Cinematic Release

Bob Mackey found stories to be an attractive means of escape as a child. Now a storyteller himself, he provides others with that same avenue through writing, producing and directing movies and television series.

by D.J. Dycus

Keep your eyes on Bob Mackey. He has already come a long way and still looks like someone who’s going places. There’s no telling where exactly, but Mackey seems to be one of those people who has a knack for success. It’s the result of more than talent and much more than luck. Mackey’s achievements can be traced to hard work, tenacity, self-confidence and smart decision making. 

At the ripe old age of 40, he has an astounding list of accomplishments to which he can point, but when you sit down to speak with him, it becomes clear that he believes he is just getting started. He has a calm, confident outlook. “I don’t look at 40 as 40 but as half of 80,” Mackey said with a laugh. He wonders about reaching the end of his abilities, not in an arrogant, prideful manner, but with an honest curiosity that inspires.

Mackey was raised in tough conditions—poverty and family instability—which had a profound impact on his life. To assist kids in circumstances like those into which he was born, he worked as a juvenile probation officer for the Department of Juvenile Justice from 2005 to 2010.

Eventually, Mackey returned to his childhood passion: stories. As a kid, he enjoyed going to the movies and recalls listening to the tales his grandfather used to tell. Mackey’s face radiates with joy when talking about storytelling. “It’s been around me my entire life,” he said. “Where I’m from, people spoke through stories. Even if it’s a simple message, a story draws people in, and this is even more true of movies that offer cinematic spectacle.” Mackey points to the idea that “movies paint a picture. They are a series of pictures, composed together, that tell a story.” Just as his grandfather passed along wisdom from his past, Mackey wants to join the older generations and pay it forward in his own way. As a boy in difficult circumstances, stories were a means of escape for Mackey. 

“I believe in hope, human possibility and imagination.”

Bob Mackey

“I saw myself on stage,” he said. “It all came back to movies like ‘The Five Heartbeats’ (a 1991 musical drama directed by Robert Townsend) or Ray Charles—people escaping their environments, settings similar to the one in which I was raised.” 

Stories were a source of hope and gave him something to work towards—the belief in a brighter tomorrow. To pursue his interest in telling stories, Mackey purchased a movie camera to learn the skills involved in cinemaphotography. He had sent off scripts before but never heard back from those established in the industry. Mackey ultimately decided to produce his own movie from the script he had written and financed it with his own funds. He had to be judicious due to a limited amount of money, but he decided to invest in a highly talented camera operator so he could learn the craft himself. Since that time—only a few years ago—Mackey has written, produced and directed a television series set in Forsyth County called “Oscarville: Below the Surface.” The show includes two cast members from Newton County. 

Oscarville was a community that lived west of Gainesville on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in the late 1800s. In 1912, however, 1,100 black residents were forced off the land and out of the county. In 1956, Buford Dam was completed and Lake Sidney Lanier began to fill, submerging the remains of the Oscarville community. This story is a part of Georgia’s past, but Mackey was intentional to not have it turn into a “black versus white thing.” He wanted to generate interest in Georgia’s history and to get people talking, and he managed to do so by producing a captivating story of mystery and excitement. The “Oscarville” series sparked a great deal of intrigue among Georgia educators and beyond. Mackey joined with community members to create an educational seminar based on his show, which he has hosted throughout the year.

The most recent extended project written and produced by Mackey is “Di Mattina,” a series about a mafia family. He wanted to reverse the roles of the typical stories about the mafia to which the public has grown accustomed. As the godfather, Jimmy Mattina is about to retire and turns the family business over to his granddaughter. “I was interested in exploring the loyalty of the granddaughter for her grandfather and in his belief in the potential of the next generation,” Mackey said. “I wanted to tell a story about family.” In addition to these scripted shows, Mackey’s production company, Heartland Media and Films, has several reality TV programs: a real estate show called “The Blind Deal: Atlanta” and a show highlighting black chefs from nontraditional backgrounds and pathways called “The Urban Chefs of Atlanta.”

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Mackey’s upbringing made him tenacious, which came from a place of necessity. It was a matter of survival. Through movies and television, however, he has transformed those challenges into stories of hope. Mackey is fully aware that real life does not play out like the narratives on the screen. 

“Every story doesn’t begin with a ‘once upon a time,’ nor does it end with a ‘happily ever after,’” he said, “but life is what you make of it.” 

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1 comment

  1. This was well written and expressed! And obviously encouraging, Dreams don’t have to be imagined! All you need is a vision! A little money to invest in your vision and a camera! Faith without works is dead! Very inspiring Mack! And so thankful for Newton Community Magazine for giving people the platform to share their stories. Awesome

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