Many people have bucket-list dreams that remain unfulfilled.
Well, Porter Farrell can strike his name from that list. The 60-year-old Fort Worth man, who has long made his living in oil and gas as well as investment banking, has written and directed his first feature film, Windsor.
After winning the narrative feature prize at New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival in March, it makes its North Texas debut 5 p.m. Sunday as part of the USA Film Festival at Dallas’ Angelika Film Center. (The festival begins Thursday. For a schedule, go to www.usafilmfestival.com.)
Set in the fictional town of Hoxton, but filmed near Gainesville, Windsor chronicles several lives at a crossroads as six high-school seniors get ready to say goodbye, a beloved father figure (played by North Texas actor Barry Corbin, No Country for Old Men) deals with a life-changing event, and a local farmer (Joe Stevens), imprisoned for assaulting an agribusiness lawyer while being evicted from his farm a decade earlier, is getting ready to be released.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Farrell says recently by phone of his filmmaking venture. “Everybody was telling me I was insane to try this. I didn’t listen to them.”
Farrell, a longtime film fan who counts To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shawshank Redemption, The Last Picture Show and Tombstone as some of his favorites, says the roots of Windsor spring from his Midland upbringing.
“It was only 50,000 [people] when I was growing up out there. And I’m sort of mourning the fact that the small town seems to be going away,” he says. “There’s something precious that will be lost as more of them go away. … I wanted to write something about the beauty of small-town living.”
He was also inspired by the notion of writing a script specifically for Corbin.
“I feel he got shafted so badly when he wasn’t nominated for No Country,” Farrell explains. “I thought, ‘I’d love to write something for him.’ If I hadn’t been able to get him, I don’t know if I would have done the film.”
But Corbin, whose agent is in Waxahachie, liked the script. Another potential roadblock, the film’s $618,000 budget, also proved surmountable.
“I just called some friends of mine who believed in the story,” Farrell says.
A bit harder for Farrell was the actual process of directing.
“I knew nothing about directing, so as a self-defense mechanism I surrounded myself with people who are talented,” he explains. “I had two good producers. I had a great DP [director of photography] in Josh Pickering. The editor, Matt Brundige, was just phenomenal.”
Farrell decided to use Gainesville as the place for his 18-day shoot last summer, after a friend suggested it would fit the bill for his small town.
“I drove up there and looked at it and saw the possibilities,” he says. “I talked to some people there and they [said they would] love to shoot movies up there.
“It just turned out to be an ideal location,” he says. “It’s close to DFW airport so that people flying in didn’t have a long drive.”
Farrell says filming turned out to be the most stressful thing he’s done.
“Oil and gas and investment banking are stressful, but they’re inside with air conditioning. There’s a lot to be said for that,” he says with a laugh.
He has been so encouraged by how Windsor turned out that he is already at work on a new project. This one will be about a 1938 racial incident in Dewey, Okla.
“This first one [Windsor] was a calling card. If it had a been a dismal failure, then I would have gone back to doing investment banking and oil and gas,” Farrell says. “But it seems to have worked.”
Still, that didn’t stop him from being extremely nervous when the film showed at the Garden State Film Festival.
“I wasn’t in friendly territory,” he remembers. “I don’t have anything in common with people in Atlantic City. Big-time filmmakers were there and it hit me, ‘What am I doing? I have lost my mind. Everybody’s right. I’m crazy.’”
But then he calmed down as the Northeastern audience seemed to relate to his Texas-centric story of tough times.
Farrell says it just proved a maxim that his mother used to say: “Everybody has a sack of rocks they drag.”
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571
USA Film Festival
▪ Through Sunday
▪ Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane, Dallas
▪ $10 most screenings