Michael O'Rourke, a former Rogue Valley resident and a co-founder of Actors' Theatre, recently was recognized by The Indie Fest, a virtual, international film festival, for his independent film, "Refuge of Dragonflies."

Michael O'Rourke, a former Rogue Valley resident and a co-founder of Actors' Theatre, recently was recognized by The Indie Fest, a virtual, international film festival, for his independent film, "Refuge of Dragonflies."

Now based in Chicago, O'Rourke helped establish Actors' Theatre (currently home of Camelot Theatre Co. in Talent) in 1982 and served as its producing artistic director for 13 years.

"During all of those years with the Actors' Theatre, I had aspirations of becoming a filmmaker," O'Rourke says. "Whenever we had photo shoots, we ran them like a movie set. We were careful with lighting and framing."

Ashland photographers Helga Motley and Robert Jaffe were among those who worked on those photo sessions.

The Indie Fest acknowledged O'Rourke's film with two Awards of Merit — one to O'Rourke for his screenplay adaptation and one to composer John Mazzei for the film's original score.

"While I was still with Actors' Theatre, I took Jerry Hirschfeld's cinematography class at Southern Oregon State College in 1992," O'Rourke says. "His stuff was way over my head. He worked exclusively with film stock. I was swimming."

Hirschfeld worked as cinematographer for the films "Young Frankenstein," "My Favorite Year," "Goodbye Columbus" and "Diary of a Mad Housewife," among many others. Hirschfeld and his wife, Julia Tucker, retired in Ashland around the early '90s.

"About two years ago, Jerry received the lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers," O'Rourke says. "His wife writes screenplays and critiqued several of my scripts."

The Hirschfelds also serve on the advisory board of the Ashland Independent Film Festival.

"Jerry's course paid off when I entered Palm Beach Film School," O'Rourke says. "I had a solid foundation."

O'Rourke wrote, directed and edited "Refuge" while attending the film school in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"It was a crash course," O'Rourke says. "The school taught screenwriting, directing, editing and producing."

His screenplay is based on characters in Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame." The adaptation features an international cast and crew and was filmed in West Palm Beach. The film uses images and scoring to tell the centuries-old story of the struggle between innocence and corruption, creativity and destruction, love and obsession.

In April, O'Rourke earned the Accolade Award of Merit for his direction of the "Refuge." The two Indie Fest awards followed in September. The Indies recognize filmmakers who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity. First-time filmmakers are often recognized. The festival receives entries from all over the world.

O'Rourke formed Shadow FX Films as its executive producer in 2002 with his wife, Becky Jones, and Jim Stasek, who worked as a technical director and production manager at Actors' Theatre.

Before coming to Ashland and working for seven seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, O'Rourke earned a master's in theater and broadcasting at the University of Wyoming.

"I started out as a carpenter at OSF," O'Rourke says. "I did a little bit of everything, as well as directing several of OSF's Black Swan Projects. The projects were low-budget performances presented at midnight. They were open only to friends of the company.

"There were many of us at OSF, including myself, Jim Edmondson and Mark Murphey, who wanted to show our ambition and ideas," O'Rourke says. "The projects were a means to express ourselves. They juiced up my day."

O'Rourke has written 13 produced plays and an award-winning screenplay, "In the Land Where Acorns Dance."

While working as a freelance filmmaker in Chicago, O'Rourke also writes grants for the Midwest Independent Film Festival.

"It is a unique group," O'Rourke says. "It is dedicated to Midwest filmmakers, producers and actors. There is a lot of filmmaking going on in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Chicago filmmakers are in the shadow of these centers. But there is a tremendous amount of talent here, and the Midwest festival is very aggressive about showcasing it."

Mazzei, now a composer for Harpo Productions, also worked with O'Rourke at Actors' Theatre as music director and the accompanist for Leona Mitchell's "Tribute to Judy Garland," which premiered in 1990 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland.

Does O'Rourke miss "the good old days" spent in the Rogue Valley?

"We miss Southern Oregon a lot," he says. "We are homesick, so who knows."

Visit www.sfxfilms.blogspot.com for more about O'Rourke.