Since coming in as the first runner-up on the Fox film-director reality-competion show On the Lot, Jason Epperson has read a lot of scripts.
"Most of them, I knew within the first five pages it's nothing I wanted to do," Epperson said. "When I read Jeff's script, I read the whole thing in an hour and knew it was something I wanted to do."
Jeff is Jeff Day, an assistant professor in the communication arts department at Asbury College who, along with a partner, has formed Lucky Day Studios.
The script Epperson read was Unrequited, a psychological thriller that will be filmed in and around Lexington starting later this month.
It will star Michael Welch, who plays Mike, one of Bella's friends in the recent hit Twilight and the forthcoming Twilight: New Moon, as an 18-year-old who snaps after a series of setbacks and takes his ex-girlfriend hostage at a lake house.
"For my first project, I wanted to do something good and do something in Kentucky," Epperson said, sitting on the porch of Fayette County's Mimarie Farm, where some of the key scenes in the movie will be filmed by the pool. "This was it."
Epperson was an independent filmmaker based in Winchester when he was selected as a contestant for On the Lot, a competition show for film directors that ran on Fox during the summer of 2007.
He got off to a rough start when judge Carrie Fisher accused him of making fun of people with mental disabilities with his first short, Get a Room, which was filmed at the Kentucky Theatre.
But fans embraced that effort and his subsequent short films, and he plowed through the competition to the grand finale. He lost to Will Bigham, who received a $1 million development deal with Dreamworks Pictures.
But, like many talent competition shows, getting noticed is part of the game, and Epperson did get noticed.
After the show, he and his wife, Cindi, and son Isaiah, moved to Los Angeles for a year. He said the move was essential to making contacts and building relationships in the film industry.
But the high cost of living in L.A. pushed the family to move back to Kentucky last year. Since the move, Epperson has kept busy. He's working full-time in the business, including directing music videos and corporate films. One of his feature-length projects is The Phoenix. It's the story of Harold Dennis, who survived the infamous Carroll County bus crash of 1988, walked on with the University of Kentucky football team and eventually became a scholarship player.
Epperson said that project is in the works, so Unrequited will be his first feature film.
In Day, Epperson says, he has found a kindred spirit.
During On the Lot, Epperson became known as the Christian competitor, and he never shied away from his faith, even holding the watch party for the show's finale at his home church, Calvary Christian in Winchester.
Likewise, Day is from Asbury, a Methodist school that has developed a strong reputation for its film program.
"We're a couple of Christian guys," said Day, whose partner in Lucky Dog is 13th District Commonwealth Attorney Tom Lockridge, "but we're looking to make stories that have impact, to tell great stories."
Unrequited, Day and Epperson say, does not have an overt faith message. But it is a "redemptive story," Day said. "It is a cautionary tale about what can happen in the absence of love."
In the story, the character played by Welch loses his father to suicide, and his mother rejects him.
Welch might not be the only star coming to Kentucky, either. Day and Epperson said other noteworthy actors have expressed interest in the project, but they declined to name any for the record.
Hollywood talent will be coming in to work on the project, including cinematographer S. Douglas Smith, whom Epperson met working on On the Lot, and Mark Freiberger, director of Dog Days of Summer, who will be a co-producer.
But part of the point is providing opportunities for film workers in Kentucky.
Day and Epperson said they were disappointed that a proposal to provide tax incentives for filmmakers did not pass the state legislature this year, and it did cause them to think about moving the production to more film-friendly states such as Louisiana or North Carolina.
"That would have shot Kentucky from, like, 46th to sixth in incentives," Day said of the legislation. "We did talk to our investors, and they said, if we thought for business reasons we had to move out of Kentucky, they were OK with that."
But they kept the project in state and are excited that there are real prospects for distribution.
"The thing about independent film is you can do all this work, and if you don't have distribution, it's this nice little thing for you and your family and friends to watch in your living room," Day said.
Epperson quickly added, "We don't want to be that film."
Epperson has a "first look" deal with Paramount Pictures, who he says likes the script. Freiberger has a deal with Anchor Bay distribution, which has also expressed interest.
"So at least we know that when we've finished this movie, there are distributors that are going to look at it," Day said.
Adding a few more name actors to the cast list will help sell it.
"This is not an amateur project," Epperson said. "It's not, 'Hey, let's get together and make a movie.' This is what we want to do for the rest of our lives.
"This is just a start. There are a lot of other things we want to do, but this is a good start."