Last year he swept the Memphis Indie Film Festival Awards for his film OMG/Hahaha. Although he doesn't have a film in this year's festival, he will still be part of the action. Here's what up-and-coming filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox thinks about pigeonholes, dropping out of film school, and the YouTube generation.
What was your reaction to being one of Filmmaker magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film"?
It's funny because I've been making films for eight years or maybe longer. In many ways I'm not a new face. But it's always really awesome to be recognized for your work. That's the whole point, to have a connection with an audience. It was surprising; I thought that my time had passed.
Are you a film school dropout?
That's kind of a dramatic selling point. The truth is I went to UT Knoxville and realized that I wanted to make films, so I left. My dad was really angry: "If you leave college, I will never support you again." So I saved up money for two years, but when I tried to start film school in Vermont, my dad refused to sign his portion of the financial aid stuff. I was never able to enroll. It's written that I dropped out, and that's partially me just simplifying the story.
It makes you sound like a renegade.
[Laughs.] Well, I ended up teaching myself, so it's kind of the same thing.
How were you able to teach yourself?
I got really immersed in the creative scene. I was poor, living check to check, and I realized you can make films on computers with little digital handycams. So Carol, one of the managers here [at Otherlands Coffee Bar], charged a computer on her credit card for me and said to pay whenever I could. That was how it started, just getting the equipment. Then we started making films, me and some friends. We kept messing up until we figured out what we were doing. We're still doing that to a certain extent.
They call you "the voice of the YouTube generation." What does that mean?
[Laughs.] I don't know what that means. I'm connected with people from the YouTube generation and I'm very fascinated with that, so it's reflected in my work. If that makes me the voice of the YouTube generation because I can take their stories and put them on screen, then fine.
In OMG/Hahaha you put these stories on screen in a string of vignettes, a departure from the linear narrative of Blue Citrus Hearts . Why the shift? Do you plan to continue in this style?
No, now it's going in the opposite direction. When I wrote Blue Citrus Hearts [a coming-of-age and coming-out story], I was a freshman in college, and the linear story just sort of came out, no pun intended. But my biggest influences, like Harmony Korine and Gus Van Sant, had all made experimental, non-linear films that were more about putting beautiful images, slice-of-life stuff together. So I was like, "I want to put on screen the images that I want to see." Now the three projects we're working on [a web series and two other feature-length films] are 100 percent linear. It's a challenge to write a very traditional story arc.
Your films are often labeled as "gay" films. Is this a pigeonhole or an opportunity to speak for an underrepresented group?
What I have to offer as a filmmaker is my own experience. There are going to be gay characters in my films because it's my first inclination to write for a gay main character. It's a shame that generally one gay character makes it a "gay" film, but in some ways, it's kind of fortunate. The distributors paying me specialize in queer work. So it's easier for me to sell my films now because I can still be pigeonholed. I have a market I can funnel my work through directly. Sometimes it works to your advantage and sometimes it doesn't.
You won big in the 2008 Indie Memphis Film Festival. Any films for IMFF 2009?
I'm not going to have any films in it. Right now I have projects that are all being finished or just getting started. Erik [Jambor], the director of the festival, and I talked about doing a panel or running some Q & A with the filmmakers after their screenings.
Do you see yourself ever leaving Memphis? For L.A. or New York?
I'm not a big city person. I hate New York with a passion. I feel like the stuff that I do, my life in general, but also the work I create would just get crushed in a city like that. If I find a place that makes sense for me, maybe. But if I could stay here and make a living making films I'd be a pretty happy boy.