Beyond BFF

Beyond BFF

‘Max Winslow’ proof of flourishing NWA film industry


One of the thrills Arkansas viewers got when the third season of HBO’s “True Detective” premiered was scoping out the locations and people they might recognize. As many know, much of the popular crime drama was filmed in the Ozarks last summer, adding to the growing list of increasingly noteworthy movie and television projects happily bolstering Northwest Arkansas’ film industry.

“It’s very exciting times, and I’m really thrilled for all the people involved, because there’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of people have waited a long time for this — a lot of sacrifice,” shares Robert Babcock. Babcock is a local actor and writer who also oversees volunteer services for the Fayetteville Film Festival.

We Have The Crew

Babcock also served as the associate producer on the next film Arkansas audiences will be scouring for familiar faces and locales. “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” was filmed in Bentonville and around Northwest Arkansas and will be released this summer by the same studio that produced “F.R.E.D.I.,” the 2018 Bentonville Film Festival winner of Best of the Fest.

“SkipStone Pictures stands for good, clean, wholesome family entertainment — a movie that you can go to with the whole family and everybody enjoy the movie,” explains producer Johnny Remo, chief executive of the studio behind the two films. “I think that’s what’s missing today, is that everybody’s off in their own room watching something different on their tablets and iPhones.

“Those movies where you used to sit down and watch as a family because there was something in it for all ages, I think those movies have gone away and ‘F.R.E.D.I.’ has brought that back,” Remo muses. “And the response even just from Northwest Arkansas, I mean, we wouldn’t have won Best of Fest if it wasn’t the most-enjoyed movie out of 110 movies at the Bentonville Film Festival.”

That response to “F.R.E.D.I.” simplified the question of where to film when Remo and director Sean Olson reunited late last year to begin another project. But it was also the reception from the community during the actual filming process that made returning to Northwest Arkansas a no-brainer.

“We could not have made this movie in L.A. Not in a million years,” Remo asserts of the coming film. “We had incredible sponsors — the list goes on and on of the people who supported us — and, I mean, we had over 170 extras at Bentonville High School for two days, and they were super excited to be there. That would never happen in L.A.”

Beyond being a background extra, more filming in the area has meant more openings for Arkansans interested in the industry. Both Remo and Babcock acknowledge the pieces are in place for some legitimate infrastructure to materialize — people just need the opportunity.

“We have a lot of really great people who work with the camera, work with lighting, work with all of that,” Babcock offers. “So when someone like SkipStone comes into town, I can reach out to these people and say, ‘No, no, no, we don’t need to go to L.A. to bring in somebody to do this job; we have them here.’ We have the crew, and the time is ripe for picking, so to speak.”

A Step Above

Described by the director as a little bit “Willy Wonka” and a little bit “Breakfast Club,” “Max Wilson” follows a group of five teenagers as they spend the night at a “smart” mansion for the chance to win the home. The house is owned by eccentric tech genius Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray) and will force the teens to face its inner workings and themselves before the night is through.

“It’s a very good character study with all these different characters, and we have such a stellar cast. For all of our five teens, we got our first choices, and they just blew us away,” Olson says. “And we wouldn’t be here without Jeff Wild’s writing. The success of the movie and the quality of the movie is a combination of the material the writer gives us to do and then I have to interpret it and put it in visuals. Everyone is really stepping up. I think they see the potential in the film, and I think we inspire each other to do better.

“I love ‘F.R.E.D.I.’ — I think this is a step above ‘F.R.E.D.I.’,” he adds proudly.

“My character goes through a lot, a lot of emotional changes,” actor Emery Kelly shares. Playing the troubled Aiden is a departure for Kelly, who more frequently portrays the “fun, young, dumb, cute jock,” he confesses. Fans will recognize him from the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Alexa & Katie,” or from season three of the Fox singing competition “The X-Factor” and subsequent years with pop group Forever in Your Mind.

Kelly says the chance to explore greater emotional depth with his first feature film role has taught him more about himself. It even inspired him to write a song for the film, “The Answers,” which brought the team together to shoot the tune’s music video while on location in Fayetteville. “What I’m learning from this movie is that it’s OK, you know? Everything is just OK. I don’t have to over-think too much. I don’t have to think of multiple scenarios of how it can go down. This film, this crew, this set, this song really opened my eyes to just how to be comfortable with myself.”

A New Threshold

In preparation for the film’s summer release, Remo promises Arkansans will see his face again — and maybe a few of the stars’ — at a special red carpet premiere in the Ozarks. But that’s not the only return trip he’ll be making. Remo already has his next project in the works, with hopes to begin filming mid-summer, and two more ventures coming down the pipeline.

Noting the increase in support and opportunities to tap local resources just in the year between “F.R.E.D.I.” and “Max,” Remo points to SkipStone’s existing relationships as an indicator for potential. During “Max,” the production was able to give paying positions to some of the interns for “F.R.E.D.I.” from John Brown University; Remo has held meetings with members of JBU and the University of Arkansas to discuss expanding internships; community leaders from Northwest Arkansas cities have already expressed excitement and pledged cooperation to SkipStone’s endeavors.

“It’s not that the people aren’t there and willing, it’s that they don’t have the knowledge or anybody to train them,” Remo says of the region’s film industry. “We want to try to implement something that will train them, have enough work there for them to stay there and actually make a living and learn the craft, and [they] can then teach next generations.”

“The community can be proud that this was made in Northwest Arkansas,” Babcock adds of “Max Winslow.”

“I think that’s our threshold is, the next thing, we have to make it equal to or better than. Because we want the community to be proud and keep this positive momentum going. And that’s how you build a good film area.”



Next Big Thing

“Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” premieres this summer, and producer Johnny Remo promises a special red carpet event for Northwest Arkansas, where the film was shot. SkipStone Pictures’ other Arkansas-filmed movie, “F.R.E.D.I.,” won honors at last year’s Bentonville Film Festival and is now streaming on Netflix. For more information, visit

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