Shedding Light on Our Darkness
A locally produced pilot centering on crime in New Orleans will soon be meeting with HBO.
A local, independent filmmaker, Andrew Bryan has nothing but wonderful things to say about his time spent at UNO Film School. He will happily spend hours praising the film community here and has an obvious love of his adopted home of New Orleans.
Like all the rest of us, though, he struggles with the city’s crime problem. The difference is, he is trying to tackle the problem by making a TV series about it.
Bryan’s creation, “Shepherd,” tells the story of a Catholic priest in New Orleans named Father Joseph that has become fed up with crime enough to take matters into his own hands. Veteran local Lance Nichols (Treme, House of Cards, Into the Badlands), said he was immediately enthusiastic about the project.
“When I read the script, the hairs on my arm began to jump up one by one and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely. I want to be a part of it,” he said.
An unsuspecting hero that Bryan said was inspired in part by Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Father Joseph has a background in special ops, something Bryan based loosely on his own father, who has since become a born again Christian.
The scenes from the trailer are jarring, but sadly familiar to Bryan.
“In 2011 I was working as a camera operator for a project that shot in the middle of the night a lot in Central City,” said Bryan. “At that point, cop attrition was the worst it had ever been. Central City only had three policemen total working and they were definitely fighting an uphill battle.”
Bryan said it was far too common for the crew to roll up to a location and find a dead body in the street, or blood — or, one time, over 60 bullet casings.
“At that point I thought to myself, ‘What can I do as a filmmaker?’” he said. “My goal became to tell a story that would bring this issue into the national conversation.”
So he went about crafting a script, recruiting talent and crafting a proof-of-concept short film he called Shepherd. Unsure of how to proceed to creating a series, he called upon longtime friend and fellow local filmmaker, Owen Hornstein II.
Familiar with the city’s crime through his time working as a cameraman for a local news station, Hornstein had also written more than 20 feature film and television scripts.
Following a sold-out screening at the 2015 New Orleans Film Festival, Shepherd attracted a local investor that enabled the creation of an hour-long pilot that was completed this past February.
All of the filming for Shepherd was done locally by a local cast and crew of close to 60 people. About three-fourths of the film’s costs were covered through in-kind donations from local vendors and friends.
On October 15, Shepherd won Best Drama and Best Actor (Lance Nichols) at the Independent Television Festival in Manchester, Vermont. The wins meant the pilot would receive a development meeting with HBO.
As of early November, Bryan was still waiting on the details of the meeting, but he describes the opportunity as, “a dream,” calling HBO “the cream of the crop” and “really involved in bringing new voices to the forefront.”
While the hope is to land a distribution deal that will fund further production of the series, Bryan said that his dream is for Shepherd to “shine a spotlight on the negligence and desensitization towards rampant crime in poverty-stricken communities and provide a perspective that is both truthful and complex.”
Whatever the outcome of the meeting, he says he’s optimistic about the future.
“I keep hearing that everyone is looking for content from new, young, diverse voices,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry.”
Shepherd recently screened to a sold-out crowd at Canal Place on Oct. 17 as part of the New Orleans Film Festival. Additional screenings are currently in the works.
To watch the trailer, visit vimeo.com/214340218.
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.