By Ryan Trares | For The Republic
For Indiana residents with dreams of movie stardom, the path to their dreams normally leads to either Hollywood or New York. Their home state just doesn’t have the resources or opportunities to build a career.
But a newly formed film company is hoping to grow the small but strong filmmaking spirit that exists here in the state.
Pigasus Pictures, based in Bloomington, was brought together by John Armstrong and Zachary Spicer, a pair of Indiana University alumni who are active in film, theater and other entertainment industries.
Spicer and Armstrong both grew up in Indiana, went to college here and still have close ties to the state. Because of that, basing their company locally was a natural decision.
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“We’re all from Indiana. I enrolled in every single video and film competition that there was that I could do locally when I was growing up, but all those programs, all of that stuff had gone away,” said Spicer, CEO of Pigasus. “To work in film, you had to go somewhere else, and it really meant a lot to us to start building this film industry in the place that we’re from.”
The studio has already released one film, “The Good Catholic,” a feature shot in Indiana starring Danny Glover and John McGinley that was named best feature film at the 2017 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Filming just completed on the second feature, titled, “Ms. White Light” and starring Tony Award-winning actress Judith Light.
With Pigasus based locally, film-loving Hoosiers now have another opportunity to work on professional film productions.
“It’s not an industry that really exists here, so people are eager to get involved however they can. There’s a community aspect to it,” said Gordon Strain, a Franklin resident who has worked on both of Pigasus’ films so far. “And there are a lot of talented, trained people in the state that have to leave Indiana because there isn’t the industry here. We’re helping to get jobs and helping to retain talent, and get people excited about Indiana.”
The birth of Pigasus Pictures started with a college friendship that formed in the early 2000s.
Spicer and Armstrong met each other as students at Indiana University, being cast together in a theater production on campus. Though the friends lost contact after graduation, they were reunited in 2014 in New York.
At the time, Spicer was working as an actor in Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Armstrong also had been acting and teaching theater in different capacities across the country. They connected with a third friend from Indiana, Paul Shoulberg, had written a script for “The Good Catholic,” a film about how his parents met and built a relationship.
Though Shoulberg had shopped the script around Hollywood, no one had signed on to make it. All three pondered what they could do to make the project a reality.
“We started asking all the questions: ‘Why couldn’t it be us? What was holding us back on this?’” Spicer said. “We came up with more positives than negatives, and found ourselves the owners of a film company.”
With the decision to start Pigasus and produce “The Good Catholic” made, now came the difficult part: figuring out how to get a full-length feature done.
“When it came to our experience doing this work, we had none. Our experiences were in the industry, but in different ways. We had never produced anything before, and I had never done any work in film at all,” Armstrong said. “I think the lack of experience gave us an open mind to try to learn how to get it done. We didn’t have any preconceived rules to follow.”
Filming on “The Good Catholic” started in 2016, starring Spicer as a small-town priest who falls in love with Jane, played by actress Wrenn Schmidt. Glover, known for his roles in the “Lethal Weapon” series and dozens of other roles, and McGinley, who starred in “Scrubs” and has his own extensive filmography, portrayed fellow priests.
To get the Bloomington-based filming finished, Spicer and Armstrong reached out to their local friends and contacts.
“We knew it was going to have to be a community effort,” Spicer said. “We come from a theater background, and we know what it takes to get a show off the ground, so we were going to have to rely heavily on the community to get ‘The Good Catholic’ off the ground.”
Strain, a Franklin-based artist and theater professor at Franklin College, had met the two at Indiana, where they had been part of a weekly poker game among different friends in the theater program.
He was hired to be the production designer for “The Good Catholic,” meaning that he in charge of making sure everything on set looked right. Strain and a number of Franklin College students accepted as interns took part in entire process.
“It was close-by and seemed like a fun project for me. Then you start working with your friends, and you remember what that was like. It was a good experience,” Strain said.
While providing film industry opportunities and experience for Indiana residents is a large goal for Pigasus, company officials also want to open doors for other local filmmakers as well.
They have founded Project Pigasus, a statewide screenwriting contest for Indiana high school students. The winner has the chance to see their film produced by a professional crew while they apprentice on set and help make the film themselves. That film will then be submitted for consideration to major film festivals nationwide, and screened in select theaters and distributed online.
“With feature films, we’ve worked with IU and Franklin College students. But we also wanted to find a way to find kids who are like us when we were growing up in Indiana,” Armstrong said. “Film was something that didn’t happen much in Indiana, so you had to go someplace else to have those experiences. So we decided to create an experience right here.”
“The Good Catholic” is now available on iTunes, Amazon and video on demand, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray. Filming only recently finished on “Ms. White Light,” a drama also entirely shot in Bloomington.
As the first of six feature films planned at Pigasus, “Ms. White Light” is the story of Lex, a young woman who counsels terminally ill clients that have trouble letting go. One of her patients forces her to reconsider the way she thinks about life and death.
Strain is a producer on the film. Jake Goldfarb, another Franklin resident, was hired to serve as the “data wrangler” for the most recent Pigasus project. He was responsible for making sure the massive amounts of video and other computer files were all backed up and secure.
He had done a few video projects on his own in the past and was experienced with editing work, but this was his first large-scale professional shoot. His father was friends with the cinematographer on “Ms. White Light,” and that connection led to his involvement.
The opportunity to work a professional shoot like this was eye-opening, Goldfarb said. The fact that he could do it just a short drive from his home made it that much more rewarding.
“It’s the beginning of something good in Indiana. Hopefully, it will open eyes for other filmmakers-to-be to startup in Indiana, and really put eyes on Pigasus,” he said.