Christopher Newman sits at a small table in the corner of a coffee shop on campus. A small black coffee sits on the table in front of him. His attire is a balance of rugged and class, with a plain simple shirt, skinny jeans and shoes resembling John Varvatos. Newman’s bushy beard gives off the vibe of an independent, yet reserved man.
“I’ve been told I’m different than how I look,” he says, laughing. “I think I look douchier than I am, but my roommate has continuously told me, ‘Chris everyone loves you.’”
Newman’s a local filmmaker, a graduating senior at UNC Charlotte. The 26-year-old Raleigh native returned to the university after working for computer hardware store for five years. He admits he got stuck, got too comfortable, which in turn made him extremely uncomfortable.
“Night and day from where I was living in Raleigh to here,” he said. “Absolutely night and day.”
Back home, he grew up watching John Wayne and James Dean movies with his father. And throughout high school, he consistently told his parents and his school counselors he wanted to pursue a career in film, but he was always put down.
But now, Newman has found ways to be successful as an independent filmmaker and actor in the Charlotte area, acting in short films throughout his early 20s, which have ranged in depth and genre.
He’s written a 200-plus page screenplay and a pilot episode for his own series, the latter of which he has also filmed. Currently, he’s working with a group of guys that produce stylized action shorts. Newman loves what he’s accomplished here in the Queen City and in North Carolina, but after he walks the stage in May, the aspiring filmmaker looks to make a splash on some of the bigger scenes.
“Like Louis C.K. said one time, to his daughter on the show ‘Louie,’ ‘You’ve seen none percent of this world. You don’t know anything about anything,’ and it’s like, I feel like that sometimes,” Newman said. “I’ve seen zero percent of anything, and it’s unfair to me and to everyone else – they need to, they need to see me!” He laughs and takes another sip of his coffee.
Cut to an office.
A sign reading ‘FILMS= JOBS’ hangs on the wall over the computer of Rodney Stringfellow, an adjunct professor in Film Studies at UNC Charlotte. He turns around in his chair and ponders for a moment.
“I would love to see him get a break as both a writer and director,” he says about Newman. The soulful and energetic film professor taught Newman in two different film classes, and from the moment he turned in his first screenplay about mobsters, Stringfellow took note of what the aspiring filmmaker could accomplish. He noticed Newman’s stories were always based in reality and always had a level of authenticity to them.
“He not only could write, but he knew what to write about,” Stringfellow said.
He subsequently worked with him on the production of the aforementioned web series pilot episode he filmed, “Still Famous.”
Newman had never created his own production from start to finish before he shot the pilot, which details the life of a celebrity who tries to ground his life back in reality after a very public breakup. “I had never edited, never shot anything really seriously,” he said. “I’d done like wedding videos. It was my first scripted thing I’ve ever messed with.”
Stringfellow recalls the production day again.
“I never got the impression that he didn’t know what he was doing,” Stringfellow said. “He brought sincerity and authenticity to his performance. His writing and production deserved more than what I could give him.”
Stringfellow oversees UNC Charlotte’s student-run film festival every year, and Newman submitted his work to the Best Short Screenplay category. It was read at last year’s reception. Of all his accomplishments so far, he puts that one close to his heart. He was happy to be a contender and to be recognized for his work.
Jordan Snyder, a fellow film studies student at the university, competed alongside him and from then on, he has been able to see what Newman has going for him in the industry. “I think he has the potential to be both in front of the camera and behind the scenes; he has that versatility going for him,” Snyder said. “I’d like to see what he’s capable of.”
Cut back to the coffee shop.
Newman sits back in his chair, still pondering on his goal to be successful in the industry. “I’ve burdened myself with that goal,” he said. “Once you find that thing, like ‘Wow, I was born to do this,’ doing anything else is suicide.”
He believes he was born to do this. Now, with the whole world in front of him, Newman can prove to himself and to others that this real life screenplay of his is a long way from being over.
“I’m excited, frankly.” He smiles, puts his hand in a fist and places it on his leg. He leans forward and smirks. “But don’t call me Frank.”