For a newcomer to the world of independent filmmaking, Estes Tarver of Raleigh has made a name for himself among those who have struggled to work in North Carolina’s film industry. In a roundabout way, the neophyte director gives credit to the disintegration of the Triangle movie industry scene for his career boost, as it forced him to Atlanta for work and led to the connections that helped him progress.
“I’ve been doing a lot of higher profile television acting work,” Tarver explains. He has appeared on such shows as MTV’s teenage drama “Finding Carter” and CBS’s now-canceled sci-fi thriller “Under the Dome.” “It helps me in other areas of my career. Every job is just a baby step into the next one. Atlanta is shooting more film and television than Los Angeles at this point, and Raleigh is basically the same market, so when my agent sends me down to Georgia to audition for work, I tend to connect with producers and talent that I can call on later with my own projects.”
Even with these contacts, Tarver, who has an MFA in acting from UNC Chapel Hill, never expected to see the success his feature film directing debut has garnered.
“Changeover,” a 2016 family drama which Tarver also wrote, deals with a young girl in the aftermath of the tragic death of her parents, coping with the personal turmoil and depression that comes with uprooting her life to live with an estranged uncle. In the months since the movie was released, it has been a force on the film festival circuit. Both Tarver and his film have racked up wins from such places as the Valley Film Festival in California’s San Fernando Valley and the Cine Film Festival in India.
In addition to directing and screenwriting, Tarver is the artistic director of North Raleigh’s Moonlight Stage Company, a black box theater for new works that provides acting classes, coaching and feedback sessions for writers. Indeed, Tarver is still most recognized for his acting. It remains to be seen if his talent can remain evenly distributed across all facets of movie-making.
“I think it started out with me saying, ‘Hey, I want to be an actor,’ ” he says, “but then I realized that it just all boils down to my desire to be a storyteller. Whether it’s as an actor, a writer or a director, I just love to tell stories. Over the last four or five years I discovered that it just becomes a question of how to make all of these desires work together. As I write and direct more, I’ve discovered the crazy thing is I have started getting more acting work. I’m working all of the time, which is a good thing as long as you love it, and I love it.”
Thanks to a distribution deal with online film streaming service Flix Premiere, “Changeover” is now widely available. But perhaps Tarver’s biggest challenge as a filmmaker lies ahead. He was recently chosen to be one of only five artists invited to participate in CINE Pitchfest, an event that awards the winner the opportunity to participate in a formal pitch meeting with executives at the cable network A&E. Working with a major cable channel would catapult Tarver’s career.
“The film that I’m pitching to A&E ... was written before ‘Changeover.’ It was just too hard to handle as a first film; there were too many components to the production that I needed to know before I jumped into this sucker.”
With an eye toward those ever important contacts, Tarver says, “What’s nice about opportunities like this is that so many industry people will be around it. Whether you win or not, they may go, ‘A&E didn’t want it, but we liked it. Let’s talk.’ ”