Changing Channels 

Mark Joy takes a commercial break to bring his movie to life.

click to enlarge art22_film_mark_joy_100.jpg

You've seen Mark Joy's face before. The Richmond actor has appeared in just about every television drama ever made, from "Dawson's Creek" to "The Wire" and "Law & Order," and on the big screen, playing major roles in films such as "Pecker," "Big Momma's House 2" and "Dogma." He's also, whether you realize it or not, Mark Down, the pitchman for Sheehy Ford.

But "sometimes," Joy says, "it gets to the point where an actor needs to create his own work." So that's exactly what he did.

"For many years I've had lots of ideas for scripts in my computer at various stages — mostly very short and very incomplete stages — of development," he says. But then in the spring of 2006, inspiration struck at Pony Pasture.

"I was just in a playful mood and I started speaking in this voice that sounded sort of evil and otherworldly," he says. "I thought, 'Wow, that's kind of dark. I wonder where that comes from,' and decided it was the Beast. And then this story, this idea, kept coming out of me and I couldn't stop it."

That idea was "The Beast of Burden," a 37-minute feature that Joy produced and in which he stars, making its world premiere at the Byrd Theatre. The story revolves around FBI agent Sam Marra (Joy), who unsuccessfully investigates a string of abductions in the small fictional town of Burden, 30 miles west of Richmond. Ten years later, he's still haunted by that failure and must face it again when the Beast reappears.

Joy brought in local scribe Michael Mullen to write the screenplay, and director Jack Hartman of Studio 108 to point the camera. Then he set about raising the necessary $100,000.

"In the process of putting this together, at some point I wanted to have confidence that I knew what I was doing," Joy says. "And I never got there." But the money was raised, even though "it was a strange feeling to ask people for money, and then have them give it to me."

A local cast and crew that Joy says worked for much less than they're worth saw the project through to completion, but Joy was still $20,000 over budget. As luck would have it, the film received exactly that amount in grant money from the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund in 2006.

Joy calls that "a tremendous gift" for which he was extremely grateful. But he's disappointed that no Opportunity Fund was made available to other Virginia filmmakers in 2007.

"It really does put a lot of people to work," he says. "And the economic impact is just staggering when a film shoots in Virginia."

While a premiere usually marks the end of a project, Joy envisions "The Beast of Burden" as the beginning of a larger project titled "The Twelve." He describes it as "a collection of short features similar to 'The Beast of Burden' in that they all involve some sort of a spiritual principle. … We're not going to pontificate at all, we're just going to tell dramatic stories that happen to be examples of how principles are played out in people's lives." S

"The Beast of Burden" world premiere at the Byrd Theatre is Saturday, June 2, at 2 p.m. 353-9911.

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