Filtering by Category: Open Letters

Fort Mill Film Society

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I've had a vision to help shape the artistic culture of Fort Mill ever since I moved here.

When I lived in New York, I was a member of the Jacob Burns Film Center, which was an amazing service to the Westchester County area. Not only did the Burns Center have a four-screen theater, showing the best of independent, foreign and documentary cinema, but the non-profit would have weekly educational seminars and workshops, featuring renowned filmmakers, actors, and critics. They would host film premieres, Q&As with producers and directors, and regular film showcases. Eventually, the Burns Center grew to be able to offer lab fellowships and year-round educational classes to teenagers and adults, educating the local population in the art and science of film. As a film student at Sarah Lawrence College, twenty minutes south of the Jacob Burns Film Center, the vision to create a culture of film for my own community was born.

One of the reasons that my wife and I chose to settle in downtown Fort Mill -- coming from Charlotte, her home city, where we settled after our education was completed and our first child was born -- was because of the potential for economic growth that Main Street presented. As this potential energy has slowly become kinetic over the last five years -- with the exciting addition of new shops, restaurants and bars -- I have been excited to more firmly dig my roots into the Fort Mill culture. In June of 2017 I leased an office suite on Main Street (three blocks from my house), christened it Borderland Studio, and relocated my film production companies to this new headquarters. 


The reason I named the office suite Borderland was to establish that name in the Fort Mill economy. Part of my vision to enable a filmic culture in the area is through establishing an annual film festival. That's still a few years away, but my vision is to have the Borderland Film Festival become a nationally respected annual event, with a well-programmed schedule of films, dynamic seminars and workshops from renowned filmmakers, incredible parties and social events featuring the best local food & drink offerings, and an amazing showcase of all the charm that Fort Mill has to offer. 

When I made my first feature film, Fare, I had the opportunity to tour the film festival circuit throughout the country. Every festival I visited had something unique about it that I loved. I was taking notes. Whether it was SXSW, Newport Beach, Cucalorus, Naples, LA or New York, I loved every aspect of the film festival tour, and I wanted to apply that love toward creating a new film festival for Fort Mill. As a juror for the Charlotte Film Festival, a judge for the College Emmy Awards, and member of the Television Academy and Emmy voter, I have been able to see just how rich and abundant the field is of the short form and feature length films that the general population will never get a chance to see. How exciting to bring many of these, along with their filmmakers, to Fort Mill. 

Thomas Torrey accepting the Best Director award at the 2017 Beaufort International Film Festival.

Thomas Torrey accepting the Best Director award at the 2017 Beaufort International Film Festival.

I am still a working filmmaker, with a fulltime schedule of commercial productions, feature films and passion projects. But I am laying the foundation now for what I want to achieve in the future. A wise man once said "we overestimate what we can do in a year, and we underestimate what we can do in a decade". Therefor I am beginning now the work of establishing Fort Mill as an influencer in the cinematic arts in the Southeast. 

Phase 1 is creating the Fort Mill Film Society, a 501c3 non-profit organization that will present the annual Borderland Film Festival. Phase 1 is complete -- the Fort Mill Film Society has been created -- and its first tasks will be to grow its membership base via regular film screenings, social gatherings and discussions, as well as build its Board of Directors. In addition, the Film Society will solicit founding sponsorship from local philanthropy and national grant programs. 

Phase 2 will be launching the annual Borderland Film Festival, which will be a four-day event in the heart of the Main Street and Kingsley neighborhoods of Fort Mill. We will utilize temporary exhibition equipment for our theatrical screenings and various space rentals for seminars and workshops. As the film festival will require a substantial working budget, volunteer base and infrastructure, the goal will be to work toward a 2020 festival launch, and find our primary founding sponsorship in 2018. 

Phase 3 will be the creation of Fort Mill's very own brick-and-mortar Film Center -- a facility entirely unique to the Carolinas. The Film Center will have its own state-of-the-art exhibition screens and projection for regular film screenings, educational facilities for filmmaking workshops and classes, and a film library with an exhaustive collection of movies and literature available to the community. 

At some point along the way -- hopefully between Phase 2 and 3, we will raise enough working capital to employ full time Film Society staff year round. While the flagship annual event of the Society will be the Borderland Film Festival, the goal of the organization will be to expand to include regular film screenings, premieres, galas, workshops, and seminars throughout the year. 

The Fort Mill Film Society exists to build a culture of film amongst our vibrant community of artists and art appreciators. I see this culture as an expansive one -- reaching beyond Fort Mill, into Rock Hill and Columbia, as well as Charlotte and its surrounding metro area. Indeed, that's always been part of the meaning behind "Borderland", as Fort Mill is a literal border land between the sprawling and culture-rich Carolinas. 

I invite you to join me however you can. Come to our early events -- they will be modest but passionate. Become a member. Become a volunteer. Connect us with philanthropists and grant organizations so that we can build upon our vision and begin to execute our phases. And above all, keep on loving good cinema, and support its filmmakers.

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An Open Letter To Myself

[Update: 02-27-17] The below is a document of the time in which it was written. I have grown a little since I wrote this and would not necessarily say the same thing to myself today. There's a difference between living in the present, and striving for the future. But it's a document of its time nonetheless, and so I leave it here from when it was first published. - Thomas

April 23, 2016:

I’m living the dream. So why don’t I feel happier?

I remember a good few years of happiness. Three years at Maxwell. Three more at INSP. Stepping stones toward the dream. Honing my craft. Kicking ass. Earning a good income. Building relationships. Getting experience. Improving.

Lots of joy, those years.

But then it was time to move on. Alas, the playpen was but for a season.

Now, the mountain of destiny stood before me. But there wasn’t an elevator. There wasn’t even a damn stairway. Destiny, it would seem, was content to sunbathe at the mountain’s peak, not giving two shits if I was able to find my way to her.

That’s what they don’t tell you about destiny. She’s not paving the way for you. She’s giving you the finger. And at every painful juncture climbing up the mountain – each one claiming more and more drop-outs, fall-offs and quitters – she reminds you that the only thing keeping you on the course is your resolve.

Your singular desire to just want it.

That’s the secret to making it, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not a popularity contest or a talent contest. It’s an endurance test.

At least, that’s what I’m concluding on my way toward making it.

I quit my comfortable job in the playpen in May of 2015 and started my own company with my friend Justin. We hustled and we bled. We raised a little money and made our first feature film.

We did it. A feature film. A real movie. My debut feature, mind you. As if the world was waiting for it… (It wasn’t.)

Fare is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever made. People are responding to it. Early reviews have been beyond my expectations. I made good art and enough people get it. We’re premiering Tuesday at a big, respected film festival. We signed with a sales agent who says they’ll have it sold within two months.

Living the dream.

It’s just that I thought I’d be enjoying this more.

The truth is I’m worn out from the grind it took to get here. I look behind me and see a lot of mountain between where I am and where I started. But then I look up and see Destiny flipping me off again – at least that’s what I assume she’s doing. She’s too high up for me to actually get a clear look.

Oh you thought it’d be easy, Thomas? You thought the playpen was preparing you for a happy journey, with shits and giggles to be had along the way? You thought that “struggle” would feel like the time you forced yourself to eat your first piece of sushi? Or the time you lifted an extra 20 pounds on the barbell?

You didn’t think it’d look like despair, did you? You didn’t think it’d feel like depression. Or hopelessness. You didn’t realize how lonely and lost real struggle feels like, did you?

If you wanted it easy you should have stayed in the playpen.

But if you want to be a man of influence then get back to climbing. You talk a big vision game. How big is it, bro? Or let me put it another way: how big are you willing to make it?

Or was it all just conjecture?

Take heart, Thomas. What you’re learning is that the path to success isn’t an open freeway. It’s a slalom course of stone roads paved with the bodies of the ones who wanted an easier journey. The ones who let the dream die when it was most tested.

Remember well your past seasons of joy, and let them serve to remind you of what lay ahead. The peace. The happiness. You’ll remember it all again when you get there.

And you’ll get there.

But I won’t bullshit you and say it’s just around the corner. I’m not from the future. I don’t know how long it will take. I’m just your True Self speaking through the pretense that you sometimes hide behind.

But when you do get there, you’ll look back on the climb and thank Destiny for not installing that elevator. I promise.

The cuts. The bruises. The broken bones. That’s the stuff of experience. That’s the stuff of influence.

I know it’s hard. But believe me when I tell you the struggle is the point.

Remember the book of Job and that thesis statement you like to impress Bible students with: only through suffering can wisdom be discovered.

Only through suffering can Wisdom be discovered.

Only through suffering.


This is what living the dream looks like.

And in the immortal words of Andy Dufresne, “get busy living or get busy dying.

That’s goddamn right.”