Rogers Short Film Fest March 3-5 includes mystery by Sheila Webb Pierson

Rogers Short Film Fest March 3-5 includes mystery by Sheila Webb Pierson

It must have been a strange courtship for Sheila Webb Pierson and Jim Burroughs. They spent at least part of it writing a novel about a skull Burroughs found in a cave in the Ozarks.

“Believe it or not, my husband told me this story while we were dating in 2018,” Pierson begins. “It caught my attention as a unique mystery. I mean, an endangered crayfish is at the center of the story! The original landowner had political ties as a major fundraiser. The story basically wrote itself.”

The book was published in 2019, the couple married in 2020, and now “Endangered in the Ozarks” is a short film, premiering March 4 at the Rogers Short Film Festival. The 14-minute movie was shot on location in Northwest Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma — “we wanted to showcase the beauty” of the area, Pierson says — and stars familiar regional actors including John Honey and Justin Stewart along with Jamie Loy, recruited via the Cherokee Nation Film Office’s talent directory.

Like the novel, the storyline for the film starts with Burroughs’ discovery, “which led to many conversations around the former landowner and the identity of the skull. From there, we built the back stories of the characters [which] intertwine into a mystery of corruption from commodity trades to the White House.”

The fictional tale begins in 2010, when a character named Dave Reid hikes out to meet the woman he hopes to propose to that day. “Sadly,” says Pierson, “the day takes a drastic turn when he realizes he is being followed. He tries to outrun the assailant. But to no avail.”

Ten years later, a biologist — in the film named Jim Cunningham and played by John Honey — finds a skull in a cave, and the Arkansas State Police send Det. Lori Garringer (a Native American character played by Loy) to investigate. Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Toby Dobbs (played by Justin Stewart) realizes this discovery may implicate him in a crime, and Graham Barnes (Rusty Turner) is the political puppet master who definitely does not want the secret to come out.

“Detective Garringer knows this mystery is up to her to solve,” says Pierson. “She must find Dave’s killer and the reason Dave was there. She can feel in her bones; this case will lead her on a journey to being endangered.”

Pierson says when the book was launched, she was told it “read like a feature film.”

“We found some advice from (consultant) Demara Titzer. She suggested we write a short film to serve as a proof-of-concept for an agent,” Pierson says. “I went to a master class on how to write a short film, hosted at Crystal Bridges. We then proceeded to write eight different scripts. Seven were horrible. So we polished the eighth and then sought funding.

“We did launch an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign,” Pierson adds. “We were successful in raising a little. But this film is primarily self funded. Even my mom kicked in some cash!”

Pierson also sought creative help from people she knew, including Brian Stark of What My Eyes Have Seen Photography in Prairie Grove, who signed on a director of photography and suggested she use a young employee, Tor Skogen, as the director.

“Brian had ideas and helped mentor the crew for us,” Pierson says. “Brian is credited for getting this film into action.”

The Rogers Short Film Festival marks the debut of “Endangered in the Ozarks,” and Pierson hopes it is just the beginning. She has submitted the film to four other festivals, including one in Hollywood.

“We hope to catch the eye of an agent or streaming service,” she says, to make a feature-length version of “Endangered.” “We just don’t know exactly how to do that!”

“I feel like the future of this film project is bright,” enthuses Stewart. “It encompasses the elements of suspense, crime, politics, drama and a little bit of humor. On top of that, this story can be relatable to any community. Something like this can happen anywhere.”


Rogers Short Film Festival

WHAT — In its third year, the festival is presented by StudioChunky and the Victory Theatre.

WHEN — March 3-5

WHERE — The Victory Theatre in downtown Rogers

COST — $20 for one-day passes; $48 for three-day passes; $185 VIP

INFO —;; tickets at



Rogers Short Film Festival


March 3

Passholder check-in — 2-6 p.m., StudioChunky

Screenings, Brackets 1-5 — 3-6:40 p.m., Victory Theatre

(Student K-12, postsecondary)

Filmmaker meet and greet — 6:45-8:15 p.m., The Welcome Inn

March 4

Passholder check-in — 8:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m., StudioChunky

Welcome breakfast — 8:30-9:30 a.m., Brick Lane Books

VIP Lounge — 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Brick & Mortar

Opening ceremony — 9:45 a.m., Victory Theatre

Screenings — Brackets 6-14, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Victory Theatre

(Postsecondary, amateur)

Lunch by Torchy’s Tacos — 12:45-2 p.m., VIP Lounge

Filmmaker Happy Hour — 6:30-8:30 p.m., Mavis Wine Co.

March 5

Passholder check-in — 8:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m., StudioChunky

Master Class — Film Directing with Ellie Gravitte, 9:30 a.m.

VIP Lounge — 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Brick & Mortar

Announcements — 10:15 a.m., Victory Theatre

Screenings — Brackets 15-21, 10:20 a.m.-6:05 p.m., Victory Theatre


Awards Ceremony — 6:30 p.m., Victory Theatre

After-Party — 7:15-9:15 p.m., VIP Lounge

Categories: In The News