Atlantan Bill Burton returns to movie-making roots with ‘My Sweet Misery’

Though many people might know him best as the drummer for the long-running Atlanta rock band the Swimming Pool Q’s, Bill Burton makes his living working as a director of photography on film and video shoots.

“I was one of those guys who made Super 8 films when I was a kid,” Burton said. “I fell in love with filmmaking and planned to go to film school, but I guess I got distracted by music.”

Burton eventually graduated from Georgia State University with a master’s in film. And nowadays, he works at Spots, a film production company based in Atlanta that specializes in television commercials and comedy shows.

Burton’s projects include “The Lance Krall Show” on Spike TV and the VH1 series “Free Radio,” which begins airing on Comedy Central at midnight Nov. 17. But he has always had a special place in his heart for narrative independent films.

Recently, Burton completed work on “My Sweet Misery,” a seriocomedy that marks the feature debut of South Carolina writer/director Matthew William Jordan. It screens today and Thursday at the Crossroads 16 theater in Conyers.

Shot in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Columbia on a shoestring budget over a period of three weeks, it stars Zach Hanks (“Come Away Home”), Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl,” “In the Loop”) and Thomas Jay Ryan (“Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim”).

Jordan said it’s the story of a “disconnected man haunted by a past that is coming full circle in strange and surreal ways.” But Jordan’s takes on his down-and-out, working-class characters — by turns satirical and touching — prompt comparisons to the films of Hal Hartley and, more obliquely, Vincent Gallo. And Burton’s inventive cinematography gives the production a look that beautifully matches its brooding and often wacky bent.

Q: How did you get together with Matthew William Jordan?

A: He sent me the script and I thought it was great. And he insisted on shooting on film, which was really great.

Q: Can you talk a little about the shoot?

A: We shot at the beach in the winter, which has a really cool kind of light, and you couldn’t capture that on anything other than film.

It’s a very old-school kind of approach, which fit the script perfectly. Our gear, including the camera, was all late ’70s and early ’80s vintage, and so the film actually has that vibe and look.

Q: You shot on Super 16 millimeter, but you also shot some flashback sequences on Super 8 — was it fun going back to your roots?

A: It really was. What was more amazing, I used the camera I shot with as a kid. And I think on the last shot, it blew up.

Q: What do you most enjoy about doing a project like this?

A: You don’t do these independent movies for money. You really do it for the love, as stupid as that sounds. It’s real filmmaking. You get to work with actors for weeks at a time. And you get to do lots of lighting and lots of setups.

Q: What about the cast and crew?

A: It was the smallest crew I’ve ever had on a feature. Our entire camera, lighting and grip department was three people, including me.

We didn’t have a boom operator. On the first day on location, Zach Hanks and Anna Chlumsky were doing a scene, and I started to wonder who was holding the boom. Turns out, it was Thomas Jay Ryan — he was booming for his fellow actors.

Q: So everyone really rallied around the production?

A: They all loved the hands-on atmosphere. Anna even did her own makeup. I mean, it really was completely collaborative. But Matthew is one of those guys you want to do your best for.

Q: What was your take on him?

A: He’s the real deal as a filmmaker. He wrote the script and raised the money and did the casting. He kept moving this thing forward with no real experience. It’s astonishing. If you read the script, it is on screen. It is a literal translation from the page to the screen.

Q: Why should people go see “My Sweet Misery”?

A: It’s really, really rare for a film with a budget this small to actually be projected somewhere. You won’t see a $100,000 film at a major theater chain very often. And this one works really well in theaters. If you’re a fan of independent filmmaking, this is a rare opportunity.

Film screening

“My Sweet Misery”

4:10 and 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Crossroads 16, 1536 Dogwood Drive S.E., Conyers. 770-922-4104.