Interview with Stark and Cort Howell & Gregory Schell

In my last blog post, I told y’all about some of my adventures in Mayberry.  Ok, technically, it’s Mount Airy… but essentially, it’s Mayberry.  I also told y’all that I would be posting an interview with some men that I got to meet and feel very blessed to have become friends with!  They are none other than Stark and Cort Howell, and Gregory Schell.

I got to meet these three gentlemen during Mayberry Days 2019.  It was there that I first heard of their movie project, Mayberry Man.  I was immediately intrigued, and have since become a team member and then a team leader, doing what I can to help out with this amazing project!  I’ve been telling people about the movie, but I am so excited to be able to share it with you directly from them!  I hope you enjoy hearing from them as I did!

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Me:  Hey, y’all!  Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview!  Before we get started, though, I would love to introduce each of you and tell a little about you!

Stark and Cort Howell are two of Hoke Howell’s three sons.  Hoke played Dud Wash on The Andy Griffith Show.

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Gregory Schell is the son of Ronnie Schell, who appeared in two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and also played Duke Slater on Gomer Pyle, USMC.

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Stark is Writer and Director of Mayberry Man.  Cort is Producer.  Gregory is Co-Producer.

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The son of an actor, Stark grew up around the entertainment industry in Burbank, California.  His early artistic talent grew into a love for all forms of art and led him to choose Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA for his formal art education.  It was then a natural transition to apply his craft within the entertainment industry where he has spent the past twenty-eight years as a director and storyboard artist in the field of animation.  His credits include work in both television and theatrical releases for studios such as Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon and Universal.  Drawing from his artistic talent coupled with a classical art education, Stark has applied his craft in varied arenas over the years.  His freelance career has included work in film as well, including writing and directing an award-winning documentary.

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Cort Howell is one of the most successful independent direct response television producers of all time, with campaigns generating over $2 billion in sales.  Cort has the ability to craft stories that drive people to purchase products and change behaviors on a massive scale.  His client list includes Zumba, Murad, NutriBullet, Guthy-Renker, Beachbody, Jenny Craig, and bold entrepreneurs looking to catch lightning in a bottle.  The Jordan Whitney Report recognizes Cort as one of the 5 most influential producers in the industry.  As a filmmaker, he has previously written and produced an award-winning independent feature film.

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Photographer/Filmmaker Gregory Schell was born in Los Angeles, California and received his Bachelor’s degree in Film Studies at UC Santa Barbara and his Master’s degree in Film/Photography at San Francisco State University.  He has directed a number of feature-length documentaries including “The Far Shore” which played in numerous international film festivals, and “Mayberry Days,”  which chronicles the 50th anniversary of the Andy Griffith television show as it is celebrated in Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy in North Carolina.  The film continues to screen at the famous Mayberry Days Festival.

Me:  So, Stark – I’ll start with you, since you had the original idea for the Mayberry Man project.  What gave you the inspiration for this particular project, and how has it come about?

Stark:  Our father had attended some Mayberry events in the 1990’s, so I was aware the festivals existed, but I had never attended one until 2018.  When I did, I was struck by the family atmosphere and how it was like stepping back into time into Mayberry.  I immediately thought it could provide a wonderful backdrop for a story that could touch a lot of people.  And by including some of the original stars of The Andy Griffith Show as well as the fans, I thought it could be a special film that would have a lot of meaning to people.

Me:  Can you give us a summary of what the film is about?

Stark:  Mayberry Man is a modern day feature-length family comedy that will include stars from the original 1960’s classic television series The Andy Griffith ShowIn Mayberry Man, Noah Stone is a self-centered movie star who gets arrested for speeding in a small Southern town.  The judge, knowing a small fine means nothing to a rich movie star, sentences Noah to spend a week at Mayberry Fest, an annual celebration of the classic television series.  Immersed in this modern-day version of Mayberry, our movie star is forced out of his Hollywood bubble and given the opportunity to discover the true meaning of friendship and family.

Me:  Cort, what did you think of the idea when Stark presented it to you?

Cort:  Any project associated with The Andy Griffith Show is going to have to meet a very high standard, so I approached the project with caution.  But after reading the script, I knew we had an excellent foundation to build on.  Then it was just a matter of how best to raise the money to make the movie without compromising on the qualities of the story that make it true to the Mayberry spirit.  That’s when we decided the best way to approach the project was to partner with the fans, people who appreciate and understand the Mayberry spirit.

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Me:  What has made you decide to do this film independently instead of selling the idea to Hollywood?

Cort:  First of all, it can take years to sell a film concept or script in Hollywood.  I’ve seen countless quality scripts go unproduced for a variety of reasons.  The surviving stars of The Andy Griffith Show aren’t getting any younger, so timing is one factor.  Our father passed away more than 20 years ago and it’s a shame that he isn’t around to participate.  By producing a film independently, it can be done for a lot less than a typical Hollywood movie.  And by partnering with the fans, we can do it more efficiently than your typical independent feature film.  And on top of that, we are making this movie for the fans, so an independent filmmaking approach allows us to maintain full control of the production so we can do things that traditional filmmaking would never allow.  We’re putting fans into the film, we’re breaking up our production on the calendar to involve fans in multiple cities, and we’re not going to depend on celebrity talent to make this film marketable.  We know we have a fan base that will appreciate this movie so long as we deliver something that is fun, professionally produced, and stays true to Mayberry.

Me:  What role do each of you play in the production of this film?

Stark:  I am the storyteller—the writer and director.

Cort:  I am producing, overseeing the business side of the production and marketing.

Gregory:  I am co-producing, as well as helping with the myriad of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. 

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Me:  Greg, how do you feel about being a co-producer for Mayberry Man, and what are your thoughts on this project?

Gregory:  I’ve spent the past 7 years attending Mayberry festivals with my father and getting to know the fans.  Fans quickly become friends, and the next thing you know, we are all one big family.  So when Stark invited me to help with the movie, it was a perfect fit.

Me:  How do the people involved with The Andy Griffith Show feel about Mayberry Man?

Cort:  Every Mayberry actor or family member we’ve spoken with has expressed support of the project.  They have all agreed to appear in the film.  Many Mayberry family members have also joined the project, including Dixie Griffith, Karen Knotts, George Lindsey, Jr., and Laura Hagen (widow of music composer Earl Hagen).

Me:  Any ideas on who the main star of the film will be?

Cort:  We have a couple of strong lead actors in mind.  Casting can make or break a film.  It’s sort of like cooking—there are many wonderful and delicious foods and spices, but they don’t all belong in the same dish.  So we have to take our time and make sure we are bringing together the right combination of talent.  Since we are crowdfunding this movie, we won’t know our budget until we are close to completing our crowdfunding campaign.  So that also limits our ability to consider celebrity talent.  If we raise enough money, then that opens up a lot more possibilities with respect to the talent we can attract.

Me:  I know that Allan Newsome will play a big part in this story. Could you tell us a little bit about his character in the movie?

Cort:  Allan is being asked to play Allan, the Floyd the Barber tribute artist, so we can’t think of a better fit. Stark has written the script to leverage Allan’s natural talents.

Me:  Where will Mayberry Man be filmed, and when will production begin?

Cort:  Production will begin in May 2020 around the time of the Mayberry in the Midwest festival taking place in Danville, Indiana.  Additional production will take place in and around Mount Airy, North Carolina, during the 2020 Mayberry Days® festival. We will also shoot several days in Los Angeles, most likely in September.

Me:  Since you are producing this film independently, you are doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money for the project.  Could you tell us a little more about that?

Cort:  Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites have provided a wonderful way for creative people to fund new projects.  For filmmakers, it allows us to bypass the standard Hollywood studio system and work directly with fans who are most interested in our project.  Studio films cost tens of millions of dollars and make hundreds of millions by appealing to the masses in the US and around the world.  By using Kickstarter and partnering with Mayberry fans, we can focus on making a quality project for a relatively small audience without worrying about losing money because the fans ultimately decide how much money the movie will cost to make.

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Me:  What are some of the ways the fans of The Andy Griffith Show can get involved in the Mayberry Man movie?

Cort:  We want to make it possible for every Mayberry fan to participate.  For $10, you can get your name in the closing credits and enjoy a free pre-release online screening.  And the more your contribute, the more rewards you can get.  A digital download of the movie, an autographed DVD, t-shirts, attend a red carpet premiere, and you can even be in the movie.  We also have levels where you can get a speaking role in the film, put your whole family in the movie, or get a producing credit.  We also have sponsorship and product placement opportunities for business owners.  Additionally, we also have a way for fans to participate without any money out of pocket by becoming an official Mayberry Man Team Member.  Team Members get a custom Kickstarter link that they can share with others and when contributions come in from their link, they earn credits toward Mayberry Man rewards.

Me:  Will Mayberry Man hit the big screen, or will it go directly to streaming services?

Cort:  We will definitely do private screenings of the movie in Mt. Airy, Danville, and Hollywood.  It will also eventually end up on at least one streaming service.  However we will need to wait and see on whether we will go with traditional theatrical distribution or straight to digital.

Me:  I have heard some people express concern that you are trying to remake The Andy Griffith Show. What is your response to that?

Cort:  That’s an easy misconception that we are always quick to correct.  We would never try to remake The Andy Griffith Show.  I think that would only upset and disappoint the fans.  We think it’s much smarter to pay tribute to the show with a movie that includes some of the original stars, acknowledges the loyal fans, and includes a story and themes consistent with Mayberry.

Me:  What do you hope people will take away from Mayberry Man?

Stark, Cort, & Gregory:  We want people to get the same feeling they get from watching The Andy Griffith Show.  If we do that, we’ll call it a success. 

Me:  It has been great to chat with you gentlemen!  I hope we can do this again sometime!  Thank you again so much for taking the time to answer these questions!  I know everyone will love hearing from you about this project!  Wishing y’all the best of luck with everything!  I look forward to Mayberry Man, and to seeing y’all again soon!

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