Soul Sessions Podcast: Ryan Parker & Mississippi Film Society
Today, we're talking with Ryan Parker, a Jackson-based publicist and promoter for TV and film.
After recently moving back home, Ryan is bringing movie screenings to local theaters like the Capri and is planning for even bigger adventures through his recently founded Mississippi Film Society.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
I am the biggest movie and TV fan that I know. I could sit for hours, days even, binging the latest series or blockbuster movies, and I think I finally met my match in that department.
Hey, it's Paul Wolf with the front row seat to conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. We call our podcast Soul Sessions. It's the people, places, and events that make the City With Soul shine. Today I'm talking with Ryan Parker, a Jackson based publicist and promoter for TV and film. After recently moving back home, Ryan is bringing movie screenings to local theaters like the Capri and is planning for even bigger adventures through his recently founded Mississippi Film Society. This past weekend he was part of the Mississippi Film Offices Mississippi Film Summit, which Ryan, you say rivals anything you've attended in bigger cities?
Yeah, it was great. I mean, I've attended several big events in LA that are kind of film focused in terms of panel discussions. There's obviously Comic-Con in San Diego, the Television Critics Association in LA every year where you just have all these networks and streamers promoting their shows, so you obviously get a lineup of stars who are kind of in and out of the building. But in terms of kind of depth and breadth of focus, I mean, what the film office did with the summit is one of the best things I've attended in a long time. The conversations were rich, the panelists were great, and the combination of panelists felt extremely thoughtful, diverse. If people weren't there, they missed out.
You have a really interesting story. You go from Mississippi College to Wake Forest to, more recently, LA. There's a lot of stuff in between that we just don't have time to fill in here, but you came back to Jackson, Mississippi with film experience under your belt from promoting them to making them. Why Jackson, Mississippi?
Well, I think like a lot of people who come back after a long time away, there are many reasons. The main one for us was to be closer to family. We wanted to tell everybody we weren't leaving LA, right? We loved it there. We had a great community there, made some lifelong friendships, picked up a couple of God kids along the way and aggressively tried to buy a place there, but everybody knows what the housing market is like out there, and then with family, parents and nieces and nephews aren't getting any younger. The pandemic had clarified what we had known all along in the work that I do on the marketing publicity side, I always worked from home, and so we would occasionally go into meetings at different studios, but most of the work we were doing was from home offices.
A lot of these meetings were Zoom and could have always been, and so knowing that, it just made this move easier. My wife, Amy, is a nurse, she knew finding work here would not be a huge issue. That was part of it. Then there was a little bit of quality of life, buying our first home after 20 years of living in an apartment, and then also just being closer to lifelong friends that we had never fallen out of contact with.
Yeah, the world has become a much smaller place through the use of telecommuting and Zoom and Google Meet and all of these things. And how apropos for the business that you are in to be on a screen, right, to be talking about these exciting new projects. You have done work with television and film and more recently, and the way that I met you was you started bringing some screenings of new movies to Jackson on many of them at the Capri Theatre in Fondren. How did that come about? How are you able to bring these high quality, big budget, big studio movies right here to Jackson, Mississippi?
Well, first off, I'm super grateful for the studios and the distributors that allow us to have those experiences. I mean, for us it's been Amazon with Air, which is, I think where I first met you, we worked with Lionsgate on, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. So the openness to screening films like that in a smaller community, so the work that we do on the marketing publicity side, we have a niche specialty, which is educational, civic, faith-based communities. We piggyback on the streamers, studios in-house marketing and publicity teams, and so they usually have kind of a campaign, a roadmap plan. We're in conversation with them, how we think we can add value to that. What we may be able to take from that, and one of those things is what's often called word of mouth screenings, where before a major release, this has changed a little bit since COVID, but it's coming back, before a film releases on a Friday, usually a week to two before that studios are setting up word of mouth screenings across the country, and those are usually in the top 40 markets.
Well, it's no surprise Jackson's not one of those markets, so I've spent the better part of nine years inviting folks in cities across the country to these screenings, but never having to set up one in Los Angeles because there were always multiple screenings that I could go to. Fast-forward to our move here, it was just simply a question of saying, 'Hey, could I have one?' And there's an openness to it. I think there's an openness on the part of studios to connect with audiences that aren't on the coasts or in those bigger cities, and I think we've shown that smaller markets like in Asheville, Austin, Texas, I mean, kind of working down in size, even Jackson, that there are audiences that are eager for these experiences. And so my hope is that I can continue to prove that to studios to keep bringing films like that here.
I'm excited to see a movie that you've got coming up, a screening on September 6th that the movie is not even finished yet. We get to see kind of an early copy of it and provide some feedback on it. That's pretty neat for Jackson, Mississippi.
I'm super excited about that, and I hope we can link to the tickets in the show note. These are processes that take place often in New York and LA where filmmakers are trying to find out, and this particular film doesn't even have distribution. This is an independent film at the moment. The financiers have funded this thing, but now you have the filmmaker who's shootings wrapped, they're in the edit, and he has questions like I imagine we all would. And we would go to these screenings all the time, or oftentimes we would go to studio screenings where they have distribution and we're just seeing it early so we can assist with planning a campaign.
This is even a little bit different. This is even further up the chain, if you will, where the filmmaker himself is trying to say, "I need to figure out if this thing's working," and I just want to know what the average moviegoer thinks about my movie. I don't need to necessarily hear from filmmaking professionals that often attend those types of screenings in New York or LA, so, and it won't be finished. There'll be some parts that will probably need to be ignored. They're still finishing special effects and things like that, but there are, I think the general theme of the film, the storyline of the film is all there, so I think it'll be a good experience.
Tell me, Ryan, quickly about something you've started since you've been back here in Jackson. This is exciting, the Mississippi Film Society. You've got a plan to bring a big film festival back to Jackson again.
I mean, that's the hope, and I know that Crossroads was an amazing festival that is at the moment dormant, and there are conversations about bringing that back, that name back. There's also conversations about just starting something completely new, but I also know that, I mean, that type of work is incredibly difficult and incredibly time-consuming, and I can't see a way to bring something back sustainably for maybe another year and a half, and in the meantime, continue to conduct these monthly film screenings, hopefully build an audience, find those real movie lovers who could support something like a festival. But yeah, that is definitely a goal of the society. So the Mississippi Film Society, I see it kind of multifaceted, and I don't by any means say this as a way of comparison where suddenly this thing, but you think about the Sundance Film Institute, which promotes and puts on the Sundance Film Festival, but the institute itself is doing year round work supporting independent filmmakers, lecture series, screening events and things like that.
That type of work really intrigues me, and how could we do that on a state level where we're doing film screenings across the state, not just in Jackson, we're creating educational programming for viewers of all ages, and then how can that culminate in a yearly festival, which it would not be named the Mississippi Film Society Festival, we would have to come up with a more fun name. But ideally, I would like to see take place in Fondren and in Jackson at the Capri and in surrounding venues. That may be phase two of the Film Society, right, is the establishment of a festival and hopefully continue to grow that. But phase one, hopefully people who are listening can know that they're going to continue to be screenings and events film related across the state every month.
That's Ryan Parker of WIT PR and the founder of the Mississippi Film Society. I've got a link to that upcoming film screening we mentioned and to the Mississippi Film Society where you can donate to their work through the Community Foundation for Mississippi in our show notes. Soul Sessions is produced by Visit Jackson, the destination organization for Mississippi's capital city. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Rickey Thigpen, and I am our managing editor. You want to know more about the work we do to improve the quality of life in Jackson, Mississippi? Visit our website. It's at visitjackson.com. I'm Paul Wolf and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.