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might unravel some

film career and has the accolades to prove it

While a white lie
has turned a b into a promising

entrepreneurial dreams, Evans County native
James Kicklighter
Written by Jen Alexander McCall Photography by Morgan Eddington


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Lights,Camera, Action: Kasey Ray -Stokes, James Kicklighter and Mark Stokes have dedicated their films to social causes that hit home. The three met in 2006 and have been filming ever since.
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Say Cheese! James Kicklighter stops for a photo with Edith Ivey, star from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” on the red carpet during the 2010 Macon Film Festival.
. hile a little white lie might unravel some entrepreneurial dreams, Evans County native James Kicklighter has turned a fib into a promising film career and has the accolades to prove it. When he was a teen, Kicklighter, now 22, managed to convince his town and peers that he was a film producer—before actually becoming one. Despite being found out, Kicklighter made a name for himself and opened the door to making his stories a reality. Now Kicklighter is co-chairman of JamesWorks Inc. and has produced a handful of critically recognized films with friends Kasey Ray-Stokes and Mark Stokes.

Smile for the camera: Kasey Ray-Stokes and Mark Stokes stop for a quick photo with their baby at the 2009 Macon Film Festival.


Ray-Stokes, originally from Liberty County, and Stokes, who is from Long County, both met Kicklighter in 2006 while Stokes was working on “That Guy: The Legacy of Dub Taylor.” “My husband and I just started dating … we asked James to work with us as an assistant photographer. I’d had some classes in college, and the three of us worked well together,” Ray-Stokes says. “For the next project with James, we collaborated as JamesWorks, then decided to come on board under JamesWorks.” Documentaries are the bulk of the company’s films, and the messages at the heart of each story are the driving force behind the teams’ selections. “I think as a filmmaker you have opportuni-

ties to create project [of quality],” Kicklighter says. “Mark, Kasey and I have social issues that we hold dear. Mark’s parents were missionaries in Sierra Leone, and I worked with hurricane relief efforts. Each of us had a window into social issues. We wanted to be able to do different films that meant something.” Kicklighter says if the team is making a project with a message, the message must be accessible. That’s not to say every audience is going to have grand revelations, he says, but the beauty of building a film with a message is that audiences will come away with something. “I think it’s essential in storytelling to show people that just because you may not have experienced that particular event, people’s lives are relatable despite cultural differences,” RayStokes says. “That’s important to me as a storyteller. It helps people come together as a community.” Veteran actress Edith Ivey learned firsthand of Kicklighter’s talent for storytelling when she agreed to take a role in his short film “Car Wash.” Ivey met Kicklighter through her role as vice president of the Screen Actors Guild branch in Atlanta. “James came to our offices to speak with someone about old-time radio,” Ivey remembers. “I was involved in it in New York, so we began talking and we had a grand time.” In the film, Ivey says, “the thing I found fascinating was that

JamesWorks ‘Points of Pride’

The Indie Award of Merit (Land of Higher Peace), 2011 Indie Competition Documentary in Competition (Land of Higher Peace), 2011 Macon Film Festival Best Drama (The Car Wash), 2010 Melbourne Independent Filmmakers Festival Audience Choice Award (The Car Wash), 2010 National Film Festival for Talented Youth Accolade Award of Merit (Theater of the Mind), 2009 Accolade Competition Screeners, 2009 International Documentary Association Distinguished Feature Award


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James had written this material just exactly right for a woman of this age. He’s been listening really well to more mature people.” Ivey also was impressed with the professionalism of the JamesWorks team as they shot the film in an old-style method. “They shot very much like you would have a live TV show in past years, in that you would shoot the whole thing at once,” she says. “It was very fast, but concise and clear. I am hopeful for the future of the film business [because of JamesWorks].” The 81-year-old actress accepted a second role, this time in the upcoming feature “Followed,” a philosophical piece about zombies, of all things. Ivey gave some brief insight into her character, saying, “I play an old woman, but the zombies don’t follow me. I guess I’m above reproach!” The attractiveness of making and seeing small films that leads many into the business also has supported JamesWorks’ efforts, but Kicklighter says the danger lies in wanting to go too big too quickly, and watching the work suffer as a result. “Now, so many people have access to things like cameras and editing software. We wanted to make sure we weren’t just producing things to produce them. We wanted to make, not videos, but films,” he remarks. Starting small meant working on several different types of projects, to be able to afford the necessary equipment without going into debt, Kicklighter explains. “We worked on weddings, audiobooks and websites to buy equipment so we could be selfsustaining. Lots of budding filmmakers want the $100,000 equipment when they’re not ready, when they should be focusing on telling a good story.” The team’s portfolio is small but acclaimed and they continuously work to make connections within the film industry, which

Director and filmmaker James Kicklighter coaches actors Sylvia Boykin and Erryn Arkin on the set of “Followed”. the filmmaker says is much more tight-knit than film buffs might . think. That closeness allows the group to connect with filmmakers who have similar goals and vision, he says. “The nice thing about being a filmmaker is the industry isn’t huge. It’s actually pretty small, and when you work in it you get to know people really well,” he says. “We go to film festivals every year, and lots of filmmakers show up at the same places. When you see them you kind of start bonding together.” Kicklighter says what viewers see on screen is only a snippet of what goes into making a movie, but it shouldn’t deter hopefuls from entering the
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JamesWorks Entertainment partners take a moment to relax and enjoy snacks in a screening room at Liberty Cinemas.


field. “Filmmaking is a time-consuming, difficult industry to be in if you want to stay in it. When you’re talking about producing a film, people think it just pops out,” he remarks. “You don’t think about the preproduction — there’s script development, choosing actors, the location. You have to do all these things before you start filming. “It’s not just the stuff you see on screen,” Kicklighter says. “You have to find the balance between creative and commercial. It’s not just about writing a screenplay — it’s about coordinating flights and booking hotels. It’s very logistical, and very specific.” Ray-Stokes’ role in the pre-production and production process are key. “I’m the executive producer, though my title is director of development. I look at new projects; people send me scripts and ideas for films. On set I work as a producer, I make casting decisions, choose the costumes and makeup. We take turns directing,” she says. She looks forward to new projects, but Ray-Stokes certainly is proud of the team’s

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Kicklighter surveys his actors on the set of his newest production based on a short story. current works. “My favorite film so far would be ‘Land of Higher . Peace,’ shot in Ethiopia. We decided to go as people first to see how we could help. Then we realized we could shoot [a film] to show people here. The process was probably one of the hardest but the most rewarding because it told a story that needed to be told about missions,” she says. “People don’t realize that missions can be more than a Christian word; it can be a service word.” JamesWorks is collaborating with a Macon-based production company on some films in the next couple years, she adds, and as the company expands into feature films, Ray-Stokes is exploring a drama set in the South about the relationship between sisters. On the documentary front, she plans to focus on festival queens. Whether documentary or feature film, Kicklighter’s theatrical proclivities influence his work. “I really like the relationship and character dramas. I’m a fan of stories that take people’s relationships and examine them in different ways,” he says. “The ones that have something to say about characters and change the way they perceive themselves … tie back into the type of films we have in mind ... they’re always about relationships between the character and the concept.” Every filmmaker has his or her professional inspiration. Kicklighter finds his in two well-known producers. “Scott Rudin is a very gifted producer. He’s produced some of the best films in the past few years, such as ‘The Social Network’ and ‘True Grit.’ But he also produces small films like ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox,’” Kicklighter shares. “He’s done a wide variety, and they all say something about society and the way we perceive ourselves. We have an awesome


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Our annual guide to living in Liberty County found in the June issue of Liberty Life.



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Break time! Kasey Ray-Stokes, James Kicklighter and Mark Stokes have a moment of fun while on the photo shoot set for Liberty Life at Liberty Cinemas.

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opportunity to work with the most powerful medium on the planet and it’s an awesome responsibility. I think Rudin has that sense of responsibility.” He also counts Paul Feig, creator of “Freaks and Geeks,” a short-lived television series, among his influences. “[Feig] created this entire universe that was so honest about growing up. He’s also written some autobiographies. So many times you see things are sugarcoated, but he’s direct and honest.” Kicklighter says being from Georgia gives his team a unique cultural background that affects how he views and shares the world. “All three of us have ties to this area, and because of that, we have a unique perspective on the world. I think when you grow up in that environment, when so many people know you, you come up with a sense of family and community,” he says. “I think that Southerners have that bred in them. I think we want to tell stories that honor our upbringing and way of life. In the South we have characters. People may restrain themselves [elsewhere], but not in the South. When you are raised in the South, you have a great sense of storytelling.” Kicklighter says his perspective on life and relationships has changed since he began working in film. “When you start traveling and seeing the world, and even different parts of the country, you have such a distinct vision of the world, [especially] when you grow up in a small town,” he muses. The young filmmaker encourages others to explore their quickly shrinking world. “If you have the opportunity, you should go out and see and do as much as you can. The world is a much better place than it’s made out to be ... people are people wherever you go.” LL

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