New York Filmmaker with Birmingham Ties

Birmingham filmmakers continue to capture the public’s attention and win awards.

Alabama native, Davis Browne, is currently celebrating accolades for his new film, Capsules. Browne, who grew up in Mountain Brook and attended The Altamont School, co-wrote and starred in the indie film that is now streaming on Apple TV+. The film premiered at The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival in December 2022 in midtown Manhattan and won “Best Feature.”

You can get your copy here.

This comes in the wake, of course, of the phenomenal success of Everything Everywhere All at Once from director Daniel Scheinert and film editor Paul Rogers, both of whom grew up in the Birmingham area, too.

I wrote a piece for Over the Mountain Journal about Scheinert and Rogers and followed up with another article about Browne.

Capsules is a mix of genres including horror and comedy. “It’s a sci-fi coming-of-age thriller about these four college kids, who though they are very book smart, they are also pretty naive at the same time,” Browne says. During an intoxicated study session ahead of a chemistry test, they decide to take some pills they found on the street—pills, it turns out, that are filled with an unknown substance. “They experiment with the pills, and they quickly realize that if they don’t keep taking them, they’ll die,” Browne says. “And they encounter a series of increasingly morally challenging dilemmas as they try to figure out how the pills work.”

Browne co-wrote the film with Luke Momo, a fellow filmmaker from Fordham University. Momo directed the film, and Browne stars in it alongside fellow Fordham graduates Caroline Potter Shriver and (supporting actor) Ben Strate. Other Fordham alumni worked with them on sound effects, costumes, makeup, music and more. Except for a character named “the old man,” everyone in the cast was under age 25 when they made this film.

Browne and Momo previously worked together on a short film called The Stamp Collector, which played at Sidewalk Film Festival in 2021. They got together a few years ago at a New Jersey pizza shop to talk about making a feature-length version of The Stamp Collector, but then the idea for Capsules came up. They developed the plot over the next two days. Two weeks later, they had a first draft and began editing. Filming started in late January 2022 and took a mere eight days. By December, Capsules was on the big screen. Then they landed an Oscar-nominated distributor, Good Deed Entertainment.

Capsules is intense. Browne says they filled two theaters during the premiere. The audience laughed in all the right places, were stunned to silence at times and one viewer even threw up.

Filming on a Cell Phone

Browne, who just turned 26, has been making films since he was in elementary school at Crestline in Mountain Brook. One of the first, he says, was The Teleporting Man, which he made with a few classmates.

“We were about nine years old, and I had a cell phone because my parents both worked. … The cell phone had a recording function. This was before touch screens and everything. It had a full keyboard, and you could record—I want to say—three-minute-long videos. Something like that.” You press record and three minutes later it would just stop, he says. “But instead of stopping and creating a new clip, it would just stop in the middle of that same video. So, you could just pause what you’re recording and then go and record something else, but … it’s all on the same video file.” Rehearsals were a must.

This stop-and-start situation lent itself nicely to The Teleporting Man who was always teleporting in and out of scenes—and trouble.  

They filmed the first one and kept going. “We had a whole series of them,” Browne says. “We had The Teleporting Man Gets a Girlfriend and The Teleporting Man has a Family Reunion where everybody else is teleporting, too.”

A few years later, Browne and this group of friends were making videos on his Mac computer. “We used my room as a soundstage. We’d just set up different props and do a talk show or something. Just make little videos, whatever we could do but filming within the scope of the computer, so it was kind of stationary. But we liked that we could go in and edit on iMovie where you can add music. You could add a Kanye song; you could add a title sequence.” Once he got to high school, Browne had access to actual cameras, and he entered one of his high school films in the student competition at Sidewalk Film Festival.

“It’s kind of cool to see how the technology has grown,” he says “A nine-year-old right now making a movie … they can make a 4K movie on their phone and edit on TikTok and it will look and sound great. But the first things we were making, if you watch them now, they probably look like it was filmed on a potato.”

Browne says what he really enjoys—what captured his interest from a very young age—is the storytelling aspect of making a film.

“At the heart of it, it’s just telling stories. I’ve always loved telling stories, even in a social capacity. Just being in a group of people and being able to make somebody laugh or being able to keep people on edge. I just think there’s something about telling stories and the way that you can do it in film that is really powerful.”

Making films, however, was more of a leap of faith.

“Growing up in Birmingham, I couldn’t tell that making movies was a real job. It seemed so far away; it seemed like it was just this magical land, this kind of mythical Hollywood. I was really inspired by the friendships that I had. Most of my stories revolve around friendships, and you’ll see that in Capsules. … I just met so many great people in Birmingham, and I really cherish the friendships and the relationships I made there.”

Based in Birmingham

Browne lives in Brooklyn now, but Birmingham still draws him home.

“There’s something about the city, too, that’s always inspired me. We have so many great locations, and I love the architecture there. One of my dreams is to actually make a movie in Birmingham—and not just make a movie in Birmingham but have it be based in Birmingham. It’s amazing how much they’re filming in Birmingham now. But I think most of them, within the film, it doesn’t take place in Birmingham. It’s just shooting in Birmingham. … I want to make a movie in Birmingham that takes place in Birmingham.”

He fully intends to do this. Another incentive besides the desire to tell a Birmingham story? The state’s film tax credits—the rebates to production companies spending more than $500,000 is 25% for expenditures incurred in Alabama and 35% of payroll paid to Alabama residents. “It’s one of the best in any state,” Browne says. He recently talked to a colleague about filming here instead of in Kentucky.

Browne’s advice to aspiring filmmakers:  patience and persistence.

“I think it’s very easy, especially if any young artists are out there reading this, to just be really impatient with what you’re doing. It’s so hard to do at first, and you just have to keep doing it. Know that what you’re going to write is going to be so much worse than what you want it to be. But eventually, if you keep working, your skill will meet up with your taste. I think that patience—patience with yourself—is key.”

Cultivating and nurturing “a kind of grace that you have with yourself and your work” is the lesson Browne says he’s most proud to have learned. “You never know where the process is going to take you. You’ve got to know that every bit of work you’re putting in will be somewhere, even if it doesn’t lead to what you think it’s going to,” he says. “Anybody can make a movie, and I think, growing up in Birmingham, I didn’t really realize that. It just felt so far away. I’m glad that Daniel and Paul have had the success they’ve had. It’s amazing, and hopefully that brings more attention to what you can do—for people who maybe want to get in that industry in Birmingham but also, even on an independent scale, anybody can make a movie. It’s so worth your time to just go out and try to make something.”

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