Heater Waters began her career as a teenager by exploring acting and music in Nashville, Tennessee. After moving to Los Angeles, California to try to catch her ‘big break’, she became more interested in the production aspects of the entertainment industry. Waters soon got the opportunity to go to Atlanta and work in local television; learning how to produce and direct, which filled her creative side, as well as business experience.
While in Atlanta, she realized how much she enjoyed working with artists and creative people, and promoting and developing them. This realization led her to start several companies, one of which was a script development company called Creative World Awards. Waters began working with writers to help develop their material, promote them, and finding representation for them. The company also began an international screenwriting competition to find new talent, and great material for her colleagues in the industry.
Eventually, she found her way to Richmond, Virginia, and fell in love with the area. Intrigued by the incredible local talent in the Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. areas, she decided to implement her professional experience in the fledgling film community. Her involvement in the film community became part of her inspiration to start the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF). Read on as we discuss the festival, her inspirations, and current projects.
JF: The Festival just finished its fifth year, correct?
HW: Yes. We started the first year of the festival with only short films under the name The MIX: The Moving Image Exchange. We grew the next year, so I decided to bring on features and some other music videos, and so forth. I also changed the name, because I wanted something that Richmond could identify with, and so that’s when we transitioned to the name Richmond International Film Festival, and began accepting international submissions.
JF: Why did you start the festival, and what are your goals for it?
HW: Well, I never intended to start a film festival. It was really a very organic evolution in how it all began. It was just a desire that led me to really want to develop and promote both artists and Virginia. I think my immediate goal has been to grow better each year; keep the quality of films at a high standard, and also to introduce the community in Virginia to the talented film-makers from around the world. Folks do travel in now from all over, because of the film festival. I love to introduce people to new genres and short films. Some people have never even seen a short film, and the look in their eyes when they experience one for the first time is fun. Exploring different genres, and showing people what they might not otherwise see in a movie theater is also something I love to do. Outside of that, it has also been about development. There are so many wonderful things going on in Richmond right now in the arts. I think of Richmond potentially as becoming a little Austin! I think we’re well on our way. It’s got a similar culture in that it’s a university town. There are strong historic roots here and a traditional audience mixed in with this young progressive audience. It’s amazing how many people have relocated to Richmond from New York, D.C., and some other metropolitan areas. We’ve got this really cool mix of people in here.
JF: This past season of RIFF, you had a program called the “FLOW Collective”. How did it come about?
HW: I had considered doing a conference of some sort over the last three or four years, but it was such a big undertaking. We were growing in other areas, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around the concept fully in the beginning. Last year, I was speaking at a college to film students, and talking about the creative process. I gave a talk about exploring how we as creative people can get obstructed by being too harshly critical of ourselves. I was speaking on the creative process, and how to get into the creative flow. We can slip into that really pure state, where you’re producing something, and it feels effortless. The talk was the inspiration for the “FLOW Collective”. I realized, due to the reception of the talk, and some of the things that the students were saying; this was the time to start a conference on the creative process.
Some people think they’re not creative and don’t have a creative side. I’ve heard that from many people: ‘I’m not creative’, or ‘I’m an engineer, I’m not creative’. I always disagree with that and say, “You are. It’s about finding your creativity”. I really wanted to create something that was inclusive of many different disciplines; that’s what we did using the concept of ‘flow’. At the time, I did not know there was a concept called “The Flow”, and I started doing some research. The concept was almost identical to what I had just spoken about with the university students. It reinforced the whole idea in my mind. We called our event “The FLOW Collective” rather than a conference, because we really wanted it to be interdisciplinary and very inclusive. Whether you’re a film maker, musician, visual artist, mom, writer, crew member, corporate person, or an entrepreneur, everyone was welcome. It’s really about figuring out how we tap into that sweet spot where we feel like we’re operating in an effortless way. I’m very fortunate to have had some really great people speak at the event, which made it very inspiring.
This was our first year doing this, and the speakers included: David Baldacci (international best-selling author), Johnny Newman (16 year career, NBA player), Jesse Vaughan (Director, 24 time Emmy Award Winner), Jeanne Meserve (longtime CNN Correspondent), Linus Karlsson (Creative Chairman McCann/Ming), Jeffrey Blount (author and director NBC Nightly News), Sylvie Rokab (Environmentalist/Film Director), Linda Forem (Former GM Radio One), Kym Grinnage (VP/GM NBC 12), Frank Hall Green (Writer/Director/Producer), and Zoe Romano (Ultra Runner/Athlete). Additional panelists included, Sara Elizabeth Timmins (producer), David Powers (producer/director), JD Leete (documentary filmmaker), and Joseph Stephans (producer). All of the speakers participated in panel discussions, think tanks, and intensive working groups. It was definitely a passion project that had been in the works for many years. I think we will definitely make “The FLOW Collective” an annual event. People really responded to the program in a very positive way.
JF: Let’s talk about Belltower Pictures, the production company you work with.
HW: It was started by David Powers. I met him through the film festival a couple of years ago. At the time, we were in great need of help and volunteers, and he signed up to help. He’s a gem. He was like my right hand that year, and we cultivated a professional relationship and a friendship.
David told me about a script he wanted to direct, “Shooting the Prodigal”, which was written by David Powers, Deborah Hocutt and Greg Womble. I started out just helping him with meetings here and there, and helping him develop the script over the last year. It sort of evolved; he needed a second producer to come on board, and I officially came on board last year.
What’s interesting about Belltower Pictures is that it’s actually a nonprofit organization, and all of the money has been raised by donations for the production of our first film. The organization has a long-term mission of producing many more films in the future.
JF: Can you discuss the film?
HW: “Shooting the Prodigal” is a faith-themed script, and is very unique in that there’s no big ‘altar call’ at the end. It’s really a quirky and lovable comedy. David has created some outrageous characters; there are over forty-five characters in the script. It’s a huge cast, which was a big undertaking as we were casting the film. Casting alone took a couple of months. I’m very pleased with whom we’ve cast, and Ann Chapman did a phenomenal job as the casting director.
The film is about a young filmmaker from New York that tries to help an over-zealous Baptist preacher in Alabama make a movie about the ‘Prodigal Son’. Sterling Hurst plays the young New Yorker. Paul Wilson and Sterling Hurst joined the cast. Wilson is best known for his role as Lyle Makin in Adriana Trigiani’s screen adaptation of “Big Stone Gap”, which also stared Ashley Judd and Whoopi Goldberg. Hurst played Mac Daddy in the 2015 film “Shifting Gears”, which also features C. Thomas Howell, Brooke Langton, John Ratzenberger, and M. Emmet Walsh. The cast also includes Christie Osterhus, Micah Brown, Pepi Strieff, and Joseph Gray from “Killing Kennedy”, as well as cameos by Tim and Daphne Maxwell Reid.
The film speaks to all people regardless of faith. They all will be entertained by these irresistible characters.
JF: What inspired you to make the film?
HW: It was inspired by David. I love the fact that in this script, you have a range of characters; many ethnicities and religions are represented. In fact, much of the story is about these people being thrown into a situation together; how they have to deal with the clash of religion and culture, and their own limitations and biases toward each other. At the end, you see them working together, growing, and evolving. It is also a really funny script, which really is what drew me to it. Often with the faith-based genre, you know what you’re going to get. However, this is an unpredictable film, and the audience will walk away surprised in the end.
JF: What are your hopes for the film?
HW: Well, we’re hoping big. We are shooting for a theatrical release. Of course, we won’t stop there, and we’ll go through all the channels of distribution. Our goal is to have the film completed, and post production done by the end of October 2015. Ideally, we want to try to be in the theaters in the early spring of next year.
JF: Congratulations on all your success. Thank you for your time.