There’s a (Film) Mob Takeover in Wilmington

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Working from Bellefonte Café, a cadre of cinephiles develops, supports and celebrates small-budget movies projects

Sitting at a small table upstairs in Bellefonte Café in North Wilmington with Nate Farrar, Kevin Francis, and J. Winfield “Win” Heckert, I feel as though something secretive and fun is brewing. That’s because I’ve been invited into the Wilmington Film Mob’s inner circle.

About 15 months ago, this trio, along with other local cinephiles, formalized a loose-knit community—actors, creatives, people interested in and passionate about film—to develop, support and celebrate small-budget movie projects. The Wilmington Film Mob was born—part production, part appreciation, all about the love of film.

Farrar, 32, Francis, 50, and Heckert, 36, are the Mob’s de-facto leaders, in that they (in Farrar’s words) “…maybe organize stuff.” In truth, the three have been the driving forces behind the Mob.

They assure me this isn’t a vanity project. Francis, clearly the group’s spokesman, says the goal was to attract people who were interested—whether in acting, makeup or crew—but who may not have the connections to get involved in filmmaking. “We’re all about appreciation of film: the creation and enjoyment of it,” he says. “The people here are really ‘throwing in,’ dedicated to helping each filmmaker realize his vision.”

And while they all have day jobs—Francis with The Bancorp; Heckert owns a video production company, HI Visuals; and Farrar manages Bellefonte Café—their common passion is filmmaking.

“Win had been doing films here long before Wilmington Film Mob existed,” Farrar says. His solo work included the high school spoof Rockabilly High School, which he wrote and produced. It was shown at both the 2015 Fringe Wilmington Festival and WilmFilm Festival. He and Farrar connected while he was filming Rockabilly and was in need of a musician to provide some songs. He turned to Farrar, who was playing with the band Big Skull. “Nate wrote three songs in like four hours,” Heckert recalls.

Most of the Mob’s film ideas evolve from this trio, and they definitely play off each other’s strengths. Both Heckert and Farrar have helped Francis with scripts, and he, in turn, has assisted with lighting and cinematography. They’re all working in some capacity on the Mob’s next feature, In the House of Madness. The plot finds art student Alice returning to her family’s country estate, where she learns her uncle may have unleashed a demonic curse on the home and family.

Written by Farrar, the project begins principal shooting this month. Additional features and shorts from each of the guys are in the works following Madness.

“Nate’s a very prolific writer,” Francis says. “He has an unbelievable imagination and ability to connect things.”

Farrar grins. “I usually just think of something that makes me laugh, and I’ll write around that.” He notes that initially most acting was just improvisation. In fact, their first two shorts (i. e., films 7-20 minutes in length) and the majority of their feature-length Dead and Waiting involved a great deal of improv.

Farrar also notes that their productions don’t really have set budgets. “Mostly, it’s the cost of how much beer I have to buy to get actors to be in it,” he writes.

All told, as the Wilmington Film Mob, they’ve produced three shorts—Did you Hear How Kevin Died, The Staff Meeting and The Book of Eve—plus Dead and Waiting, which was filmed entirely at Bellefonte Café. It tells the story of a demon awakened below a café, which leads to the café staff having to save the world. It debuted at Theatre N last November.

Welcoming others

That said, they do welcome participation from other filmmakers and writers. “The thing about Wilmington Film Mob is that projects don’t necessary need to go through the channels [of the main participants],” Francis says. People can come with an idea and connect with someone outside the “regular” circle. “The Mob is really meant as a central contact point for people to tap into,” he says.

Adds Farrar: “Yeah, we’re like the local ‘matchmakers’ of no-budget movies.”
Francis finishes: “You know, we’re not in competition with anyone; we just want to collectively build up the film scene in Wilmington.”

Oya Alatur is a local musician who has appeared in several of the Mob’s projects, including Dead and Waiting. “Wilmington Film Mob is a much-needed film, acting and music outlet for the creative energy here,” says Alatur. “The films they produce are thought-provoking, funny and push the envelope—something you don’t get much of around here. It’s refreshing.”

Local actor Emma Orr agrees. She has appeared in a number of Mob productions and will star in In the House of Madness. “Their approach is very unique. Their humor is off-base, for sure,” she says.

Everyone involved—Orr included—seems to have a penchant for dark humor, abstract thought, silliness and irony. Orr describes the Mob’s style as drawing inspiration from cult classics, B-movies, art films, grindhouse, sci-fi and experimental indie films. “I cannot say what they’re trying to accomplish, but whatever it is, they’ll do it with a style all their own.”

Another offshoot of this collective is Tuesday Movie Nights at Bellefonte Café. Francis describes the informal events as an eclectic selection, nothing too over the top: no Michael Bay films, nothing too highbrow. Think 12 Angry Men, Harold & Maude, Wild at Heart.
Bellefonte Café has long been a “haven” for creative people of every stripe. It supports the local live music and poetry scenes, hosting a robust monthly performance calendar, and it’s a cozy, welcoming meet-up for artists and fans alike.

The Café also serves as a venue for many Mob location shoots, although they also shoot in and around Wilmington. “Bellefonte Café is so integral to what we do,” says Francis. “It really it is a hub of creativity—of like-minded people, creative types—all very supportive of each other, wanting to see each other succeed.”

Sometimes, their schedule involves a bit of “guerrilla filming” in other locations. “I shot a few scenes under the radar at a grocery store,” Farrar discloses. Do they obtain permits for shoots outside of the Café, I ask. “Welllll…” Farrar answers sheepishly.
“We have a good time,” Francis assures me. “But without [the support of] Bellefonte Café, we wouldn’t have any of this.”
“So this really is your ‘clubhouse,’ then?” I ask.
“It’s more like a house party every night; you never know who’s going to show up,” he says.

Recruiting for the Mob

So what’s the overall goal of Wilmington Film Mob? “I think if you asked each of us, you might get three different answers,” Francis says. “For me, I think we just want to keep on creating, keep doing new things, finding new horizons.”

Farrar chimes in. “I think it would be cool to have a relationship with a small distribution ‘system,’ just to be able to get stuff out there.” He notes that they had about 100 people at the premiere of Dead & Waiting.

“It’d be cool to do a yearly film premiere [at Theatre N]…maybe that’s a goal,” Farrar muses. He also envisions launching something like an open mic night—an “open screen night” if you will—where any film enthusiast can show his or her work.

Heckert joins in. “I’d like to have a feature to submit to festivals, since there’s more distribution options for a feature.”

So do they want this Mob to become a full-time gig? “That would be nice, but I think that’s not too terribly likely at this point,” says Heckert.

“I was thinking about this earlier,” says Farrar. “I think I’d like to find a niche audience for what we’re doing—even if it’s just 100 people who get excited every time we release something.”

“I feel like we’re just getting our legs,” Francis sums up. “We have a lot of talented people, and I think we just need to coalesce that. Personally, I just like being in movies and helping Nate, Win and everyone else get to their goal.”

To join the Wilmington Film Mob or to find out more about them, check out their Facebook Group. Or, you can head to Bellefonte Café…odds are good that you’ll find at least one of the guys there.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.