Columbus artist Bo Bartlett, known nationally for his realist works, is painting again.
But this time the canvas is different, even if the familiar backdrop of his hometown of Columbus is the same.
Bartlett, along with his wife and fellow artist Betsy Eby, is directing and producing a feature-length film — “Things Don’t Stay Fixed.” It is being shot this month throughout Columbus.
“It’s the biggest painting we have ever made,” Eby said.
The two are self-funding the ultra low-budget film that has paid lead actors and paid professional production crews.
“I didn’t have preconceived notions about how easy or hard it would be,” Bartlett said. “I was scared to death prior to the first couple of days. Once you are in it, it is a little like drawing a painting. You don’t stop to think about it. But prior to it I was pretty terrified just because of the scope of it. There are 50 people employed. ... The great thing about the cast and crew is everyone is in it for the love of it.”
The biggest difference in making a film and painting is the unknowns, he said Monday.
“Because I have painted for so long, I can sit there and put a little touch of red on the canvas and step back and look at it for five minutes. I can say, ‘Do I like that? Maybe I do; maybe I don’t,’” Bartlett said. “That is a luxury and you can’t do that here. You have to make a decision and go with it.”
Bartlett studied film in the mid-1980s at New York University. But he and Eby are leaning on the approach they know best, she said.
“Every scene is laid out like a painting,” Eby said. “It is going to be a very visual film and a smart screenplay.”
Bartlett co-wrote the screenplay with Atlanta screenwriter Sandra Deer, who wrote the Southern Gothic play “So Long on Lonely Street” in the mid-1980s after he completed his film study. That play, which had a limited run in New York City off Broadway, is what attracted Bartlett to contact Deer about three decades ago. They wrote on and off for five years.
They had investors who were interested in backing the production, Bartlett said.
“By the time the late ’80s, early ’90s came along, they were not quite as interested in investing,” Bartlett said. “I optioned it to Hollywood once we were finished. It was in Hollywood for four years.”
Making a film is not something new to Bartlett.
Bartlett has directed a documentary, “Snow Hill,” on painter Andrew Wyeth. He has also done other documentary and short films, but this is his first crack at a full-length feature.
The production of “Things Don’t Stay Fixed” is being done in conjunction with the Georgia Film Academy and it’s an all-Georgia cast. The story is familiar to those who grew up in the South, Bartlett said. It is the tale of a world-renowned photo journalist who comes back to the Deep South to try to stop his daughter’s wedding to save her future. But he discovers he is the one who has been stuck in the past.
“It has all of the elements,” Bartlett said. “It has the racial aspects that are part of the South. It has the gender aspects that are part of the South. There have been many films shot in Columbus from ‘Green Berets,’ on. But this is the first film that is set in Columbus and meant to be Columbus. It is about Columbus.”
When it was written, it was written for all the locations in Columbus. Monday they were shooting at St. Elmo, a historic mansion in the Lakebottom area. Other scenes have been shot at Linwood Cemetery, Dinglewood Pharmacy, Pop A Top Bar and the Goetchius House in the Historic District.
“It is a kind of Southern Gothic feature,” Bartlett said. “It is kind of a classic film that is not set in time. It is not set exactly in the ’60s, or exactly in the ’80s or exactly now. Other than a few cars here and here, it could be any time.”
At the end of the day, the film is about people, Bartlett said.
“It is sort of like a French film in a way with its character development,” Bartlett said. “It is very subtle character development. There’s drama; and there’s comedy. But it is the rich tapestry of life. There is love; there is life and there is death. ... There is really no antagonist. Everyone is a protagonist. The beauty of it all is there’s no guns, no violence. There is just the life most of us live day to day; and it’s a beautiful story.”
There has been support from people in the community, from serving as extras in the film to offering props, Eby said. She used the example of a special car they needed.
“We were looking high and low for Corvettes,” Eby said. “We couldn’t find anything within our budget. Joseph Berger put a post out and somebody directed him to Garry Curtain. He generously offered his Corvette for the month.”
Doing this film is similar to looking at a blank canvas, Eby said.
“A lot of people would say, ‘How are you going to make beauty out of nothing there?’” she said. “I think we are doing it, so far so good.”