By the time Will Martin graduated from Savannah’s H.V. Jenkins High School, his juvenile diabetes was overtaking his future. “I was slipping into kidney failure, losing my eyesight and on dialysis,” he says. “Frankly, I didn’t know how long I would live.”
To stay close to his home-based support system, he enrolled in Savannah State University, where he studied mass communications and theater. “I love acting and I loved making things on the production side,” Will says. “In front of or behind the camera didn’t matter; I just wanted to be involved.”
Will’s journey to good health led to a double transplant on Sept. 11, 2002, and his recovery was remarkable, even better than his physicians had anticipated.
“With that second chance I decided to go for the dream of a career in film I thought I would never have,” he says.
Film was always his goal, but in the early 2000s that meant moving to Los Angeles or New York. “I was on dialysis three days a week and couldn’t drive, so I’d go to the campus, work on my studies and then just hang around the radio and TV stations,” he says.
Eventually he switched to peritoneal dialysis, which enabled him to treat himself at home instead of going to the clinic. Confined to his room for 8-to-10 hours for each treatment, he would watch movies and let his eager imagination dream about the film career he would have if he were healthy.
Things started to turn his way when his physicians recommended a kidney/pancreas transplant. “I was on a waiting list for about a year when one day I got a call from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville,” he says. “I had a special beeper and had gotten a couple of wrong numbers, so when it beeped a third time one day, I was surprised to hear, ‘ William, we have your organs. How soon can you get here?’”
Post-transplant, Will returned to Savannah State to graduate in 2004 and took a job at NBC affiliate WSAV. It was an opportunity to learn about shot composition, production techniques, script writing and editing. But his biggest lesson? Storytelling is universal, a insight that kept him anchored in various media –– including as an extra during the second season of “Underground,” then filming in Savannah –– while accepting a job as a program director in mass communication and journalism as Savannah State.
Then he met Carl Gilliard, founder of Savannah Feed the Hungry and now a state representative. Will wanted to tell Gilliard’s story, and actually started on a production, but soon realized he couldn’t do it himself. He needed a crew and a producer.
Enter Kareem McMichael, a classmate in the inaugural Film Academy class at Savannah Technical College. The two joined forces to create “Feed The Hungry,” the award-winning documentary released this spring.
Will says he feels blessed. “First, the transplants gave me a second chance. Then, while doing a story for WSAV about the new tax credits for films made in Georgia, I realized I didn’t have to go to L.A. or New York to find work in the film industry,” he says. “The film industry was coming to me.”
What’s next for this 36-year-old entrepreneur? “I want to be a director. I love the art of working with a crew and then editing what we’ve produced,” Will says. “I’m a good editor now. I want to be a great one.”
He also has ambitions for others in the film industry in Georgia: “I want to tell everyone that whether you’re a food vendor, costume maker or whatever, there’s a place for you in the industry here. Georgia really is that land of opportunity in films.”