Most headlines direct people to the high-profile stars, like actors, directors and writers, filtering through the Hostess City any time it becomes the home for a film production. Yet it would be the below-the-line workers — grips, production assistants, lighting experts — who actually live here and impress people, such as writer/director Jason Reitman, so much that they call Savannah “the next Austin."

Kody Cunningham is hoping to encourage local talent to develop into those high-profile stars while they continue to call Savannah home.

 

Cunningham is a SCAD graduate who has been working as a production assistant for many of the projects coming through the area. He said the plethora of talent on the production side is important, but Savannah lacks a pool of creative minds.

“All the top people are from Los Angeles or New York, and then they hire everyone else [in Savannah], which is great, but we don’t have any local-grown creative content coming out,” he said.

The fix? Take a note from Austin and form a creative film community. Cunningham hopes to channel the work of Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez and make Savannah a desirable spot for the creative side of the film world with his feature film debut, “What We Always Wanted.”




I like the feel of this city…seeing a place that had culture, for me, was kind of a big deal. And just a city that feels like art in itself.


— Kody Cunningham


The film follows three people who want to be working artists. Scout, the best spoken-word poet in her eighth-grade class, begins having panic attacks on stage. At the same time, her older sister Farryn has no idea what she wants to do when she graduates next year. Isaac, the girl's cousin and a failed artist played by Cunningham, has to find a way to cover his roommate's share of the rent in the next three days. When Scout and Farryn's parents leave for the weekend to try to salvage their marriage, Isaac must step in to chaperone Scout and Farryn. The trio works together to become the creative artists they want to be, instead of letting reality block their path.

Cunningham hopes his film is able to spark a creative boom in the city, bringing people with similar ambitions to the city while also persuading the already in-town SCAD students to stick around a little longer.

“If you look at the crew list, there are 100 people. Eighty of them are from the local Savannah area, but the top 20 who make the actual creative decisions are always from somewhere else, so that’s a problem,” he said, adding that the film industry is "really taking off, but there’s just not that many people on the creative side within local Savannah.”

 

What We Always Wanted - Teaser from Kody Cunningham on Vimeo.

Theoretically, the story could happen anywhere, Cunningham said, but while he was coming up with the plot, Savannah kept speaking to him. “My whole thing was to make it as genuine and unique as possible,” he said.

He added that the art scene informed the narrative because of Savannah’s ability to offer artists an inspirational home, but also one that viably allows them to pursue their passion without having to “sell out” in a way.

“The culture here has a lot of artists that haven’t quite made it because it is a place that allows that .. .in many other places, you can’t fiscally be an artist and be trying to find your artistic voice, but here, you can be a waiter and be working on your new EP,” he said. “If you were at another place, you would have given up and tried to find a good paying job immediately and kind of [sold] out for a little bit. A lot of other places, that would be very viable but here, people keep on trying and keep on going for their art in whatever it might be.”

 

Cunningham needs about $30,000 to fully fund his project. The film is being funded entirely by tax-deductible donations, sponsored by From the Heart Productions. Donators can earn perks such as signed shooting scripts, tickets to the Savannah screening of the film and producer credits on the finished product.

This hopefully won’t be the end of his creative stay in Savannah. Cunningham said in his eight years here, he has grown to love the city. The transplant from Arlington, Texas, could see himself not only coming back to film future movies set in the Hostess City, but also just to visit and enjoy its amenities.

“I like the feel of this city ... seeing a place that had culture, for me, was kind of a big deal. And just a city that feels like art in itself.”

To help with funding, visit his page at fromtheheartproductions.networkforgood.com.

 

A word from the Director - What We Always Wanted from Kody Cunningham on Vimeo.