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Football, wrestling coach is now award-winning filmmaker
Dodson filmmaker
Eric Dodson, left, operates a camera on the set of a music video in Atlanta with some help from Ollie & Panda Films crew member Thomas Daniel Hendrix, who has since starred in Dodson's award-winning short film "Claire." (OLLIE & PANDA FILMS/special)

With his ongoing course change from coaching and teaching at Bulloch Academy into full-time filmmaking,  Eric A. Dodson has quickly ventured into award-winning territory. 

His short film “Claire” won him the honor of Best Indie Filmmaker at the Top Shorts Film Festival, based in Los Angeles, when the awards were announced at the end of July. With a running time under 15 minutes, "Claire" boils down the story of the shooting death of a police officer's sister to the officer's intense interrogation of the shooter.

With a dark, shadowy, minimalist two-light set that nourishes a sense of foreboding and flashbacks that seem subliminally brief, the film also became a finalist this summer in the Best  Production Design and Best Set Design categories at the IndieX Film Fest. 

“Here recently, in the last six months, I decided to stop teaching and coaching and focus on filmmaking full-time, and that’s where ‘Claire’ came about,” Dodson said. “I had it on the back burner for a little while, met some good friends  here,  some people who’d never been in filmmaking, never even thought about it, put  a makeshift crew together ...  and there it went.”

2 paths go by

He said he has "had to choose between two loves," sports and filmmaking.

Dodson grew up in Thomasville, where he excelled at football his senior year with Thomas County Central High School Yellow Jackets. He was named an All State and All Region quarterback and Offensive Player of the Year.

But he had been using a still camera from age 6 or 7, having learned technical aspects from his father, a physician assistant by profession but dedicated to photography as a hobby. The younger Dodson then developed a fascination with filmmaking watching TV and movies.

Going to Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, on a full-ride scholarship, Dodson played football again with the Shorter Hawks and was starting quarterback his sophomore through senior years. He also attained a bachelor's degree in communications, with film and broadcasting as his focus.

But he cautiously kept filmmaking a part-time pursuit and became a coach instead. Dodson came to Statesboro, and Bulloch Academy, following Bill Shaver, his former Thomas County Central football coach who became BA's offensive coordinator  and quarterback  coach  but has since retired.

Dodson arrived as running backs and defensive backs coach, then last year was the Gators' defensive coordinator. He was also Bulloch Academy's wrestling coach the past two seasons and has served as elementary grades technology teacher.

Meanwhile, he had launched his little production company, Ollie & Panda Films,  named for two beloved Siberian Husky dogs, in 2016. Among other things, Dodson produced hype videos for BA sports and some more general promotional pieces for the academy.

Working with other "creatives," filmmaking enthusiasts he knows in the Atlanta area, he honed his  camera skills and eye for set design. Subcontracted to other production companies, he served as Steadicam operator and director of photography for a music video for country and rap artist Colt Ford and did similar work with gospel artist Doe.

With Dodson as the director, Ollie & Panda Films also completed some videos for country singer-songwriter Stevenson Everett, including one for CMT's “Next Up Now” series.

Year of commitments

It was while school was shut down by the pandemic last spring that Dodson sealed one big decision, to become a full-time filmmaker. 

“Once I sat down and thought about it and I prayed about it, I talked to my  family and my wife — her name is Allyson, by the way, I better mention her — I talked it over with her, and you know it’s a big risk," he said.

He'd better mention her. They just got married June 27. Allyson, a teacher at Brooklet Elementary, also said yes to his adventure away from coaching and teaching and further into films.

“Now  I’m full-time and I’m really pursuing my dreams,” he said, “and I think my real reason why  I decided to do it full-time was that I was telling all of the kids that they could  follow their dreams and they could do all of these things, but I wasn’t doing it myself, and so I kind of felt like a hypocrite a little bit.”

His one remaining commitment to Bulloch Academy now is to continue as wrestling coach through next season.

"So ‘Claire’ was that first project that I could really put my all and my time into, and that’s why it’s such a special work for me," Dodson said.

For the character of Scott Westerfield, the family man who heard an intruder in the night and picked up a rifle, Dodson brought in Daniel Farias, an experienced actor, "paid him a good amount of money for his services" and put him up in a Statesboro hotel. For the role of Officer Mulholland, whose sister was killed, Dodson auditioned and cast Thomas Daniel Hendrix, from Statesboro, already an Ollie & Panda crew member but not previously an actor.

“And he absolutely killed it," Dodson said. "So I think he has a bright future as far as acting and filmmaking.”

Help from his friends

Dodson not only directed the actors, he also served as director of photography and camera operator. Terrance Micourt, a Georgia Southern  student who was previously Dodson’s  assistant  wrestling coach, served as boom operator and sound  recordist. They shot the film in three days, and with a help from friends subcontracted to add some post-production touches, Dodson called it a wrap within a total budget between $5,000 and $10,000.

The result is a suspenseful short film that carries an "M" for mature content rating on Vimeo. It contains some brief violence, but the violence is not the surprising part. Maybe it's the understanding reached.

Now Dodson is shooting wedding videos almost every weekend for the rest of the year and into 2021 and working on a sports-related documentary.

He also plans to begin pre-production before long on his first feature film, called "Ghost Writers," from a script he has been working on for more than three years.

Eric A. Dodson
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