Two filmmakers have come returned to their home state to involve communities, create jobs, find talent and inspire Indiana high school students who have dreams of someday making a film of their own.
Chief Executive Officer Zachary Spicer and Chief Operating Officer John Armstrong are the founders and co-owners of the Indiana-based production company Pigasus Pictures LLC, formed in 2014.
They also are heading up the newly formed nonprofit Pigasus Institute in Bloomington.
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Spicer is originally from Greencastle, while Armstrong grew up in Brownsburg. The friends met while attending Indiana University, and with their Indiana ties, the decision was made to base their company in Bloomington.
“After college, we jumped ship and left Indiana like most people in our field because there isn’t a lot of film opportunity in Indiana,” Armstrong said. “Zach has worked professionally as an actor in New York for the last 12 years.”
Armstrong said “The Goonies” and “Back to the Future” were the two films that had the most influence on him growing up, and Spicer said “Jurassic Park” and “Good Will Hunting” inspired him to want to make movies.
Armstrong said they went different directions after college, and while he bounced around from professional acting to teaching, he ended up back in New York in 2014. That’s when the two friends reconnected.
“We decided to make a movie and to do it in Indiana, we knew that we needed to rely on a lot on people that we knew,” Armstrong said. “We were so overwhelmed by the support and enthusiasm, especially from talented local filmmakers and crew who agreed to work for much lower rates than usual.”
Pigasus Pictures’ first feature film, “The Good Catholic,” was filmed entirely in Bloomington. Indiana has no tax incentive for filmmaking, so there is wide grassroots support for the work of Pigasus.
“When I moved back to Indiana, it was my intention to be in the Indianapolis area,” Armstrong said. “But then we decided to make the second film in Bloomington again because we had established a lot of relationships, and the writer/director lives down there.”
Spicer said he stays in Bloomington whenever he comes to Indiana, but he has a full-time apartment in New York City.
“I’m back here in Indiana usually at least once a month, if not more,” he said. “John actually moved to Bloomington full time last September in 2017 before we started shooting our second feature film, ‘Ms. White Light.’”
Armstrong said Spicer travels between here and New York to keep their pipeline to the industry open. Spicer works extensively as an actor, and they have a lot of connections through casting directors and industry folks that they need to maintain.
“I was happy and so thrilled to move back to Indiana and be here to build our grassroots movement, and I came back to Bloomington specifically because we all met at IU,” Armstrong said. “I spent many years in Bloomington, and the community here has great resources, but it’s small enough that you can go to the coffee shop and see people you know.”
Depending on what kind of location is needed for filming, Armstrong said they would love to come down and film Jackson County any time they can find a reason to.
“If we need a river, we can’t do that in Bloomington, but there’s the White River in Indiana, the dunes in northern Indiana and the lakes,” Armstrong said. “The state is ripe with production value and beautiful locations, so we look forward to working all over the state.”
While working on “The Good Catholic,” Spicer and Armstrong noticed a lot of the college students were working on the set and a lot of Indiana University interns.
“So John had the idea of replicating that and turning that experience into a high school opportunity,” Spicer said. “Every year, we hold a short film screenplay competition, Project Pigasus, for all high school students in Indiana.”
Armstrong said they will go to the winner’s hometown and fully produce the short film with that student and all of their friends shadowing and being mentees by working professionals in the industry.
“So they are getting hands-on experience of how to actually make a film at a high quality,” Armstrong said. “We get to go around and get to really engage with the love of storytelling and the love of making films with these high-schoolers.”
He said they try to encourage kids to realize they have all of the capability to do this if they want to and choose to. It’s not some distant dream that can only be attained if you live in New York or Los Angeles or some other major metropolitan city, he said.
By producing the winning short films entirely in state, their hope is that Project Pigasus will inspire young Hoosier filmmakers, provide opportunities for Indiana talent and generate greater exposure for Indiana’s growing film industry, Spicer said.
Last year’s Project Pigasus winner was “Through the Window,” written by Kira Daniels of Southwestern High School in Hanover. The film can be viewed online at pigasuspictures.com.
“We want to read stories that can only be told in Indiana, from the point of view of Indiana’s young people,” Spicer said. “Be creative, be inventive, but at the same time, keep it simple.”
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What: Project Pigasus screenwriting competition
Who: Indiana high school students in grades 9 through 12
When: Competition is open now through Jan. 18
How: Write a short screen play of 12 pages or less, record a pitch video about yourself and write a one-page description of your project
Online: Rules, guidelines and submission instructions can be found at projectpigasus.org
Prize: The winning screenplay will be produced by a professional film crew in the winner’s town, and area students will be invited to apprentice on set. The winning film will be submitted for consideration to major film festivals nationwide, screened in select theaters and distributed online.
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September 2017 to September 2018
Released and toured “The Good Catholic” nationwide; released on Netflix
Completed production of a second feature film, Paul Shoulberg’s “Ms. White Light”
Completed production of a third feature film, Prathana Mohan’s “The Miseducation of Bindu”
Released the first high school Project Pigasus winner Kira Daniels’ “Through the Window”
Produced the second high school Project Pigasus winners Cynthia Foulke and Whitney Roberts’ “As We Begin”
Hosted their first festival with the world-renowned LAByrinth Theatre Co.
Began construction on the Pigasus Institute Studios
Launched Bloomington Academy of Film & Theater