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Director releasing short films featuring local talent

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'Winter Light' now available for rent to fund larger project

By Kacie Goode

Director John A. Coulter and his crew with Tunnell Mill Pictures are working on an anthology of short films that will not only showcase the talent of local actors but also help fund larger projects.

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Coulter, who is well known for his 2014 film “The Old Winter,” said the shorts will vary in genre and length, and come from story ideas he has compiled over the years.

“I’m a writer first, a filmmaker second,” Coulter said. “Sometimes a mood or the way a light looks in a season will just inspire me to jot down a one-line sentence and then that can become a short film. Other times, they become feature films.”

“The Old Winter,” as well as “The Private,” which is currently in production, both began as short films but grew into something greater. Both projects have been filmed in the Nelson County area and have used several local actors.

“The Private,” a Civil War piece, is the largest-scale feature production Coulter has tackled, and he aims for the short series to help fund its completion. The series will also allow Coulter to see some of his other concepts come to life while highlighting some of the community’s talent.

“Lots of folks have wanted to take part in our projects as actors, and this gives them that chance to be part of the creative film projects that we do,” Coulter said.

The first in the short series to be released is “Winter Light,” which features a small cast and introduces 9-year-old Josey Hite in her first film performance. The roughly 16-minute short is a 19th-century ghost story about a young farm girl lured away from home by a mysterious woman and a pack of coyotes.

“I’ve always wanted to act and sing since I was in kindergarten,” Hite, a third-grader at St. Joe, said, adding she has taken part in the school’s talent show every year.

She connected with Tunnell Mill Pictures after taking voice lessons with John’s wife, Anna, and subsequently being asked to take part in a music video.

“After he filmed the music video, he asked her if she wanted to do something else, and he had this ghost story in mind that he had written,” said Bobbie Jo Hite, Josey’s mom. “She said yes and that was that.”

“I was excited,” Josey said. “I told all my friends about it.”

Working on the set for the film was a new experience, and with filming in the winter, it was cold and a big commitment she said, but she had a lot of fun.

“My favorite part was hanging out with the people that I filmed with,” she said. “I got to learn more about them.”

While “Winter Light” is Hite’s first film role, she has done some stage work with local productions such as Bethlehem High School’s “Annie,” and Stephen Foster Drama Association’s “Mary Poppins,” as well as the upcoming “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Hite, who said she doesn’t like “scary stuff,” has yet to watch the film, but was excited to take part and would like to continue pursuing acting and perhaps take part in more film roles.

“How many 9-year-olds really get a chance like this?” Bobbie said, adding that the family was proud of her and grateful to the Coulters and TMP for the opportunity.

In addition to Hite, “Winter Light” also features the acting talents of David Sallee, Danny Norton, Melissa Krauss and Ashley Glass. Glass also wrote a poem that is used within the film and did the makeup. The cast has proven their skills with some of Coulter’s other projects in roles and working on sets.

As for the story, “Winter Light” is just one of several concepts Coulter has played around with over the years, and he compared it to a story one would tell around a campfire.

“Growing up on the farm, you’d hear coyote packs in the far distance but rarely ever see them,” Coulter said. “You’d hear them near dusk or late at night on crisp, cold nights. You just play around with thoughts like a kid and wonder ‘what if’ there was something like a ghost getting them stirred up?”

Coulter started filming “Winter Light” back in December and had most of it filmed by February. The short was released on the production company’s new website, tunnellmillpictures.com, late last month and can be rented for streaming. The site, as it continues to develop, will feature information, trailers and access to the shorts as well as information on past and future projects.

Coulter plans to release short films every few months as they are completed.