Jordan-Paige Sudduth is an award-winning filmmaker, her most notable achievement being Best Student Feature at the Top Indie Film Awards. She’s the creator of six films and an eight-episode web series called “Rings,” with the second season currently in production. However, there’s a notable difference between her and the professionals: She’s 17.
Atlanta has recently overtaken Los Angeles as the central hub for film production. Instead of flying out to California, hopeful actors and filmmakers are converging on Atlanta in an attempt to make a name for themselves amid tough competition. It doesn’t just end there, either. Below the professional field, the next generation of filmmakers is working just as hard to make an impact, and Forsyth County high school Sudduth is a leader among them.
Sudduth is a confident creator, despite the barriers of being a teenage filmmaker. Because of her age, no one will hire her to lead a film set, or recognize her ideas at a professional level. But she doesn’t want to wait, so she creates her own films. She may have a maximum budget of $500, amateur production equipment, and limited access to set locations, but her passion exceeds the adversities she faces.
“Everything in my head looks like a Hollywood movie,” Sudduth said. “I can’t create that yet. But, I can create something similar to it… I just have to remind myself that I’m not Hollywood.”
To other teen filmmakers, she says, “You’ve got to be Team Reality.”
Sudduth’s drive connects teens who may be searching for opportunities in the field. During the casting process, she finds aspiring teenage actors and gives them a platform to improve their craft. By doing so, she’s creating a community of young artists. As she carves her path in the industry, she brings them along with her.
“If I work hard enough, I can get to a point where it will be what I expect, or what I see in my head,” Sudduth said.
Sudduth’s dedication alone is respectable, and even more significant when coupled with her age. As a senior in high school, she wants to go to Vancouver Film School and pursue a career in film. For now, she’s continuing to create new stories and expanding her social reach in her community. For Tiago Sheppard, however, the exploration into film production has not rendered the same result.
Tiago de Sousa Sheppard is a senior and film major at Georgia State University. He grew up making videos for fun, but unlike Sudduth, he’s had the advantage of taking film courses in college. Instead of leading Sheppard toward a future in film, his experiences had the inverse effect.
Sheppard said he became a film major so he could express himself through the medium. During college, he learned from professionals and shadowed on commercial film sets, giving him an informed look into the industry. He learned the process was much more impersonal than he preferred and expected when he decided to major in film.
“I was a little bit disillusioned by the fakeness of film, the fact that’s it’s very manufactured,” Sheppard said. “It’s a lot more removed.”
The path toward working in the film industry can lead to many destinations; it may not result in a career, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring. Tiago Sheppard doesn’t regret any of his decisions, and he encourages those interested in film to check it out on their own.
“Don’t wait to get into a big production. Make stuff on your own,” Sheppard said. “Start making movies, as much as you can.”
The best way for an eager filmmaker to find success is to continue making their own videos. At least that’s what Daniel Roberts, CEO of Atlanta-based video production company Friendly Human, did. His introduction to video production came from simply making movies out of his parents’ basement. Now, he’s in charge of a thriving company.
Friendly Human provides a strong example of success in the field. They’ve completed projects for both larger corporations such as Cox Communications and Home Depot, as well as local brands and organizations. They’re currently in their third year of production of “Rhino Man,” a documentary about South African rangers and their battle against poachers to protect rhinos.
The director of photography at Friendly Human, Zac Holben, came into video production through unconventional circumstances. He said he first fell in love with filmmaking after stealing his father’s video camera, “when I was a little skate rat back in the day, and I just filmed everything.”
Holben brought the same camera with him when he traveled internationally and used it to film his adventures. He uploaded his edits online, and they quickly gained popularity and began to attract attention. After returning home, he was hired as a freelance cinematographer for several projects and eventually found his way to Friendly Human.
Holben’s story proves that anybody can find success in film production, regardless of equipment or training. His story should remind young filmmakers that if they truly have a passion for something, or are even remotely interested, they should stick to it and explore their options.
“Keep good people around you,” Holben advised. “Those people could end up hiring you. It’s all about collaboration.”
For young filmmakers, he also warns against arrogance and overconfidence.
“Be humble,” Holben said. “You may be the most talented person in a room, or think you are, but there’s always 10 people better than you, that work harder than you, that are more handsome than you, that know cameras better than you.”
As young filmmakers like Sudduth attempt to reinvent the status quo of the film industry, they’ll have to adjust their expectations for the future, because greater opportunities come with greater competition. In the meantime, the next crop of writers, directors, cinematographers and actors will keep cranking out their indie films and learning the trade.
“It’s going to be hard, and that’s normal. Don’t give up on it,” Sudduth said. “Don’t quit through a project halfway. Get through it, because you’ll be able to look back and be proud of yourself.”
Henry, 16, is a junior at Decatur High School, found inspiration in Jordan-Paige Sudduth’s dedication.
Dana, 14, is a sophomore at Grady High School and loves learning about people who love doing what they do.
Grace, 16, rising senior at DeKalb School of the Arts, ate Salata every day during the camp week
Emma, 15, is a sophomore at Rockdale Magnet, runs on tomato basil soup from Salata