Knoxville Film Festival Announces $20,000 Filmmaking Prize

In Program Notes by Coury Turczynleave a COMMENT

KFF2015_Shootout_logo-finalFilmmaking in Knoxville is about to become a bit easier—at least for one lucky contest winner.

Shootout competitions have long been a staple in the Knoxville film scene—moviemaking teams are usually given a deadline (anywhere between 24 hours to seven days), a running time (usually under 10 minutes), and a theme. Then it’s a frantic race to the finish as each team attempts to produce a quality piece of work, which isn’t a simple feat in that little time. Winners typically receive bragging rights in various categories (“Best Use of Music”) and maybe a prize—and then everybody goes back to their regular jobs the next day.

But the 2015 Knoxville Film Festival’s 7-Day Shootout (Aug.12-19) is changing things up: The ultimate winner will receive a budget of $20,000 to shoot a feature-length film in Knoxville.

“This grand prize is the kind of award I’ve always wanted to provide,” says the festival’s executive director, Keith McDaniel, who originally started it as the Secret City Film Festival in 2004. “It not only encourages and facilitates independent filmmaking in Knoxville, but it also is an opportunity to showcase Knoxville as a great location for films to be made.”

The prize money is the result of a partnership between the festival and Visit Knoxville’s Film Office, which is contributing $15,000 to the kitty. The grand-prize winner will be determined by a panel of industry experts (yet to be named) after narrowing the field to five entrants who will be individually interviewed by McDaniel and Curt Willis, director of the Film Office. All the shootout competitors’ works will be screened Friday, Sept. 18, while the grand-prize winner will be announced at the Knoxville Film Festival’s awards ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 19. The victor will have one year to make a feature film based on the premise of their 7-Day Shootout short. That is, if they agree to adhere to the cash award’s conditions: The film must be no less than 80 minutes in length, be shot entirely in Knox County, and employ cast and crew (including the director/producer) who are residents of Tennessee, with 70 percent of the crew living in Knox County. Willis and McDaniel will also serve as executive producers on the production.

The ultimate goal of the contest is to create a true Knoxville film production, from start to finish, while also giving local aspiring filmmakers a substantial assist.

“We couldn’t be more excited to provide a talented filmmaker with an opportunity to ‘show their stuff,'” McDaniel says. “I know $20,000 may not seem like a lot of money to make a feature film, but you should see what these folks do with little to no money!”

This is the seventh year for the 7-Day Shootout, and previous editions helped advance local filmmakers as well, with $1,000 prizes in some categories and the top prize of a Blackmagic 4K digital camera last year. Some of the entries have even gone on to win further accolades—2012’s Best Film winner, Best Friends, went on to win Best Short Film at the Carrboro Film Festival in North Carolina, and about a dozen other entries are featured in Comcast’s Xfinity channel, Film Festival Collective. This film-budget grand prize will take the competition to a new level, says Garrett Thomson, who manages Dogwood Arts’ production of the Knoxville Film Festival.

“I think this gives someone who might just do this as a hobby an opportunity to really take a stab at something much bigger,” Thomson says. “We’re going to be following along with our socials on this throughout the year, kind of updating fans, so next year they’ll have a large audience to launch this from. This could potentially give someone legs to start a career.”

There will be a total of 30 teams competing in the 7-Day Shootout; currently, 20 of those slots have been filled. To apply, go to

The finished film will be screened at the 2016 Knoxville Film Festival. This year’s festival runs Sept. 17 through 20 at Regal Downtown West Cinema 8. Look for a schedule of events and films to be announced in August.

Editor Coury Turczyn guided Knoxville's alt weekly, Metro Pulse, through two eras, first as managing editor (and later executive editor) from 1992 to 2000, then as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2014. He's also worked as a Web editor at CNET, the erstwhile G4 cable network, and HGTV.

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