The Oxford Film Festival is, at this point, a staple of the town. What started as a completely volunteer-organized event spread across three screens has grown into a city-wide operation requiring year-round attention. Part of the tradition of the film festival is the yearly community film.
This year’s community film, Firemax, a story of what happens when a super hero has no crime to fight, was written and directed by Rory Ledbetter.
“I asked Melanie [Addington, producer] if she had anyone lined up to direct the film,” said Ledbetter. “She said no and I told her I wanted to write and direct it.”
Just like that the community film had a writer and director. The initial idea was to tell the story of a local legend.
“We wanted it to be really about Oxford,” said Ledbetter. “So we reached out for people to submit stories about themselves or their grandparents, just something that happened to them that was quintessentially Oxford. We got nothing.”
Fortunately inspiration came while Ledbetter and Addington were having drinks with friends at The Coop celebrating their friend Michael Ewing’s birthday.
“The idea evolved over drinks Michael, who is in the film, mentioned that he could lift his entire body up [with his fingertips] and demonstrated it,” said Addington. “We were impressed and recalled our friend Max could breathe fire and thought we might have the makings of a film.”
From there it was a matter carving out a story for Firemax.
“We thought, okay he’s a super hero that breathes fire,” said Ledbetter. “But Oxford doesn’t have any crime.”
The two then realized that the movie was about what a super hero would do without any crime.
With the film’s idea fully formed, it was time to get the community involved.
“We knew we wanted to use as much of the community as possible,” said Ledbetter. “The very first community film, The Hanging of Big Todd Wade, had tons of community and lots of cameo lines. We wanted to recreate that.”
What better way to get everyone involved than to make them superheroes?
“We reached out on Facebook and asked what your Oxford superpower would be,” said Ledbetter. “Not gifted ones like Spiderman, things that you can do or your friends can do that blow your mind.”
Among the list of brainstormed super powers were getting a tooth pick to stick to the roof in Ajax, always being able to find a meter on the Square with money already in it, or successfully navigate the roundabout on Old Taylor Road.
“We auditioned everyone that wanted to be a part of it, and part of the audition was to improvise a super villain,” said Ledbetter. “After the auditions Melanie I decided to try to make roles for everyone that auditioned. We knew it might not happen but we were going to try.”
That decision made the script, they decided there would be a secret organization of super villains and they were going to blow up the courthouse and frame Firemax for it.
Filming took place in several locations across Oxford.
“Bottle Tree Bakery graciously donated their space and Shelter let us treat it as a staging area,” said Ledbetter. “One of the scenes had Firemax inside the courthouse—we had the permit to film—and no one showed up to let us in.”
The crew began reaching out to everyone they could think of who had access to somewhere that would look like the inside of a courthouse.
“We finally found Southside Gallery that has this really cool upstairs,” said Ledbetter. “Will, I believe he is the curating manager, said we could use it but if anyone comes up to look at the paintings we had to stop so that they could look at the paintings.”
Ledbetter agreed without hesitation and the manager assured them Sunday rarely brought people to the gallery.
“We’re down to the wire filming and filming and filming and a couple comes up, so we stop,” said Ledbetter. “Then two more people came up . . . in total I think we had to stop about seven times.”
Despite locked doors and art enthusiasts looking to enjoy their Sunday, Firemax is shot, edited, and ready to debut.
“I was proud to watch Rory Ledbetter, Derek Brown, and Taproot Audio Design put the finishing touches on the fillm,” said Addington. “While I know [Ledbetter] is impressive in the theater world, film may be his calling too!”