Zooming In on Independent Films

Above: 2nd Unit DP Bart Johnson, captures some epic fantasy warriors from The Rangers: A Shadow Rising, filmed in Rappahannock, VA.

Bealeton’s Ron Newcomb and his new ventures hope to create sustainable work for creators all across the Mid-Atlantic area

Photos courtesy of Ron Newcomb

“Truth be told, I’ve been really looking forward to this interview!” Those were some of the first words I heard from Ron Newcomb when we spoke. When I prepared for my interview with him, I was expecting someone who was difficult to get hold of because of a busy schedule working with cast and crew, possibly even more distant in person. What I found instead was someone who was surprisingly down to earth: conversational, pleasant, not at all what I expected from a film producer, especially one that runs two separate film studios. Newcomb’s demeanor reflects his upbringing and his mindset in the filmmaking industry: someone who makes opportunities for himself and for others, instead of leaving to find the nearest one someone else made. In a part of the country where professional-grade filmmaking is sometimes scarce, ventures like Newcomb’s are an opportunity like an oasis in the desert—a welcome, hopeful sight in an area that has exhausted many creators into giving up or leaving for more welcoming places.

Sheila Avellino on the set of The Rangers: The Courier filmed in Rappahannock, VA.

When most people think of filmmaking in America, their mind immediately flocks to Los Angeles, with the sun, the sand, and the overly bloated film corporations who churn out blockbuster after blockbuster that people usually only go to see because they’re bored on a Saturday night. Most people don’t immediately think of independent filmmakers like Newcomb unless they’re winning some award at a film festival like Sundance or Spirit. However, that’s exactly the type of work that Newcomb likes to encourage: independent actors and storytellers bringing their voices to the table. His two production groups, Forge Studios and Mid Atlantic Studios, are both owned and operated by Newcomb, and specialize in the sort of films that Newcomb himself enjoys making. Forge is Newcomb’s primary studio, and one that is relatively genre-specific; films made by Forge are typically either Fantasy or Sci-fi. This position wasn’t exactly intended to align so, but in Newcomb’s own words, “We offer other content as well, that was just the niche we found ourselves in.” Mid Atlantic Studios is a new venture for Newcomb and his associates, functioning specifically to hire cast and crew located along and near the East Coast, focusing in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, and both North and South Carolina. The Studio is designed so that actors and tech workers can buy into the company, allowing them to have a voice in what gets produced by the studio in a method that Newcomb calls “sustainable filmmaking.” Seeing a group that is designed specifically with the intent to give smaller actors and crew a chance to work in a field they are passionate about is a truly welcome sight to see in this part of the country.

Newcomb currently works as an IT project manager when he’s not filmmaking, but he spends much of his free time building his group and working on new opportunities. For Newcomb, the biggest motivation for creating a studio came from the lack of opportunity present on the East Coast for filmmakers. “I have a Master’s Degree, a house, a wife and four little girls, but I couldn’t do the very thing I felt like I was called to do. There’s this expectation, especially on the East Coast, that if you’re acting or producing, you should be doing something else. The goal with this project isn’t to get rich, but it’s more of a way trying to create a sustainable lifestyle for creators.”

Ron Newcomb stands in the arena for an epic 1:1 battle during the Weekend Warrior event, a Cinematic Experientail Event.

His origin in the industry begins as a child, but not as a child actor. He quotes his love for tabletop games with his friends as the introduction to his love of stories. Instead of playing sports in college, he went into acting as an extracurricular activity, and went on to win several acting competitions until finally making the move to L.A. After coming back to Virginia, he created his own experience making films in a local movie theater with a friend while working evenings as a police officer. “That first film we made together wasn’t a masterpiece, but it’s what really taught me that making films is absolutely doable, and that you don’t have to be a major film corporation to do what you love.”

When asked to give advice, Newcomb had a few suggestions for those in the area that want to make their own content, but aren’t quite ready to make the move to New York or Los Angeles:

  • Find other people with your vision. This may seem like an obvious point, but we can’t stress it enough. “If you look, you’ll find there’s plenty of other people out there who share your vision.” Creating a network of other actors, writers, and directors is vital to meeting your goals of production.
  • Don’t tackle something too big, too early. Ambition can be an excellent motivator, but a healthy dose of realism will help to keep your goals manageable. This might include reserving filming for only one to two days a week if your actors have day jobs, as well as cutting costs with pre-owned props from home instead of buying them exclusively for the production.
  • Work on someone else’s content first. There’s no better teacher than experience, and other creators can offer that experience in spades. Getting your acting experience in a student film is a great way to build your comfort level in front of the camera. Not an actor? Volunteer as a crew member on a student film or short; there’s always a need for extra hands, and you can gain some really valuable, hands-on technical experience for later.
  • Sometimes, you have to be the producer. One of Newcomb’s biggest concerns as a filmmaker is money: “Money isn’t ‘A’ problem in our industry, money is ‘THE’ problem.” Making content is great, but as with all things, finances are always a factor. Being able to take a step back and make decisions for financial reasons, or ‘putting on the producer’s cap,’ as Newcomb calls it, is important for both meeting deadlines for any production and also ensuring that a budgeted project doesn’t run out of funding halfway through.

For Newcomb, the work itself is its own reward, that and meeting other content creators like himself. Although film work can be a challenge to find, Newcomb’s example shows that not only is a creative film career in this area feasible — sustainable even — it provides a chance for other creative types to see how doable it is. It makes one hopeful that maybe there’s a chance for more groups like his to spring up nearby.

Information regarding upcoming events, auditions and crew work can be found on Forge Studios’ Facebook page, their website theforgestudios.com, and their weekly newsletter. Business inquiries may be directed via email at film@theforgestudios.com.

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