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History of Old School Pictures PDF Print E-mail
A combination of talents and interests was key in the formation of Old School Pictures. The group originated at Houston High School in 1998, where Joey Watson’s Film and Video class provided an output for creativity. It was through his course that the team unified, each member realizing the shared strengths and passion of filmmaking between others in the group.

Darn Good Cinema

Throughout high school, Old School Pictures went without an official name. Simply known as the “kids with a video camera” among their peers, the gang increased awareness of their efforts by developing humorous sketches for the morning newscasts at school. Specializing in off-beat and random comedy skits, "Darn Good Cinema" became the trademark of the group, and mascot John Gardner became a household name. Cheesy 80’s and 90’s commercial spots were often spoofed, among them ads for Crossfire, Sunny D, and Got Milk? After graduation, the group went separate ways, but finally bonded under one name: Old School Pictures.

Longtime friends Brad Ellis and Allen Gardner have a history of film obsession. In middle school years, they taped sessions of their own "Gardner and Ellis" review show, following the traditions of Siskel and Ebert’s popular critique banter. They began to develop screenplays and circulated them around school for peer reviews. Eventually, the production stage was bravely attempted but never accomplished until senior year in 1998. This was the breakthrough period during which Ellis decided that directing films would be his focus, and Gardner started honing his acting skills. Halloween 1998 was completed and, at the time, became a very satisfying accomplishment due to Ellis’ fixation with John Carpenter’s horror classic. This was also the year that Ellis and Gardner connected with Mark Norris, Matt Weatherly, and Joey Watson.

Immediately after joining Film and Video, Mark Norris began conceptualizing and starring in many Darn Good Cinema skits throughout the year. However, Norris already had a history of comedy sketches under his belt. He filmed many skits with the involvement of his youth group, inspiring his desire to create stories and act them out in front of the camera. In high school, he immediately fused with Ellis and Gardner, providing fresh material to the group. A parody of the Crossfire commercial became his award-winning opus, in which he starred with his sworn enemy, Matt Weatherly. Joining the team provided Weatherly an opportunity to work with a solid group. He enrolled in the Film and Video program the previous year, and had already begun to alter the traditionally bland television skits that were presented in the morning. He also expanded his knowledge through the technical side of the medium, and soon became intrigued by the concept of editing. This was taken further during college, where he learned the craft of nonlinear editing with computer software. An offbeat comedy sketch series, entitled Random Disorder, was developed by a group of friends with Weatherly and gave him the opportunity to grow as an editor. Joey Watson is the Yoda of Old School Pictures. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a degree in Theater and Communications and currently teaches both courses for the school. Additionally, he was head of the Film and Video department at Houston High School that has become the origin of Old School. With extensive knowledge on film theory and history, Watson has had a tremendous influence on the team. He is also a veteran stage actor and director, and brings his wealth of experience to the group.

The College Years

As of this writing, Old School Pictures has nine completed films in its library. Day of Reckoning, an in-class assignment made for Watson’s production course, won the team its first award ever as Best Short Film in Houston High School’s Film & Video class. Even after the group graduated in 1999, that same year’s Fallout brought them back to familiar grounds. As the movie follows a group of friends who are trapped and hunted inside their own high school, the entirely shot-at-night production was a surreal experience for the team who only months before walked the halls as students. In 2000, fan-favorite Hustled, the road trip comedy about a couple of precocious pool hustlers, took top prize in the MTSU Film Festival for Best Feature.

Horror-based Halloween 2000, Old School’s homage to the original horror classic, has often been hailed as the group’s best critical effort to date, winning accolades from Commercial Appeal critic John Beifuss and Sundance winner Craig Brewer of Hustle & Flow. The Los Angeles-based Means to an End, shot in the summer of 2001, took the crew on their first-ever west coast filming adventure, adding a distinct visual flavor not before seen in an Old School production.

2002 was a crowning year for the team, as their supernatural drama The Path of Fear was named Best Narrative Feature in Indie Memphis’ “Hometowner” category. As this was the first nationally recognized festival in which the members had submitted a film, the win served as a true honor for all involved in the production. The Path of Fear was made possible in part by the endorsement of Belz Enterprises, who put up half the budget to help make the movie. In return, Old School shot and edited a four minute advertisement for the Belz Factory Outlet Mall.

With a respectable award now under its belt, 2003 marked the year Old School returned to its comedic roots with the no-holds-barred sequel Hustled 2. The movie was made in large part as a thank-you to the fans who had supported the team’s more dramatic efforts over the years. Often compared to a live-action cartoon, Hustled 2 provided Old School with a break for some over-the-top comedy and premiered amidst a zany costume contest.

Act One and Beyond

Act One became a defining moment for the group. Written by Allen Gardner, Act One explores what it's like to be twenty-something and trying to tackle your two greatest – yet seemingly conflicting – goals: bettering yourself while connecting with the world around you. Filming began in 2004 and was completed in 2005. The film was premiered at the Indie Memphis Film Festival and garnered much critial praise and recognition. It was awarded the highest prize at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, the Hometowner for Best Narrative Feature. From the acclaimed praise, it was awarded special screening at the Brook's Museum of Art and a two week run at Malco's Studio on the Square where it outperformed all the wide release films playing at the time.

With the notoriety of Act One come anticipation of their new project, Daylight Fades. Set in Memphis, Daylight Fades is a character-driven drama that explores loss, regret, love, redemption, mortality, and the bonds that can us together or pull us apart. It's a story about people who are desperate for a second chance, realizing it may be their last.

Filming begins for Daylight in January and has an highly anticipated release in October of 2009.