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Filmmakers from Gwinnett and Atlanta hit it big at Sundance

At the Sundance Film Festival, Atlanta filmmaker David Bruckner wasn't too happy when people left the theater during the premiere screening of his movie "The Signal." Bruckner, a graduate of South Gwinnett High School, co-directed the horror movie with Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry.

"I thought they were bored and I was going, 'Oh no, oh God, they hate it,'" Bruckner said.

Actually, the people who left the theater were industry representatives who went out to the lobby to make phone calls and send text messages about the film. "It turns out they loved it," Bruckner said.

After the screening ended, the producers of "The Signal" left the theater to make a movie deal. Magnolia Pictures bought "The Signal" for $2.3 million and plans to bring it to theaters, perhaps in late summer. The film is expected to appeal to horror and sci-fi fans.

"The movie is about a mysterious signal that is transmitted over the airwaves," Bruckner said.

This signal quickly drives people to violence and everyone starts to go crazy. The low-budget horror movie focuses on three stories, one of which Bruckner directed. The other two stories were directed by Bush and Gentry.

After making the movie in Atlanta last year, the filmmakers decided to send it to Sundance and were somewhat surprised when it was accepted for the festival.

"It was an offering to the gods. We didn't think we'd get in," Bruckner said.

A career begins

Bruckner, who graduated from South Gwinnett in 1996, started making films in high school with a group of friends.

"We'd do anything we could with a video camera. If we found a video camera, we were shooting a movie," he said.

As a student at South Gwinnett, he worked on "Planet South," the school's television show. After graduation, he headed to the University of Georgia.

"I knew I wanted to keep making movies, but I didn't know how realistic that was," Bruckner said.

In Athens, he decided to study telecommunications, in part because the school didn't offer a degree in film. But making movies was still a major part of his life as a student.

"I got there and I just kept making stuff. I couldn't stop making stuff," Bruckner said.

He directed six episodes of a soap opera called "Rumors," which was shown on the campus cable channel, and got school funding to make a movie that was written by another student. In college, he met many of the people he still works with today, including several of his current business partners.

While making a movie as a class project, he met Gentry, one of the directors of "The Signal." Bruckner and Gentry started working together to really learn how to make movies. They moved to Atlanta, where they got involved in the underground film scene.

"We made lots and lots of short films. We made music videos. We made anything we could get our hands on," Bruckner said.

At the suggestion of their mentors at PushPush Theatre in Decatur, they started The Dailies Project. "It's a workshop and what we do is challenge each other," Bruckner said.

Whatever the challenge, each filmmaker has to make a movie about it. One challenge might be to tell the story of a photograph. Another could be shoot a fight scene. The resulting films are shown at the next workshop.

"It was a safe place to fail, a safe place to develop a voice," Bruckner said.

"The Signal" was developed from one of these workshop projects. The three directors began writing the movie in late 2005 and started filming in January 2006.

"We really leapt into it," Bruckner said.

He expects his Sundance success will allow him to continue making independent films - and maybe even to get health insurance.

The South Gwinnett grad would like to encourage young filmmakers and remembered some advice he was given.

"The biggest thing that one of my mentors told me was just pay attention all the time. Listen to the world around you. Shut up and listen and you'll find that every day is a monumental series of events and that there are stories surrounding you at all times," Bruckner said.