short films. “Madam I’m Adam” will ultimately be his feature film directorial debut.

This dramatic film, he says, contains some autobiographical components, as it involves a young man who grew up in the South, being groomed to take over the family business.

The main character, Adam, is a high school senior working for his single mother’s business, which is called “Madam I’m Adam Housecleaning.” Although he is 18 years old and does not want to be a maid, Adam does not know much beyond housecleaning, and his small Southern town does not feature a lot of culture. His life changes, though, when he gets the contract to clean a large, older house that is home to a cynical old man who had been a beatnik poet and photographer in the mid-20th century.

Because the man is a hoarder, it takes Adam several weeks to clean the home, and in the process, his new mentor introduces him to a world of art and culture. When the old man dies and leaves Adam a graduation gift, the young man drops out of high school the week before he was to receive his diploma and sets off on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, experiencing numerous exciting adventures along the way.

Currently, Sheridan is continuing the process of casting, which he hopes to complete during spring break, and has done some preliminary location scouting.

“I’m probably going to shoot it in North Carolina, where I grew up, because when I was writing it, I envisioned a lot of locations that I knew,” he said, adding that he has been working with casting agencies throughout the Southeast, which are helping him to cast actors who are authentic for the roles in which they are cast.

Sheridan expects to shoot the short version in early May following the conclusion of the spring semester.

“Right now, I’m still in the pre-production phase, trying to wrap my head around the logistics and everything that I have to pull together before I can start rolling,” he said. “Prayers will be appreciated — I’ve got two young kids at home, and I’ll be leaving my wife with the kids for a week or more to make the film. And it’s months of hard work on the front end just to get there – to lock down locations, to cast everything — and there may be some additional fundraising that I’ll need to do.”

Sheridan first became interested in film as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where, while earning his degree in philosophy, he took a class in which he saw “The Seventh Seal,” a 1957 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an art form. This is way different from what I’ve seen in the movie theater,’” he said. “So I started studying European films, avant garde films, independent films just as hobby, and decided to pursue that in graduate school. I went on to study film production at UNC-Greensboro.

“So, Adam gets his ‘Aha!’ moment from a mentor, and for me it was in a class. I had a professor who introduced me to art and culture I didn’t know before.”

Sheridan has produced over 300 commercials for television and internet over the past 15 years, and has done some narrative and documentary work. In addition to teaching courses in film/video production and broadcasting at ETSU, he is the program director of the annual PUSH! Film Festival held in Bristol. Samples of his work may be viewed on his website, www.rustyfilm.com.

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