Spenser Fritz still grows emotional when he sees part of his childhood drama unfold on the big screen.
“I can’t tell at this point if it’s actually that the movie is emotionally good, or the fact that maybe I’m just tired from the seven years it took to make it,” Fritz said with a laugh, speaking by phone from his home in Nashville, Tennessee.
The 32-year-old independent filmmaker, former Columbus resident and Columbus East High School graduate, will bring his first movie, “Cecil” to YES Cinema at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in downtown Columbus. Fritz and lead actor Sark Asadourian will appear at a question-and-answer session after the showing.
Frtiz released the movie last month for the video-on-demand streaming market at Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and other sites.
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The 80-minute family comedy set in the mid-1990s carries a serious message focusing on the title character, a new-school fourth-grader with a horrible lisp that prevents him from even clearly pronouncing his own name — and attracts ample jeering from classmates. So he eventually decides to change it to the more easily enunciated Michael Jordan — and that’s where the humor begins to stretch beyond the youngster’s plight.
Fritz, who originally attended Smith Elementary School locally, weathered a tough time of mocking, due to his speech impediment, at the hands of a few peers for about three years, he said. So “Cecil” is his semi-autobiographical story, at least without the far-fetched comedy tacked on to it all.
“I did sound kind of funny (when speaking),” Fritz said.
He first began toying with writing the script after an instructor at Nashville’s Watkins College of Art, Design and Film told him that the strongest stories to pitch are those for which the pitchman should clearly be the best choice for writer, director and such. Who better could understand his frustrating childhood predicament?
Like any independent filmmaker, he sweated through finding investors for a low-budget production of about $100,000 for his 21-day shoot in 2017 in Nashville and the surrounding area. It helped that his wife, Amanda Dillingham, whom he met at Watkins, could serve as producer. He mentioned that they worked especially well together.
“Oh, big time,” he said of their on-set unity that left room for differences. “We might be a little odd in that way. Sometimes, the director can’t always have the freedom to really speak his mind with a producer. But we could easily talk things out without the fear of getting fired.”
Columbus resident Randy Allman of the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Center that operates YES Cinema, consistently has mentioned that the cinema loves area filmmakers. It has featured them prominently at the annual YES Film Festival, for starters.
“I think it’s only right that this film be shown (here),” Allman said. “Hopefully many of his family and friends will come out and support him in this venture. He’s done a really good job putting this together.
“Being a locally-owned theater, we value supporting homegrown ventures and talent.”
Fritz works by days as a photographer and editor for the NFL Tennessee Titans TV show “Titans All Access.” And he managed to work in the team play-by-play radio announcer Mike Keith into the script — as a chair-throwing basketball coach, in a clear Hoosier twist. The writer-director said he must wait a few months at least to measure any online success for the film. But he figures if it softens the heart of a few bullies, or stirs empathy in viewers for anyone struggling, then that could be a huge impact.
“Even with a comedy, you realize that there is a bigger message,” he said. “First and foremost, I want people to be able to laugh. And then I want people to know that it’s OK to be different. And to know that being what seems to be weird can actually be pretty cool.”
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What: "Cecil," an independent comedy with a serious message. The story, set in 1996, highlights Cecil Stevens, a new-school fourth-grader with a horrible lisp that prevents him from even clearly pronouncing his own name — and attracts ample jeering from classmates. So he eventually decides to change it to the more easily enunciated Michael Jordan — and that’s where the humor begins to stretch beyond the youngster’s plight.
To be shown: 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Director Spenser Fritz and lead actor Sark Asadourian will appear at a question-and-answer session afterward.
At: YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St. in downtown Columbus.
Tickets: $4, available at the door.
Available for purchase and streaming: At Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and other sites.
Information: yescinema.org or the Facebook page for Cecil.
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Who: Spenser Fritz
Lived in Columbus: From sixth grade at Smith Elementary School, middle school at Central Middle School, through graduation from Columbus East High School in 2005.
Resides: Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a photographer and editor for the NFL Tennessee Titans TV show "Titans All Access."
Family: Married to Amanda Dillingham, the producer of "Cecil."
His description of the film: A seven-year effort that he calls "my passion project" with a theme of empathy, acceptance of others and self-acceptance.