On the Scene: 'Misery' brings sweet dreams of Hollywood

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BITTERSWEET MISERY: "My Sweet Misery," an independent film, has a fairly easy-to-grasp synopsis: Fragments of a man's past come back to haunt him.

Ask Matthew William Jordan, the film's writer and director, what "My Sweet Misery" is about, and he'll evade the question.

"The meaning of it has changed along the way, and it's still evolving," he said. "It's meant to evoke bittersweetness in multiple ways. Some of which I can reveal, some of which I'd rather not reveal."

He elaborated on the response in a subsequent e-mail: "I won't say what it means in relation to the movie itself. I'd rather leave that to the interpretation of the viewer," he wrote.

"However, I will admit that misery can act as a creative fuel for me, as it does for many people, and that this film, in many ways, was born out of my own misery."

Jordan's film hasn't been able to evade success. It was selected for the Carmike Cinemas Independent Film Festival, making its debut in theaters last month. "My Sweet Misery" opens at Carmike Cinemas 10 on Columbiana Circle with screenings at 7:15 and 9:45 tonight.

The film was also selected for the Orlando Film Festival, the SoCal Independent Film Festival, and it won best cinematography at the Charlotte Film Festival. Not bad for a writing and directorial debut.

Jordan's cast features actors with marquee names.

Anna Chlumsky, who played an adorable young girl opposite Macaulay Culkin in "My Girl," plays Chloe. In recent years, Chlumsky has appeared in "Law & Order," "30 Rock" and "Cupid."

Thomas Jay Ryan, who plays The Therapist, is best known for starring in Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool" and the "sequel" "Fay Grim." In 2007, he starred opposite Tilda Swinton in "Strange Culture." Zach Hanks, who plays the affected main character, Sam, has been a guest on "Chuck" and "Criminal Minds." Hanks, who lives in Los Angeles, is a USC theater graduate.

How does a first-time director get accomplished actors to commit?

"I just had the gumption to send a script to Thomas Jay Ryan's agent. Miraculously, Thomas said yes," Jordan said. "After getting him on board, someone mentioned the idea of Anna Chlumsky.

"It probably helped that we had Thomas Jay Ryan on board for her agent to take it seriously."

Almost as miraculous as getting SAG-card-carrying actors to sign on to a film with a screenplay that had not been vetted by Hollywood, was how the movie was actually made. Jordan, an English major at USC, has no traditional film-school training. This was really his first attempt at directing action. At first, he found it daunting working with Chlumsky and Ryan.

"They were tolerant of my eccentricities," he said. "It was intimidating going in, but once they arrived, they were professionals.

"They made it really comfortable for me."

Local actors in the production include: Christopher C. Cook, Jason Craig, Patrick C. Williams, Steve Harley, Richard Jennings, Patrick Michael Kelly and Shane Walters. Paige Cooper, a USC graduate living in L.A., plays a pivotal role.

Jordan said he's been immersed in filmmaking since he was young, which allowed him to know what to look for when directing.

"I learned the technical elements as I went along, the language of film," he said. "I also edited the film, and to me editing is a lot like writing. A lot of the editing process is similar to the craft of writing."

"It's been a mental, physical and emotional gauntlet to go through," added Jordan, who lost more than 15 pounds and countless hours of sleep during the process. "But it's worth it to go through it to tell a story on film."

"My Sweet Misery" is set on the coast, and some scenes were shot in Myrtle Beach, where Jordan grew up. Other scenes were shot in Columbia. The movie was made using Super 16mm film. There were post-production issues, though Jordan was evasive when asked how long it actually took to make and edit the film.

He wants the film, which was produced for less than $100,000 - in Hollywood lingo, that's a micro-budget - to stand on its own.

It's not far-fetched. "Paranormal Activity," a horror film made for $15,000, has netted more than $84 million at the box office.

But that led to another question: How did he raise the money without help from the South Carolina Film Commission or any other art institution?

Jordan had help from co-producers, Ann Burns, a veteran theater producer, and Lawrence Needle, a Workshop Theatre board member.

"The three of us kind of became the production team, and gradually over the course of time pulled it together," Jordan said.

"My Sweet Misery" also will screen at 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday at Carmike. Tickets cost $5.

Where does the movie - and Jordan - go next? Hollywood?

"I've gotten indications that it may be moving on to other theaters in January," he said. "Hopefully our run can continue."

LEGEND MAKING: In six years of hosting the Legends Of ... concert, the Auntie Karen Foundation has consistently delivered legends to the Koger Center stage: Roberta Flack, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Patti Austin, Joe Sample and George Duke have performed at the foundation's annual fundraiser.

Instead of one legend in 2010, the foundation will present a duo: Ashford & Simpson. The concert will be held Feb. 26 at the Koger Center, and Ashford & Simpson will host a master class at the USC School of Music on Feb. 25.

"We're lucky that we're able to attract these legends," Karen Alexander, the foundation's executive director, said.

Nickolas Ashford, who was born in Fairfield, and Valerie Simpson are a successful husband-and-wife songwriting team, writing some of Motown's most-recognized hits. The duo wrote "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and "You're All I Need To Get By," which were recorded by the premiere '60s R&B duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

They also wrote "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," Diana Ross' debut solo single after leaving the Supremes. As performers, Ashford & Simpson's most widely known song is "Solid," an early '80s crossover hit.

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DANCE REVOLUTION: Everyone who ventures out on the scene knows Halloween in Columbia is known for revealing costumes, packed bars and clubs and too many Jell-O shots.

Isn't it like that everywhere?

What might be particular - or at least special last weekend - to Columbia was the Halloween-themed dance in town that was filled with tricks and treats.

The Columbia City Ballet's performance of "Dracula: Ballet With a Bite" at the Koger Center was campy on the surface. Dracula, danced by Joshua Alexander, looked more like David Bowie if he had made a cameo in the vampire flick "The Lost Boys" than Robert Pattinson's "Twilight" hunk. (Who didn't think "Dracula's" poster was a riff on "Twilight"?) The music was at times grating and unintentionally humorous, as when Dracula retired to his coffin.

But the dancing was sensational. Jose Serrano's body exudes strength and endurance; Victoria Cholkas is impeccable, her every movement demanding form and control; Kathryn Smoak, limber and acrobatic, conveyed so much desire when being tossed by Serrano; when partnered, Regina Willoughby and Mark Krieger were tender and elegant.

The undead also danced at "Carpe Noctem," UNBOUND Dance Company's production last Friday night

The centerpiece of "Carpe Noctem" was the company's interpretation of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance sequence. UNBOUND'S zombie dancers were creepy and seductive, which gave the dance movements an allure.

As you get older, shouldn't Halloween gatherings have something more for you to sink your teeth into than candy?

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