From the moment Film Connection
student Steve Pitts
was first connected with his mentor in Atlanta, Georgia in 2011, it seemed like the fates were involved.
“I got the call [from Student Services] saying that my mentor would be calling me,”
he says. “He told me my mentor’s name, Steve Carmichael, and my name is Steven Carmichael Pitts! We’re both from Alabama, which is kind of funny. It was like fate, sort of, because he kind of got me to where I am with my company right now.”
The serendipity doesn’t end there, and the collaboration between the two Steves goes far beyond just “staying in touch.” But we’ll get to that…
An aspiring film director, Pitts first discovered the Film Connection while searching the Internet for ways to educate himself and get his foot in the door of the industry. The apprenticeship method immediately appealed to him.
“I don’t like school,”
he says. “I learn better just doing than I do being told how to do it. So it definitely just made more sense for me to try and just get out there and do it, rather than sit in a classroom, and read books. It seemed right up my alley.”
Steve Carmichael’s teaching style was also a great fit for Pitts, mainly because it didn’t feel like school. “I think the most valuable thing that he was able to do is that he [taught] it in an interesting way,”
says Pitts. “He was a fantastic storyteller. He would just tell set stories a lot. That was a lot of the education, hearing the things that can go wrong, and the things that he did to kind of adapt or adjust, things like that.”
As Pitts finished his apprenticeship and began stepping into more active roles in directing projects, he says he continued to rely heavily on the wisdom from his mentor, especially when encountering something new. “It was a lot of learning, a lot of trial and error,”
he says. “but definitely a lot of, ‘What would Steve Carmichael do?’…I can just kind of fall back and be like, ‘Oh, I heard this story from Steve, and I know what he did to resolve the problem.'”
As fate would have it, the two Steves have continued collaborating in a unique way. The “company” Pitts mentioned earlier is Rite Media Group, a film collective where Pitts became one of the primary shareholders and film directors not long after completing his apprenticeship. Now one of the mover-and-shaker film companies in Atlanta’s burgeoning film scene, Rite Media also now serves as a home base for none other than Pitts’ former mentor Steve Carmichael, who not only utilizes the space to teach his current Film Connection apprentices, but also gets the apprentices working on Rite Media’s film sets! For Pitts, it’s more than just a coming full-circle kind of thing—it’s a way to pay it forward.
“Now that Steve’s teaching out of our space, for him to be able to say, ‘This guy was like you, and now look,’ it’s kind of humbling,”
he says. “I’m now contributing to people that were [once] in my position…I try to help out the best I can as far as getting these guys on set and teaching them. I try to make myself available as much as humanly possible to any questions that they have, or anything that they want to know.”
Talking with Pitts’ former mentor, Steve Carmichael, it’s obvious that the respect flows both ways. “I consider Steve [Pitts] a really good friend,”
says Carmichael. “It’s great to be around him and, in effect, be working together, working on the outline of script. It feels at certain moments like we’re the only two people in the room. It’s not ego, [or] trying to outshine everybody else—we just communicate well with each other.
“Being able to take what I know, pass it on to people, and see them begin to work at this—Pitts is still my favorite example,”
Carmichael continues. “Other than having and raising children, it’s about the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done… On the [Rite Media] website, he [Pitts] does an interview where he talks about learning his craft first the ‘old school’ way. I thought, ‘Aha. You’re talking about me!’ And then, taking that and Rite Media, making their own films their own way because they know what the rules are, and now they’ve figured out how to break them.”
When Carmichael gets his Film Connection students working on Rite Media projects, Pitts often gives them the following advice: Don’t just stand by and watch. “Something we always like to tell folks is, ‘You’ve got to ask.’ Observing isn’t always the best way to go about it. When any of [Carmichael’s] students come onto our set but they just kind of stand there and watch, we say, ‘No. Dude, grab something, ask somebody something, bug us. You’re not helping anybody out by just standing there watching.'”
One of the more recent Rite Collective projects that involved Film Connection apprentices was a music video for R&B artist Totem for his song “Pride”—a film shoot Pitts describes as “one of our most ambitious passion projects ever.”
“We did it on the 30th of December,”
Pitts says. “I think we had a majority of [Film Connection] students helping on that one. We’ve never done anything like it before. It was futuristic, sci-fi, space adventure movie. It was a music video but we did it kind of like a short film…Everybody had a good time. It was a huge benefit to have all those hands there.”
As for recent and future projects, Pitts says Rite Media is aiming to have a more direct hand in their upcoming films.
“We produced a film [last year], but it was someone else’s baby, so to speak,”
he says. “This year, from the beginning of the year, as my goal, I’m going to make a movie this year. So right now we’re writing the script. I’ve got some potential investors already. That’s my goal this year, as a director, and for my company, is to have us making “start to finish” concept to post all of it in-house, us making it…I want to keep everything in-house for this one.”
As for the previous film, a low-budget action flick in which Pitts is credited as 2nd unit director, he says it was fun, but also a challenge. “We didn’t have a lot of time to get it done,”
he says. “We were in the middle of the woods in Columbus, Georgia, and in the heat of the end of the summer. We did it in early September. The property belonged to the director, so we had the location for free. It was away from Atlanta, so we had to figure out housing situations for everyone…So trying to figure out where the crew of, I think it was 46 crew members, where we were going to be housed, feed, and make sure that they’re bathed when they need to be—we ended up getting eight camper trailers and parking them in a field. We had a storage shed that we converted into like a barracks, like an army barracks sort of thing. Then, we had the house that a few people slept in. I was just trying to get that done, and just shooting in the middle of the woods in the summer time. It was not the ideal situation.”
Back in 2011 when the two Steves met, Steve Carmichael taught Steve Pitts the art of filmmaking by telling stories. Now, with both the former mentor and apprentice working together on set with today’s Film Connection students, Steve Pitts is sure to have some stories of his own to tell.
(Check out the music video by Totem and behind-the-scenes footage in the Apprentice Media section below!)