'Anniversary' Walks Away With $50,000 Grand Prize
Louisiana natives stand out at LA Film Prize
The third time proved to be the charm for James Palmer at the LA Film Prize.
Palmer won the $50,000 grand prize with “Anniversary,” a musical about a couple celebrating one year of dating. The film stars Palmer and Kelly R. Vaden. Palmer also wrote the script and the music for the film.
Palmer said he tried twice before to create and enter a film for the competition. But “Anniversary” was his first to go from concept to completed project. And while parts of this project have been rolling around in his head for a couple of years, it almost didn’t happen this year, either.
“I had planned everything to be done in February,” he said. “Next thing I know, it’s March, then April and May. But I was determined to get it done. My co-star, Kelly, was excited about it. I realized I’d be letting her down, too.”
He is no stranger to the LA Film Prize, however. Palmer has acted in or composed music for projects every year since the competition began. In 2014, Palmer won the LA Film Prize’s first Best Actor award for his role in Eric Rippetoe’s “Snip.” In 2017, he worked on the music for Raylee Magill’s “Incredibly Smart, Sexy, Bombshell Co-ed Named Debra.”
The film bug bit Palmer years ago as he grew up in Mansfield. “It started way back when I was young, like in the late ’80s,” Palmer said. “My friends and I used to play around doing made-up radio shows on audio cassette. Then we got a video recorder and started making movies.”
Palmer went on to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, where he studied theater. And while Palmer has booked a few acting jobs through the years, “Anniversary” was an opportunity for him to work with a hand-picked cast and crew he was familiar with.
“(Cinematographer) John Chambers I have known for years,” Palmer said. “He came in from the beginning. He helped make it a reality. He got together a small crew. The crew was very nice and patient with me being a naive first-time director. I’m glad they all stuck with me.”
Palmer said his original aim was to create “something fun that was enjoyable to watch.” He thinks his film resonated with people because it is a relatable story. He was gratified to hear positive buzz build for his film during Prize Fest weekend. But he still was surprised when his name was called as the grand prize winner.
“I had the biggest look of shock when they called ‘Anniversary,’” he said. “I don’t think I have fully processed it. It’s very exciting. We’ve already had invites from festivals here and abroad. That’s really cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s still a bit of a blur.”
Palmer isn’t the only northwest Louisiana native to make a directorial debut at this year’s Film Prize. Hannah Dorsett returned to Shreveport from Los Angeles to direct “RIP.”
“When I left four years ago, it wasn’t never to come back again,” she said. “It was always with the intention to bring work back to Shreveport. I was always going to go to Hollywood because that’s Hollywood. I needed to go there and see what’s happening and then apply it to what we can do here. We have a tremendous community that wants to help, that wants to participate in filmmaking, so how can I deny that?” “RIP” is a comedic romp through the world of competitive tennis as a determined yet unskilled player does whatever it takes to hit with the club’s number one team. It was written by Jennifer Moorhead and directed by Dorsett. Dorsett works in television production, but this was her first film to direct. She said it confirmed her career path.
“I learned that I want to be a director 100 percent and that I love running a set,” she said. “I need to continue to work on developing my relationship with actors and directing performance as far as being comfortable. On set, I had never been so confident before, and it felt right.”
Dorsett was excited to bring some of her Hollywood connections to Shreveport to help with the film. One of them was Roi Vissel, who was the director of photography.
“We were both ready to get our hands dirty,” she said. “After we’ve been helping people execute their visions for a year and a half, it was very easy.”
Dorsett was grateful for the local show of support as well.
“I think I’ve seen more people (through this process) than I have since I left to come back for Christmas or something,” she said. “It’s been so exciting. There are teachers from Byrd High School who have come to support and to see this. People from church. There’s so many people I didn’t think to call who saw something on Facebook or saw our name, and they all want to come have fun with us. It put a big smile on my face.”