FilmMonthly talks to Director Keith Purvis about his film, Travis and Tabitha.

| January 7, 2015

We had the privilege in conducting this interview with first-time filmmaker Keith Purvis, about his film, Travis & Tabitha. He’s currently in the midst of a Indiegogo campaign, in order to finalize the film about 20 somethings in the city of Chicago, as they find out about each other and themselves.

FilmMonthly: What is your background in the city of Chicago and how long have you been working in the industry?

Keith Purvis: I’m a Chicagoan, born and raised and I initially didn’t set out to be a filmmaker (laughs). I was going to Columbia College to be an Art Director and was studying Graphic Design. It wasn’t until going to an event where I spoke to director George Tillman (Barbershop, Men of Honor), that filmmaking came into my mind. After I had told him a little about my background, he told me that I should take up film, since I was already at one of the largest film schools in the the Midwest. I thought, sure, I’ll take film as an elective (laughs) but never really thought I’d become a full fledged filmmaker. I eventually took some of the basic film courses at the school, but stayed with the Graphic Design major at Columbia. After I graduated, I moved to New York, where I had a roommate who was a producer over at MTV. He would help me get on all kinds of sets, crew up and work on different projects here and there. I finally came back to Chicago, where I eventually formed my own production company, The Junction Group, where we’ve done plenty of short films and commercials.

FM: When did you know that you wanted to be a filmmaker and who are your major influences?

KP: Its really weird, because I’ve had all of these different elements around me and they just came together over time. My father was a Mailman and a working class dude all his life, but he had always wanted to be an artist. When I was a kid, my father would always rent foreign films on VHS and watch them at the house, whether he’d actually finish them or just fall asleep on the couch. I didn’t always know what was going on, but I’d always sit around and watch them while they were on our TV. There was this and other elements that just helped me prepare to be a director. I was always into writing and drawing stuff. I was into reading comics and taking in all of these stories, but it wasn’t until meeting George, that the actual notion of being a filmmaker came to me. As I started to watch films in my classes, I’d sit there and be reminded that I’d seen all of these films before as a kid, because my father had exposed me to them (laughs).

FM: How long did it take you to write the script and develop Travis & Tabitha?

KP: Four years off and on, with a heavy emphasis on the last two years. I initially got the idea while living in New York. I would constantly see this British actress, who was always dressed up in different costumes every time I’d get on the train. One day she’d be a punk rocker, the next day she’d be in a beautiful gown and we just struck up this interesting friendship while travelling on the train together. I would write a bit of the script, but then put it away for awhile and come back to it, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I got serious about it and then decided to finish it.

FM: I know you came up with the story in New York, but the train system in Chicago is a major part of the city. Does it play a significant character in the film?

KP: Yeah, while it was initially thought of in New York, it still transferred to Chicago easily. When people think of New York, people automatically think of the subway system. You’ve seen it in movies and it just plays as a major way that people get around in that city. Now we’ve seen the train system in films based in Chicago, but it never plays in a major way. When you think of Chicago, you think of the major skyscrapers and things like Wrigley Field, but I wanted it to be showcased as a major character in the city. Chicago is the city of neighborhoods and a primary way to get to all of those neighborhoods is by taking the train. Also, there’s a real beauty to each of the train stations, even the dilapidated ones. I wanted the various train stations to act as a stage for the two characters to play off of. But as far as the train as an actual character, its probably the fourth major character in the film. It’s Travis, then Tabitha, then fashion and then the train.

FM: How long was the production?

KP: So initially, principle photography on Travis & Tabitha was supposed to be for four weeks. Two weeks into production, my sister-in-law got sick with cancer and needed a caregiver to take care of her. She eventually passed away, but that really brought things to a halt, both physically and emotionally. Everything just came to a stop after that, but eventually we had to pick everything back up and move forward. In reality, instead of the production taking the actual 4 weeks, excluding the time off that everyone had, we took up six weeks of actual production.

FM: In indie filmmaking, you’re faced with major decisions everyday, due to a limited budget. What was the hardest decision for you to make?

KP: I think the hardest thing was actually deciding on using the train. We spent tons of time in Pre-Production and working with our location sound mixer to see what every space sounded like. We wanted to make sure that we were going to be ok, so the eventual decision on using that space and make it work was one of the harder decisions to make for the film. Having an indie budget is always going to limit you, but its a matter of how you make it work that makes you an effective storyteller.

FM: What was your best day on set and the worst day on set.

KP: Coming to work with the cast and crew made the whole shoot feel awesome but the best day was the second day of shooting on the train. The first day we started shooting on one of the train platforms was really difficult, from the trains moving back and forth, to people interrupting takes. People on the train would see us and start jumping up and down or start screaming at us, saying things like “I’ve seen you before!” and other stuff just had us worried that we couldn’t shoot there. But on the very second day of shooting on the train, everything went so smoothly, that we felt that we could do anything. The worst day of shooting was the second day of when we came back, during the big break in between shooting. Everything went wrong that day, from our DP, Darryl Parham, getting sick, to one of the actors having to get their car towed, the film gods were certainly not on our side that day (laughs).

FM: What methods did you use to find your cast and crew?

KP: I think that my biggest mistake in the entire process of making Travis & Tabitha was not hiring a casting director (laughs). That was hands down the most difficult thing in trying to get right, because I just didn’t want to get actors, I wanted collaborators and people that would bring something to the project. We’d just go back and forth, looking for actors here in Chicago, figuring out if its in the budget to fly someone out and it was just a real difficult task of getting things to work. Luckily, we eventually found two perfect actors in Joseph Shaw and Toya Turner to play the leads and worked really hard to bring the two characters to life. Since I have my own production company, I’ve been fortunate to work with so many gifted people over the years and just built up a solid network of collaborators. One of the great things about working on the film was that there were no egos on set, everyone that was there, wanted to be there and if anything needed to be done, people would just work together to just make things happen, as opposed to people saying that things weren’t in their job description. It was a beautiful thing working with the crew on this film and they certainly made it a point to make this film a reality.

FM: As I saw your Indiegogo campaign, I felt that a film like Travis & Tabitha was meant for this type of platform. How do you feel about crowdfunding, now that its also become a major avenue for filmmakers, in both exploiting it and using it as a means of getting their story?

KP: To me, crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to the ecosystem that is Indie filmmaking. I believe it’s an early way to build your audience. We had our own means of getting the budget for Travis & Tabitha, but since there are films like this, that don’t get much exposure, these sites are a way to get your voice out there just a little bit more. Its not like you’re just asking people for money, you’re asking people to become part of the process. A great way to show people that you mean business is by showing them that you’re serious about your project. I mean, who wants to invest in you, if you don’t invest in yourself? I think that this film speaks to a certain generation and people that aren’t represented in film, that should be heard. Its not really a political film, with a specific agenda, but it is about a generation of people that don’t have a clear voice in the Indie cinema landscape and its just a way to communicate that to others and fill that void. Plus, we’d studied a lot of different campaigns and wanted to make sure that we had the right way of approaching ours for Travis & Tabitha. We’re gonna make sure that this film gets made, but if there’s an audience that’s there, to which I believe there is and wants to see a film like this, then why not reach out to them early on to see if they want to be an actual part of it.

FM: What has filming Travis & Tabitha taught you as a filmmaker and what lessons did you take away from the project?

KP: It’s given me confidence. After working on short films and commercials for so long and communicating stories that way, making a feature film is a major feat, where I’d ask myself if I was really up to the task and I wasn’t completely sure of myself. Working on Travis & Tabitha has given me the confidence that I can do it, that I can make a feature film, along with working some of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. This and the pleasure of working with actors. Working with the Toya and Joseph everyday and getting the characters to come to life was truly a blessing and one of the best things to happen. Another great thing was working with Kelley Mosely, who was our costume designer, our cheerleader, spirit guide and second in command, who really helped pushed things forward and made the process that much easier. So while there were many obstacles in our path, making Travis & Tabitha, it was truly working with so many creative people that have made it a reality and I’ll never forget that.

Keith Purvis is the proud owner of Junction Group Films and Travis & Tabitha is his first feature film. Support this local filmmaker by contributing to his Indiegogo page here.

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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