“Antiquities,” a feature film set largely in North Little Rock and starring Mary Steenburgen and Ashley Greene, has been almost a decade in the making. That timeline has built up some anticipation: Its Arkansas debut on Aug. 24 as part of the Arkansas Cinema Society’s Filmland sold out in one hour (a second screening was added for 11 a.m. Aug. 26).
But the lengthy process didn’t exactly work out so well financially for its creators. Graham Gordy, who co-wrote the screenplay with writer/director Daniel Campbell, joked recently that he and Campbell had made about 3 cents per hour for all the time they’d put into the project. “For this, it’s romance, not finance,” Gordy said.
The story starts back in 2009, when Campbell made a 14-minute short film, also called “Antiquities.” It was his first foray behind the camera. He’d caught the filmmaking bug a year earlier, when he worked in Memphis in the casting department for the indie film “Nothing But the Truth” (Matt Dillon, Kate Beckinsale), but he still had a day job in Little Rock as gang prevention coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club.
The “Antiquities” short followed Terrence (Little Rock actor and comedian Jason Thompson in a hilarious wig) and his shit-talking antique mall boss, Blundale (local radio host Roger Scott), as they bounced around town, with stops at a strip club and an urban barbershop, in an attempt to prep Terrence to ask a co-worker out on a date. With “John Hughes by-way-of Wes Anderson charm,” as John Tarpley described it in the Arkansas Times, the film won the inaugural Charles B. Pierce Award for the best film made in Arkansas at the Little Rock Film Festival in 2010.
Gordy and Campbell met at the film festival that year and became fast friends. When a father of a friend offered to bankroll Campbell to adapt the short into a feature, Campbell, with encouragement from his wife, Becky, quit his job and brought Gordy into the process. The pair then “spent the next year and a half having push-up contests,” Campbell said with a smile recently. Actually, “We started talking about what we had in common,” Campbell said of his and Gordy’s early sessions. “Both of our dads had passed away, and we talked about how you start to hang on to things that were your dad’s that maybe had no meaning to anyone but you. Things that have a connection.”
Gordy, the father of children 8 and 10 years old, said they talked about the idea that one day “your children will deal with all your things.”
“You’re going to have questions about all the things you didn’t ask your parent as a selfish child,” Gordy said, and you’ll try to “piece together who they were through these things.” Where do a lot of these things end up? An antique mall.
Despite the continuity of the setting, the plot of the film is so significantly different from the short, Campbell said, “we probably should’ve named it something else.” In the film, Walt (Andrew J. West, perhaps known best for his stint on “The Walking Dead”) returns to his hometown after his father’s death hoping to find out more about him. That means working his dad’s old job in an antique mall aside a host of characters, who, in various ways, are also living in the past. Most of those roles are played by actors you’ll recognize from TV and movies, such as Greene (“Twilight”), Michaela Watkins (“Casual,” “Saturday Night Live”) and Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey on “Mad Men”). But locals Gordy and Scott nearly steal the show.
Gordy, with a substantial mustache and a Southern-dandy accent, plays Jimmy Lee, whose booth in the antique mall recreates various Christmas scenes from his childhood. Scott, known locally as a longtime host of “The Show With No Name” on KABZ-FM, 103.7, “The Buzz,” reprises his role as the hilariously acerbic Blundale, who is obsessed with the Civil War and resentful that his mother, who owns the mall, has put her much younger second husband, Dewey Ray, in charge. Campbell said he got some pushback during the casting of the movie about sticking with Scott, but he said, “I was very adamant about going with Roger. I knew it needed to be someone that no one knew.” One could imagine, based on his role in “Antiquities,” Scott landing the sort of “hilarious asshole” roles Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express”) has made a career of.
The most famous cast member, Mary Steenburgen, plays Walt’s therapist. She shares her scenes with a mouthy “therapy” parrot.
After they finished writing “Antiquities,” Gordy and Campbell stayed busy. Gordy co-created “Quarry” for Cinemax. Campbell wrote and directed two more shorts, “The Orderly” and “The Discontentment of Ed Telfair,” both of which also took home Charles B. Pierce Awards at the Little Rock Film Festival, and worked on the crew for “Mud” and “Paradise Lost 3.” But they didn’t really have a plan for getting the movie made.
“We’re both really bad businessmen,” Gordy said. “We actually gave money away after a lot of meetings,” Campbell joked. ” ‘This is for you. We want you to make a movie.’ “
Both credit Gary Newton for getting “Antiquities” shot. Gordy said he’d been especially impressed by how much effort Newton, the CEO of Arkansas Learns, a former vice president of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and a former Little Rock film commissioner, had put into trying to get “Quarry” to shoot in Arkansas. He’d “contacted all these people to essentially say, ‘This could be a soundstage. These people are willing to donate gas. These people are willing to donate lumber.’ ” Together with Newton, Gordy and Campbell formed Mortuus Pater Pictures and were able to raise the money — around $650,000 — to make the film. “Gary got us in the doors of folks we’d never have gotten into without him,” Campbell said.
The film shoot took place over a month in fall 2016. Galaxy Furniture in North Little Rock stood in for the antique mall. “Antiquities” had its world premiere at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles at the Dances With Films festival in June. It’s slated for several other festivals later this year, and Gordy and Campbell say they have several distribution offers they’re considering.
Gordy said the goal is to make their investors “at least $1, learn our lessons and get to make some more.
“If Arkansas can’t necessarily match [tax] incentives that Georgia or some other state does, our best chance of doing this is to raise a little bit of money and show people around here that [making movies] can be profitable and then hope to make another one, and hope to make another one.”