Derrick Sims

Like many of California film director Derrick Sims’ film projects, “Come Morning” embraces his South Arkansas roots. The movie, written and directed by Sims, is being filmed around the Kingsland and New Edinburg area where Sims grew up.

It is the story of a man, his grandson, and the hunting accident that changed their lives.

“It begins on a cold, cloudy Arkansas afternoon in November 1973,” Sims said.

“They go out deer hunting and as the sun begins to fade, they both shoot the same deer only to find out that deer was actually their trespassing neighbor,” Sims said. “With emotions on edge, Frank decides that the best thing to do is get rid of the body, and the movie unfolds over the next 12 hours as they try to cover up their tracks and keep their sanity.”

Sims discusses the upcoming movie, growing up in South Arkansas, and his other film projects in a recent interview with Seark Today. A short teaser video of ”Come Morning” can be viewed at the bottom of the page.

Seark Today: Where did you grow up?

Sims: I grew up in Kingsland. I spent my first four years at an old house across from Saeler’s Grocery, and then we moved out on Crossroads Road. I spent the next 14 years there. I went to elementary school in Kingsland, and I moved to Fordyce Middle School (while still living in Kingsland) in seventh grade due to my Dad being a teacher.

Seark Today: Where did you go to high school and college?

Sims: I went to high school at Fordyce and college at Henderson State in Arkadelphia.

Seark Today: Where do you live now?

Sims: I live in Burbank, California, one block from Walt Disney Studios and one block from the library! Though I’ve been out here each summer for the past three years, my wife Alaina and I, moved here permanently in 2010.

Seark Today: How did growing up in South Arkansas impact your creative process?

Sims: I give a lot of credit to South Arkansas for making me the person and filmmaker I am. Growing up there (along with help from my parents) made me learn courtesy and southern hospitality. Sometimes, when I was in high school, I tended to think I wanted to someday get away from all of the ”southern” stuff, but soon thereafter, I learned to embrace it. Though I took diction classes, I purposefully kept my southern accent and charm (which I’m pretty sure has gotten me a few films over the past year especially). South Arkansas is part of me. It’s engrained in me. And I’m so glad it is. It influences my writing, my lifestyle, and my attitude. Quite a few people in LA tell me they don’t understand how I can be so calm and laid back about things. I credit that mostly my great upbringing there. An interesting thing about my writing is that the two feature films I’ve written are EXTREMELY southern. In fact, they both take place in Kingsland. People always say “write about what you know,” so there was no need to fight it when I wrote my first script.

I also credit the sheer stillness (what some might call boredom) of living out in the Arkansas woods for a lot of my creativity. There wasn’t a lot to do, so creativity allowed me an escape into other worlds. I didn’t come from an extremely creative family, but my family were good storytellers, especially my grandpa, Harold Sims. He would tell stories and jokes all the time, and it was captivating. That’s actually the first time I’ve ever thought about him as a potential source of some of my creativity, but I can really see that now.

Also, from an early age I would sit alone and do creative things like build houses and such out of blocks and logs. I’d make little stories to go with my works of Lincoln Log and Tinker Toy grandeur. I wrote stories in elementary school about magic and knights and all the nerdy stuff that I still like today. And though I was never into scary movies (which I wasn’t allowed to watch), I loved making haunted houses and telling ghost stories.

As for movies, I was always fond of them. We didn’t get to go to the theater very often because it was so far away, but when we did, it was always a nice treat. We had a lot of movies “recorded off the TV,” and so I watched a lot of Karate Kid, Rocky, and Rambo. In fact, a lot of my early movies have a lot of the plot lines of the Karate Kid and Rambo! Then when the camera came along, I began making movies to occupy my time. I still played ball and did the “normal” things around there, but the camera was the first true “outlet” I had. I could tell the stories, I could build the houses and models, and I could have the movie experience all in one.

Seark Today: When did you get interested in filmmaking?

Sims: I was always in love with movies. They were inspiring to me, not the way a motivational speaker is inspiring, but in the same way a great novel is inspiring. Speakers may get you to change your life from bad choices in the past or they may get you pumped about something, but a novel or a film take you to a place inside the author’s mind. They sort of transport you to a new world, even if it’s much like our own, it’s of their creation. It’s the creation that’s inspiring, not so much the message.

As for my beginning in filmmaking, my parents bought a used General Electric VHS camcorder when I was eight-years-old. By the time I was nine, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to make movies. For the next three or four years, almost every weekend was spent making a movie of some sort. Sometimes there was a script. Sometimes it was completely improvised. It was always creative, though. Most of the films were action/ adventure films, but I sometimes delved into Sci-Fi. My friends and I were always the actors.

Seark Today: You recently returned from Prague. What did you do there?

Sims: A few months ago, I applied for a position on a film that was shooting in Prague in June. You never really know when you apply for these gigs, but this one turned out to be legitimate. It called for a DP/Editor who had a love of history and theatre. I love history, and my minor in college was theatre, so I fit the bill. I met with the director, and I got the job.

The film is a documentary is about Jewish Holocaust prisoners performing theatre in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. It was kinda bizarre that, while in Theresienstadt, we stayed in the actual barracks in the Jewish ghetto. It was oddly quiet and haunting. We were there for three days.

The basis for the documentary is a cabaret, called Why We Laugh. The play was found when one of the dancers in the original production in 1943 came to Harvard professor Dr. Lisa Peschel with one of the only two surviving copies. After a lot of research, Dr. Peschel stumbled upon another copy of the script, provided by a child of the original writers, complete with original sheet music. A Minnesota-based theatre company translated and adapted the play, and 65 years later, performed it in the original concentration camp attic. Every night was a sold out performance. We interviewed actors, Holocaust survivors and their children, historians, and academics. On the way back, we stopped in New York and interviewed rabbis about the Jewish experience during the war. We just got back last night at 1am. It was a wonderful, but draining, shoot.

Seark Today: What other projects have you worked on?

Sims: I did a lot of short films before I was 21. The most successful of those was a short called The Battle of Marks’ Mill. A lot of people in the area have seen that short, and it had a “Hollywood-like” story that went with it. Long story short, I made this film and a lot of people wanted to buy copies on DVD, because they were involved in the re-enactment I shot or they were from New Edinburg/Kingsland/Fordyce.

I sold over 300 copies, and one of them just happened to fall in the right hands. The administrator of the Aerospace IMAX in Little Rock saw it and called me to ask if he could show it there at the IMAX. I was a 19-year-old who was just having fun, and now people were actually going to see my pictures! So in December 2005 (after a huge re-cut of the film), The Battle of Marks’ Mill showed at the IMAX there.

At 21, I got my first feature film. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college, and it was on a film called War Eagle. It was kind of a big deal in Arkansas in that it was an expensive film and it was being shot here. It had some movie stars involved, most notably a huge hero of mine, Brian Dennehy. He was the “bad guy” in Rambo, and I was going to get to work with him! I was so excited. Mary Kay Place, Mare Winningham, and James McDaniel were also in the film. I was a “set documentarian” which means they pretty much gave me a camera and an unlimited supply of tape and told me to shoot everything. And I did. I was the behind-the-scenes guy. I interviewed the cast and crew as well as shot tons of footage that would end up on the DVD special features.

My next feature film was in 2008 and it was a family/drama called The River Within. It, too, was shot in Arkansas, and I was extremely lucky to get an amazing position on it. I was the director of photography, which is pretty much one step down from the director. The “DP” is in charge of what the picture looks like, camera, lighting, etc. I also went on to edit that film in my first venture to Los Angeles.

Late Bloomer was my next work. It was a college-humor comedy that shot in 2009. I was DP on that film as well, and I edited it too. I did some commercial and short film work during 2010 before I moved out to LA. I got another feature within a week of being out there. Around Christmas of 2010, I got a feature called Suite 101. I was an editor on that film, but it was a six month job. What was nice is that it allowed me to work on other films while editing that one at the same time.

So far this year, I’ve DPd two documentaries, edited and colored two features and one short, and been a camera assistant on another feature. I’ve got two more films on my upcoming schedule. One is a western shooting in September, and the other is Come Morning which shoots in October.”

Seark Today: Who wrote the Come Morning script and who is producing, directing and starring in it?

Sims: I wrote the script in fall 2009. It’s undergone a lot of changes since then, but the original story that I pitched to Zac Heath (producer) over the phone is still pretty much the exact same. There’s a reason that it’s stayed the same, and that’s because it’s so simple, but very exciting and visceral at the same time.

Zac Heath, an Arkansas born filmmaker who has lived in CA for 5 or 6 years now, is an executive producer. He and I have worked together on four films, and this will be our fifth production.

Andrea Cadelli is also a fellow Arkansan that I worked with at the Northwest Arkansas Academy of Fine Arts. I was a film teacher there after college, and she was over all the art programs. She and I were great friends from the beginning, and it was a matter of time before we worked together again. She is also our assistant director.

Dan Moore, who is from Fordyce, is also an executive producer on the film. A very old friend (Ashley Nichols Tidwell) told me to get in touch with him, because he might be very interested in working with us. So I contacted him, and she was right. He and his wife Brooke have been great financial backers as well as morale boosters! They’re two of the most excited about the film’s production!

I am the writer/director. I’ll also be the editor. Depending on the budget, I may also take the Director of Photography reins. That sounds like a lot of hats to wear, but I’m actually used to it. From the time I began with my parents’ camera, I was everything on the film, except the actor… and sometimes I was that too!

The production designer is my wife and fellow southern Arkansan, Alaina Sims! She’s worked on quite a few films with me, and she’s an amazing artist. The film stars Michael Ray Davis (Florida), Elise Rovinsky (New York), Blake Logan (LA), Maurice Mejia (LA), and Dean Denton (Arkansas). We’re about to cast the leading role of “The Boy” next week. We’ll announce that on my production diary.

Seark Today: When do you expect Come Morning to be released?

Sims: I plan on having the first cut completed by March 1, 2012. That’s when we’ll start “showing it around” at different festivals and potentially distributors. Unlike studio films, Come Morning is an independent feature which means that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it after it’s made. We’re going to do the traditional independent route and take it to festivals around the US and the world. If audiences connect with it and a distributer wants to buy it at one of the festivals, then it will surely have a television and video distribution. It could also get a theatrical distribution if it’s a big hit.

Regardless of whether it’s a hit in festivals, I plan on getting at least one digital print of the film and showing it in theaters around Arkansas. I think people here will connect with it no matter what, and it would be nice for them to have the theater experience with a film that truly fits into their culture. Almost always, films about the south and/or Arkansas are  stereotypes of the area, and that’s not what Come Morning is at all.