: Narrative Short
GENRE: Drama
STATUS: Post-Production


A team of booksellers seek meaning in a late night shift at their struggling, independent bookstore.


RETURNS is an understated and nuanced character study in the form of a tragicomic love letter to the world of independent bookstores and the unique people that populate them. The film follows a group of professional booksellers faced with an uncertain future. Out of economic necessity, their bookstore is rapidly transitioning away from books and into more lavish, expensive gift items such as gawdy purses and overwhelmingly scented perfumes. These booksellers that have committed their lives to the promotion of art and literature now feel as though they are becoming something else entirely: simple purveyors of product.  

As the film unfolds, the bookstore becomes home to distraught customers, nosy children, impatient thieves, annoyed security guards, and finally, happy and appreciative lovers of literature. All the while, the film pulls back on these moments to simply observe the characters as they meander, miscommunicate, disengage, and eventually reconnect with the choices and decisions that have brought them to their current existential crisis.


The primary goal of the film is to craft a thoughtful and subtly comedic portrait of people who have dedicated their lives to a noble craft, but forces, both internal and external, have brought their commitment into question. While our film will focus on the specific struggles of a single group of booksellers, really the film is about any individual or culture that is feeling devalued by technological progress and societal shifts. Does one roll over in defeat to a transitioning world? Is it more courageous to fight against change, or to embrace it?  Answers may be ambiguous and personal, but worth exploring nonetheless.

Aesthetically, the film will be shot in a naturalistic style. Static camera shots will be employed over more dynamic movement to allow for a more observational tone.  It is not a whimsical or overly sentimental story, so the performances and tone will rely on honesty and subdued emotion. The color palette will lean toward a soft, almost vintage look to convey the idea of the characters feeling out of place and time. There will be much color and life around the edges of the frame and backgrounds of the store itself.  Happiness IS the bookstore for most of the booksellers, but they don’t always see it because of the uncertainty of their future. The scenes that bring focus to the non-book products will be shot to appear almost too lit, too nice, like their trying too hard to be noticed.  In contrast, the book sections and shelves will be shot in flat, muted tones to suggest their seeming lack of exterior pomp and glamour. 

Our hope is that this short will be a new take on how people cope with sudden professional and cultural changes, and the bittersweet emotions that come with it. There are no grand realizations or explicit epiphanies, but simply an attempt to mine the small, quiet moments that we experience everyday, and how they shape our perception of the ever-changing world around us. While the film does not attempt to issue a loud clarion call for the support of  independent bookstores, we do hope that audiences will have a deeper respect and empathetic understanding of the bookselling community.


Joseph Carr - Writer/Director

Joseph Carr is a graduate of the University of Memphis film department and has worked as an actor in FERAL (dir. Morgan Jon Fox) and THE DEPT OF SIGNS AND MAGICAL INTERVENTION (dir. Melissa Sweazy). In addition, he has worked as the assistant director for TEAM PICTURE (dir. Kentucker Audley), and producer/assistant director of DEFAULT SETTINGS (dir. Eric Tate), and LIGHTS CAMERA BULLSH*T (dir. Chad Allen Barton). He is the recipient of the 2014 Indie Memphis Production Grant for RETURNS.  It will mark his directorial debut.

Ryan Earl Parker - Director of Photography

Ryan Earl Parker has applied his uniquely perceptive cinematography to a wide variety of film projects, producing high quality, sophisticated results with an economical approach and a wealth of imagination. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Memphis, he is a recent graduate of the Global Cinematography Institute founded by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and Yuri Neyman, ASC.  He is a Certified Colorist from the International Colorist Academy and recently completed the American Society of Cinematographers Master Class in Los Angeles under the instruction of Kramer Morgenthau, ASC, Alfonso Beato, ASC, ABC, and Bill Bennet, ASC, to name a few. 

Morgan Jon Fox - Producer

Named one of the "25 new faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine (2009), he has directed 4 feature films (THIS IS WHAT LOVE IN ACTION LOOKS LIKE, BLUE CITRUS HEARTS) which have screened at over 50 film festivals worldwide and have been honored with over 15 best of fest awards. He produced HOLY LAND (dir. Kentucker Audley, 2010), associate produced MEMPHIS (dir. Tim Sutton, Sundance 2014), and a slate of projects for Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), including several music videos and the feature length documentary INDIE ORIGINS (2013, BR2). Fox also served as assistant director and editor for Brewer’s MTV web & tv series, $5 COVER, which launched at Sundance in 2009. His new web series, FERAL, is currently in post-production.

Chad Allen Barton - Producer

Chad Allen Barton is the co-founder of the Memphis-based production company, Piano Man Pictures.  He has written, produced, & directed several short films (AM I, HIRSCH) that have screened at numerous festivals, including ones in Los Angeles, New York, and London.  He has produced award winning music videos, as well as the North Mississippi All-Stars concert documentary, WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING (dir. Cody Dickinson). His feature film directorial debut, LIGHTS, CAMERA, BULLSH*T, is currently in post-production.


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