Philly native transforms movie blog into screening space at Bok Building

Ten years ago, Nicole Ayers’ “The Madlab Post” was a blog. Today, it’s a designated film space, screening short films from across the world in South Philadelphia. 

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Over the past two years, Nicole Ayers gradually transformed her movie-oriented blog, “The Madlab Post,” into an actual film studio and screening space located on the fourth floor of the Bok Building. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

While attending the former William Penn High School, Nicole Ayers filmed student-body activities and transformed the footage into miniature documentaries. 

Though she’s since upgraded her camera, the North Philly native has paved a career led by filmmaking, creating her own projects while concurrently highlighting the work of others. 

Over the last two years, Ayers gradually transformed her movie-oriented blog, “The Madlab Post, into an actual film studio and screening space located on the fourth floor of the Bok Building.

Established in 2005, “The Madlab Post” website was originally intended to publicize Ayers’ own films. However, the Madlab mission evolved over time – altering into a movie news source, a series of screenings and now a tangible residence at Bok, which she started renting two years ago. 

“I wanted to find a place that I could call my own without having to ask for permission or be restricted by time and budget in regards to things that I wanted to do,” Ayers said. “I wanted to encourage more people to appreciate the hard work that filmmakers put into their films and also get locals to be able to see films that they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see and even films that they never heard of.”

After graduating from William Penn, Ayers studied film production at the former Art Institute of Philadelphia before working as a videographer for Community College of Philadelphia’s athletics department.

She later dabbled in freelance writing for various companies and publications, including corporate and movie content, but Ayers was continuously crafting film scripts in her free time and eventually launched The Madlab Post. 

Shedding light on serious topics through a humorous lens, Ayers wrote one short comedy about AIDs and a mock commercial surrounding the high prices of adoption – to name a few. 

As a strong advocate against freebooting, she also made a short documentary about the online piracy of films. She even assisted other filmmakers on their works, including Kenya Branch’s “Are We Neighbors?” in 2012.

And although she occasionally went on a filmmaking hiatus, Ayers found a new life for Madlab.  

“I stopped making films, but I loved writing,” Ayers said. “So knowing how difficult independent filmmaking is, I decided that instead of shutting down the website, I would continue it but just use it to help other filmmakers.”

Interviewing local filmmakers, Ayers would post stories highlighting their work to help them raise funds for their projects. 

“I wanted to find out how they make their films, particularly how that production process impacted them,” Ayers said. “And if there were difficult challenges they had to overcome so that they could hopefully inspire other filmmakers who might be on the fence.” 

Around the same time, Ayers began volunteering at various local and national film festivals, including the Philadelphia Film Festival while also hosting her own screenings at theaters, including a space in Mount Airy.

Among her travels in 2012, she stumbled upon Couch Fest Films, a Seattle-based international festival of short films that are hosted in private homes. The single-day event eventually turned into a worldwide celebration, including an event in Philadelphia – thanks to Ayers, who became an ambassador of the festival. 

Though it didn’t take place in a home, Ayers, through the Madlab domain, actually hosted a Couch Fest at a Laundromat in the Olney neighborhood, localizing a worldwide global film event to a small community nestled in North Philadelphia.  

“I wanted to be able to entertain and educate people through film while also earning enough to benefit other people,” Ayers said. 

For the following few years, Ayers managed Couch Fest and a few other international film festivals, such as the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival, an 11-day event, in different spaces around the city. 

In 2016, she even hosted a festival at The Whole Shebang, an arts and wellness studio located off of 11th and Moore streets, where viewers were required to remove their shoes before entering the screening.

About a year later, she discovered Bok, 1901 S. 9th St., a former public vocational school that has been recently repurposed as a creative hub for artists, artisans and other professionals.

“It’s been crazy running around looking every year for a space…It is about accessibility,” she said. “(Viewers) don’t want to spend a long time trying to get out to another area. It’s easy for them to get here, and also, I think it’s a way to get people to meet each other.”

For the last two years, Ayers has hosted various screenings at the space, converting an old 1930s-constructed South Philly classroom into both a film studio and intimate setting housing esteemed short films from across the world. 

Currently at the Bok space, Ayers is hosting the only Philadelphia event of the 22nd Annual MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival, which began on Sept. 26 and continues through Oct. 6. It features the screening of 10 films that are being considered for Academy Award nominations in 400 cities worldwide. 

Of course, amidst the metamorphosis of The Madlab Post, Ayers didn’t lose her filmmaking itch.

She produced a short, “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever,” surrounding the story of an Army sergeant getting stranded by SEPTA while planning to propose to his girlfriend, which screened at the NewFilmmakers NY Winter series at the Anthology Film Archives Theater in 2014. She says the film even helped to raise funds for the American Red Cross. 

And although she’s had other recent filmmaking opportunities, Ayers says she’s found a purpose in exposing the moviemaking work of others to the South Philadelphia community, recognizing the need to elevate the craft of short films. 

“A film period – whether it’s short or a feature film – it’s very difficult to make,” Ayers said. ‘So, it could be very disheartening and discouraging to not have your work seen or not have your work validated…I want to create, I guess, an environment where I can build the profile of short films and have them taken seriously and be on equal grounds. If not equal grounds, then at least a little bit higher on the scale.” 

To purchase tickets to the 22nd Annual MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival at Bok, visit: squareup.com/store/the-madlab-post/.

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano