By BROOKE WANSER
As author, inventor, attorney, film producer, and now board president of the Franklin Theatre, Kelly Frey is a true renaissance man.
Frey is known within the legal field for his work in early copyright law, developing digital rights licensing and working on fair use cases.
But he’s also known in Music City for his love of film, previously serving as the president of the Nashville Film Festival.
An award-winning information technology lawyer and partner at Nelson Mullins, Frey discovered his love for computers and coding while growing up on a dairy farm in the Nashville area.
“Instead of mowing yards for summer money, I was working on mainframes,” he said. “It was a little odd. I think probably I was a nerd before the word was created.”
Always interested in academia, Frey studied human pathology at Vanderbilt University after receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology.
He then moved to Memphis to work in the Fed-Ex center’s early technology sector. “I was hooked on technology,” he said, and on seeing a new business thrive.
“I saw that the lawyers got invited to all the meetings, so I decided, OK, I’ll go to law school, because that way I’ll get to go to all the meetings,” he chuckled.
Frey began his law career back in Nashville at a boutique firm, working with the fledgling Hospital Corporation of America.
He remembered one transaction in Philadelphia where he helped the company purchase six hospitals.
“I didn’t think anything about it, but those things are really unusual, once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Frey said.
Later, Frey helped take digital and social companies like Audible and eFavorites public during what he referred to as the “dotcom revolution,” and has worked on various cases for clients in the world of technology and online commerce.
Love for film
“I had this huge technology background, but film was never really approachable,” he said.
But when the post production process switched from film to digital, Frey jumped on board and began taking classes in movie making.
Working with the Nashville Film Festival, he reviewed hundreds of movies, subsequently meeting talented independent filmmakers.
“That’s the one thing that makes Nashville stand out in this industry, is the creative capital that we have,” Frey said.
He saw an opportunity to help those filmmakers with his legal expertise, signing on to be a producer and legal counsel for several features, including “Eating You Alive” (with James Cameron and Samuel L. Jackson), the recently released “Fogg: Diary of a Sociopath,” “The Odds,” “John Doe,” and “All Light Will End.”
Frey’s partner, Patti Titus, is also a writer and co-owner of Movie City Films.
Though he has his favorite films – “The English Patient” is one – Frey approaches filmmaking like a businessman.
“When I look at it from a production perspective, I always look at how can you recoup your investors’ investment,” he said. “It’s like playing poker. If you walk away from the table with money, that means you get to play again.”
Having a wide commercial appeal has led him to two genres on opposite sides of the spectrum: horror/thrillers and family-friendly features.
“I look at those as being morality plays, more than anything else,” he said of horror movies.
His next movie, which will be filmed in Franklin next year, is called “My Real Life Summer,” and focuses on a storyline where tweens must give up their digital devices during summer break.
The idea came up during a lunch with writer Brian Baugh. Both men were on their phones, when they decided to put their phones down to talk.
“Brian’s like, ‘That would make a great movie!’” Frey said.
Franklin Theatre and Heritage Foundation involvement
Growing up, “I loved grand old theatres,” Frey said. “Even when I was in law school, there was a theatre that would have a classic night where they would actually have an organ come up out of the floor and play organ music, then they would show a movie from the 40s.”
Franklin architect Cyril Stewart connected Frey to the theatre during their renovation process, and, he served on the board for five years prior to assuming the executive role.
“Even though the Franklin Theatre is a nonprofit, we operate it like a business,” Frey said, “and we want to make sure that we’re cognizant of the responsibility we have to keep that theatre open, which means you’ve got to create great commerce opportunities.”
Frey and the board want to ensure the theatre remains financially solvent even through any economic downturns in the future.
They’re doing that by creating new opportunities to invest in the theatre, like the 1937 Club, the brainchild of Executive Director Dan Hays.
For a $1,937 commitment over a three-year period, patrons receive guaranteed first access to tickets for live performances, complimentary and reduced price tickets, and a $100 giftcard to the theatre each year.
“It’s the best 300-seat performance venue in the U.S.,” Frey said.
The impact the theatre has had on the downtown Franklin economy is undeniable, Frey said.
“It creates a focal point in the city, it creates a reason for people to come downtown,” he pointed out. “And if you’re coming downtown to see a show, you’re going to stop by and have a drink or have dinner, so everybody wins.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Executive Director Bari Beasley, who also sits on the theatre’s board, said she is excited to see how Frey continues to lead the organization forward.
“He is a collaborator. He is a person with great vision. He is a calming presence in a meeting, and he is a really solid leader who means a lot to the Heritage Foundation and the Theatre,” Beasley said. “We couldn’t ask for someone better to be in that role.”