by Mollee Harper, Senior Editor
Georgia Film News gets a rare glimpse into the world of post-production work with a special profile on Drew Sawyer, Founder and award-winning Post Producer of Moonshine Post-Production, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia. During our one on one with Sawyer, we learn about his unique journey to become the largest independently Georgia owned post-production company, including living, studying and teaching film in Germany, and producing his own films.
Sawyer shares insights about his creative team and their start-to-finish post production capabilities for features and television series, as well as their state-of-the-art facilities including a 2,200 sq foot, camera-lights-grip-ready, sound stage and production and editorial offices, conveniently located on the Beltline in old Fourth Ward Atlanta. Sawyer also offers insights into his impressive and busy project lineup for the next year as well as their participation and sponsorship at this year’s 2017 Atlanta Film Festival that starts later this week.
Looking Back on the Journey
Sawyer shared, “I hail from Rome, Georgia and have always loved telling stories. I knew at 15 I wanted to make movies and wanted a southern brand. I knew then I wanted to name my company Moonshine. I came from very strong independent movie roots. I trained friends and derelicts in the back of a restaurant between shifts to produce my first feature film at age 21. I directed it, would hold a boom mic, wrangle cable and even cooked for the crew while living out of a car. I later edited the whole thing. I look very fondly at that process and learned then that filmmaking is a holistic art. You have to pick your generals and friends to wage war on story together.”
“That movie didn’t really go anywhere, but it got me job offer to do some freelance editing. I was broke. I sold beer at the Braves and Falcons Games, delivered sandwiches, and worked in retail. Finally, I got a job in the industry I wanted to be in, although really at the end of the golden age of freelance editorial work in Atlanta. I dropped everything else and was a 22-year-old making good money doing my dream job. I would bounce around between Post Houses in Atlanta, always enamored with the giant technological and skilled advantages of their staff and facilities. I always kept thinking, why aren’t we making movies with this stuff? This was really the beginning of the idea that would fully form into Moonshine.”
Sawyer continued, “I was a terrible student, actually, I would drop out a semester at a time to make a movie with friends or take an editing job. I was being asked to professionally edit before I graduated.”
“I really still needed something creative after two years of cutting shortform promos and commercials; I gravitated back toward independent films. I found a flyer at ‘Movies Worth Seeing’ for an independent filmmakers club. Although that sounds cliché, I was really nervous and excited and thought hopefully they’ll let me join and learn. Later on that group formed the Studio Outpost which became an important mentorship group that helped give me that next push to start my own company.”
“In the middle of all that, Georgia State University gave me the opportunity to move to Germany and pursue my education there. I figured this would be the only acceptable terms for actually finishing what I had started in school – so I did. I fell in love with the culture…it was like a dream. The German education system is not a joke; I even began teaching a course on film and cultural studies at the university. I was about to begin what looked like a long stay for a PhD in Mainz, Germany, but staying true to my pattern, opted out with my degrees in German and film studies to make another film. I returned to my roots in Georgia and made V.H.S. with friends which went on to sell at Sundance.”
Sawyer concluded, “When I came back home to Studio Outpost, it was like I had never left and rematriculated into a creative collective. Their mission statement was to help each other create independent films. And we did. Some of us went on to be writers, directors, and production designers….I myself was running an editorial unit and was able to incubate my business right then and there as the Atlanta entertainment and independent scene was becoming self aware for the 3rd or 4th time, and really at the beginning of the 2nd Hollywood age in Atlanta.”
“Editing commercials and so many pilots on spec finally paid off. I was given the opportunity to assemble a team for a company that I still work with today, School of Humans, and we were awarded a television series out of it. At that moment, I thought to myself, as Post Supervisor I can either take the show to one of the many beautiful shops I had visited as a freelancer or engineer something around my desires and goals for the show and around long form story telling. I decided to roll with my own shop. I took out a loan and lease and built Moonshine into a real brick and mortar.”
Moonshine Post-Production, LLC Begins
Moonshine Post-Production is a full service post-production house with world class facilities in the heart of Atlanta in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. Moonshine’s facility includes not only beautiful purpose built edit suites, but a 2,200 sq foot sound stage with fully-loaded grip and electric package plus all things camera, provided and managed by Magick Lantern and COMMANDER. In addition to their post and production offerings, Moonshine offers production offices, meeting rooms and more.
Moonshine Post-Production, LLC is a “story distillery” offering full post-production services for projects of all sizes in episodic television series, feature films and commercials. Sawyer’s talented team of artists, supervisors and technicians and state-of-the-art technology provides clients with turnkey post production services that include: dailies and ADR, full offline & online editorial, color DI finishing, QC & deliverables, VFX and motion graphics, archival, along with sound mixing and mastering.
Sawyer shared, “We are proud to be Georgia based and owned, and are the largest of the Georgia owned post-production companies. Strategically located on the beltline in the heart of Atlanta, we are tightly aligned with the filmmaking community. We have seriously powerful strategic partners and a purpose-built facility that carries a legacy from the great Georgia Filmmaker, Bill Vanderkloot. We’re proud to be carrying that flag. What sets us apart from the rest in Georgia is our long form editing skills with film and television experience.”
“I took on partners about three years ago. Until then it was me in the ownership chair. Now we have a solid team of 12 artists and technicians plus we work with a lot of crucial freelancers, most of whom we’ve trained. We are really great at adapting and a lot of us are young but we’re well seasoned. I took on partners to add more complimentary strength. I recognized my own weaknesses and they patched those up.”
Sawyer added, “We are also in a giant multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facility. People usually expect Post to be in a rundown warehouse or office park, but I’m in a beautiful turnkey facility with a sound stage. It is an amazing studio. We’re built out and we’re ready and highly competitive.”
“We are always investing back into the independent film community. I’ve watched all of my friends grow up into department heads while I was maturing. It was a really long uphill battle for production, but its proving to be even rockier and a taller hill for post. Most of post work is still being done out West“.
“It isn’t the technology; it is our team that has made us successful in this challenging space. I’ve been able to build a post house ‘pretty cheap’ thanks to technology these days, which is something my predecessors couldn’t do. Our team can do all forms of editing and finishing. We were initially doing that to make our own movies. And then we realized we could handle everything from start to finish here for others versus sending it out West. It wasn’t that easy, we had a lot to learn, just like the production community, but every show we would train more and more alongside our New York and Los Angeles counterparts, until at last we had Atlanta talent and workflow down pat.”
Sawyer bragged, “We have an amazing mix of artists here in Atlanta like Greg Crawford and John Petersen. They both inadvertently mentored me. They showed me a unique mix of technical and creative talent. These guys and their constituents are the real deals and the people that can handle the pressure and I modeled my resolve after theirs. I was lucky that John would later on become one of my partners. And it wasn’t before long after that, we realized we were some of the very few people left in town who were working on both content below and above 60 seconds. Everyone else was doing promos and commercial work. Moonshine realized we offer unique services to Georgia movie makers in offline editing long form plus high end agency finishing.”
“When I was freelancing for other post houses during the golden age and bouncing around between them, I was always beholden to them for their story craft and dedicated rooms and workflow and then eventually created my own after watching the big boys work. A lot of folks went out of business because they didn’t adapt their models, died from overhead and hubris. Now I believe out of all of the ones I freelanced between there are only two or three left.”
Drew Sawyer founded Moonshine Pictures, Inc initially in July 2007, before partnering and creating Moonshine Post-Production, LLC in 2011, and serves as a Post Producer and Executive Producer for the company, handling many special projects. Sawyer worked in the industry for many years as a freelancer specializing in video editing after getting his start as an Editor and Assistant Editor with Magick Lantern. Sawyer received his degrees from GSU via Johannes Gutenberg- Universität Mainz, where he also taught Film and Cultural Studies, studied Germanistik and Film Theory, and traveled Europe extensively for over two years.
2017 Atlanta Film Festival and Moonshine’s Project Touch
Sawyer shared, “I’m part of the intro panel and the sponsor of the opening night party for this year’s Atlanta Film Festival that starts this Friday. We are long time supporters of the film festival. God knows the festival is built on the backs of volunteers and the Herculean efforts of its staff, and this year we’re excited to contribute more. We’re excited to be a part of this year’s festival. We touch a lot of films every year and this year we had our artist’s hands on many. We anticipate a lot more of our movies in all of the GA festivals next year.”
“Right now, we are servicing original features and shows with Studios as well as the huge wave larger independents, and that’s a big deal for us. We’re very proud of these projects. And we’re doing more than dailies, some of them are staying in Georgia and we’re editing, and finishing them. Its early in the year, but so far we can see 4 films walking out of here, done entirely in Georgia – and that’s a game changer, not just for us, but for Georgia. We also just collaborated on an ESPNW spot, a very beautiful piece on equal rights in female athletes. We just wrapped an original series for Red Bull, produced by School of Humans, gearing up for our next one and we’re also currently housing two features in Atlanta that were shot elsewhere that decided to stick around. Its insane, I know, its crazy, and its fun, and I couldn’t do it without the team. My colorist and partner, John Petersen has been threading film and helping color deliverables for the majors for over 20 years, and now he’s seeing them stick around for his talents. It is his expertise, along with our technicians that helped push our business to the next level. Getting a post house recognized by LA as a collaborator in the movies has been difficult and we finally got there.”
Sawyer continued, “What makes us different is that we’re a business comprised of filmmakers who also still maker their own stuff. As a filmmaker you serve the story, no matter what. And as editors, we have to serve the story; that is our responsibility. We have to make sure the story is great, let alone make sense. At the same time, as a business we have to do the dance and also serve the producer. Learning and working and establishing trust with producers is our success. Once you establish that bullet proof vest with a producer, they know they can come to you for anything. Producers need that, they need to know that we care about those details and serve their story and their bottom line. Making those relationships count has given us our edge. It is a holistic art form as I said. We’re not just doing the work; we’re doing what we love to do.”
“The cool thing about our higher profile projects is that it affirms our business model. When bigger brands are willing to reach out to Georgia, we want to be ready. We’ve been training and have capability, the team, the means and imagination to adapt to anything so we can provide solutions for Hollywood and others. During the last five years we’ve been doing exactly that, and we’ve been curating talent and investing back into the creative community. At Moonshine, we produce one another’s movies and make each other’s stuff while still servicing the majors. Sometimes our creations take off, some times they flop.”
“And now, every time we swing a punch, we hit harder, our skills have obviously been heightened since the industry burgeoned, and so has the quality of our products and the strength of our community. We are making TV series and servicing some of the best companies in film and TV right now. We’re learning from them and having a great time doing it.”
“We were here, and we’re lucky we were ready but we were practicing for it the whole time. We’re debt free. We’re happy. My staff is very seasoned, legitimate and accomplished. My key artists have been in the industry 25 years. And some of the team is young, however, this new wave of film hasn’t been in Atlanta that long and we cumulatively have a big advantage regardless of age.”
Sawyer concluded, “I’m self taught but I watched and learned from the best. I am thankful we have the opportunities to put our talent to work here in the State. It’s a really nice time to be telling stories in Georgia. I’m just lucky I was able to make my childhood dream into my life’s work and dream job. We’ve already proven the East Coast can do the work. Moonshine can do the work too. We just happen to look better in sunglasses.”
To learn more information about Drew Sawyer or Moonshine Post-Productions, visit their website at: http://www.MoonshinePost.com.