There’s something special about Giles County, Va., and author David Baldacci is fixing to unleash that secret on the world. The bulk of the on-location filming of the movie version of his best-selling book, “Wish You Well,” is due to wrap on Monday, but the images of Southwest Virginia will likely linger on in cinematic history.
“The movie is going to showcase Giles County in a positive way,” Chris McKlarney, Giles County administrator said. “From the beauty of the New River, to the Cascade Falls (near Pembroke, Va.) to Mountain Lake and the Giles County Courthouse, they have shot every location we would have liked for them to have shot.
“We’re pressing hard to develop our tourism industry here,” McKlarney said. “Along with showcasing the region, the cast and crew stayed at Mountain Lake, the Macarthur Hotel in Narrows, Va., and the Plaza Motel in Pearisburg, Va. Some of the cast and crew went out on the river with outfitters and did some fishing.” McKlarney said that the filmmakers arrived early in October, got to experience late summer, the colorful fall transformation and mountain snows.
David Baldacci looked absolutely impervious to the riverside chill as he provided real-time scrutiny to each frame of a scene featuring Mackenzie Foy and other young actors sitting in the back of a 1930s vintage pickup truck. Foy, who will celebrate her 13th birthday next week, turned heads with her portrayal of Renesmee, the child of Bella and Edward in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.” At a tender age, she has the task of playing Louisa “Lou” Cardinal,” the young protagonist of, “Wish You Well.”
It hadn’t snowed a lot last week in Giles County, but the air was cold for the actors as they worked the scene over and over again for director Darnell Martin. Baldacci remained intensely focused on the images as they rolled past. He stood motionless, with his hood drawstring tight on his wind breaker. When Martin called for a cut in the action, it appeared as though Baldacci could start breathing again.
“It is fulfilling,” Baldacci said, after walking a few steps away from the viewer. “It’s fulfilling to see these cast members all come together.” Baldacci, 52, grew up in Richmond, Va., earned his undergraduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth University and his law degree at the University of Virginia. He practiced law for a while, wrote screenplays and short stories, but in 1996, published “Absolute Power,” a best-selling novel that was made into a movie staring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.
“We are close to the end, so everyone is bringing their A-game,” Baldacci said. “It’s complex, watching all of the pieces come together.” The break ended as Martin called for quiet on the set. Baldacci removed the hood from his head, smiled for a photograph then stepped back to his viewing area to watch every frame pass by.
“He carries a laptop with him wherever he goes and works on his new book when he has time,” McKlarney said. “Even though he’s busy, I never saw him turn down a request for an autograph, and he’s signed a lot of them since he’s been here.” Baldacci has published more than 20 novels — 15 of which have been number one bestsellers. His books have been translated into 45 different languages and more than 110 million copies of his works are in print.
“He says that he is thankful for his fans, and that he doesn’t mind signing an autograph to show that thanks,” McKlarney said of Baldacci. At about that moment, a young lady driving an SUV stopped near McKlarney, and a woman in the passenger seat opened her window to ask directions to the location where that scene was being filmed. The lady was holding a tiny dog that was sporting a little fleece-lined vest.
“You know who that was?” McKlarney said after the vehicle drove from the crew parking area to the filming location. “It’s Ellen Burstyn,” he said, although his identification was not necessary. Burstyn has contributed powerful portrayals of characters through her distinguished career including her role as Sara Goldfarb in Darren Aronofsky’s dark tale of drug addiction, “Requiem for a Dream,” (2000). Burstyn started in that movie with Jennifer Connelly, who also starred with Josh Lucas in both “A Beautiful Mind,” (2001) and “The Hulk,” (2002).
“Here’s a funny story about Josh Lucas,” McKlarney said. “When he was driving here, he hit the metal steps of his Airstream trailer on something and knocked them off. He asked if Giles High School had a vocational education class that might be able to weld it back on for him. I called the instructor over there, and he’s taking the trailer over there (Thursday) afternoon. He’s not in the scenes they’re filming today.”
Lucas parked his Airstream in the Giles Courthouse parking lot through the duration of the filming, where it didn’t appear to draw any particular scrutiny. “When the hurricane went through here, earlier this week, I went down to his trailer at about 8:30 p.m., and asked if he wanted to go some place else until the storm passed. He thanked me, and answered that he was fine where he was.
“One thing that has surprised me is how hard they really work,” McKlarney said. “When you see a movie or watch a television show, you don’t see that the actors have been working from 7 a.m. in the morning to sometimes as late as 10 or 11 p.m. that night just to get a scene right. Our guys (with Giles County) have worked right along with them.”
As he watched past film crew members, each asked McKlarney to thank county workers for assisting by clearing snow from county roads to placing no parking cones in the vicinity of a location. In addition to the county employees, scores of volunteers worked as transport drivers, assistants and facilitators.
“It’s been fun,” Winston Faust, retired facility manager of the Celanese plant in Giles County said. “I’ve never been involved in anything like this, so it has been a learning experience.” Faust said that since filming began, his days start at 4:45 a.m. when he drives to Mountain Lake to pick up crew members to transport them to the location at 5:45 a.m. “Usually, I get home by 8:30-9 p.m. ..,” he said. Faust retired in 2000.
Chinah Jewell, assistant to Producer Sara Eilzabeth Timmins of Life Out Loud Films appeared to have a perpetual smile on her face as she dealt with one logistical challenge after another. For as efficient as she is in handling one task after another, it’s easy to forget how beautiful she is, even as she stood beside the New River, wrapped in layers of clothing on a sub-freezing, windy morning.
“From what I’ve seen and from the quality of the actors who are working on this movie, this is going to be good,” Jewell, a 2009 graduate of James Madison University said. Jewell was fifth runner-up in the 2009 Miss Virginia Pageant, but was awarded the crown when Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron went on to become Miss America. The first, second, third and fourth runners up declined the title, but Jewell was honored to represent her state. At that time, she was already working with Ms. Timmins.
“The actors seem to really like the area,” Jewell said. “Each of them have come up to me and have told me how nice the people here have been to them.” She said that most of the on-location filming will finish on Monday, but some crew members will remain in the area for a few more days. She said that when the film is finished, it will be shown at film festivals, and added that “hopefully, it will be released late in 2013 or early 2014,” she said.
When she was asked if the late 2013 release date might indicate a release for possible consideration for motion picture awards, she just smiled and looked skyward. “You can always hope,” she said, but dropped out of the conversation to talk with Leigh Huff of Blacksburg, Va., and Mark Mosrie of Princeton, about an up-coming special effect with Huff’s company, Blacksburg-based Exemplum.
“We make fake stuff and blow things up,” Huff said.
McKlarney said that working with Baldacci, Sara Elizabeth Timmins, the cast and the crew has been a great experience. “They all have been highly complimentary of Southwest Virginia,” McKlarney said. “They have told me that they have been impressed by the quality of our people and by how the people have made them feel at home.”
Life Out Loud Films is a production company that is dedicated to creating inspiring films that present strong characters and explore subject matter with depth, according to the company’s web site. “Our company begins with understanding a film’s distribution and marketing potential and utilizing this knowledge to shape a viable product before jumping into production. Our commitment is to our investors, our art and our audience.”
Life Out Loud’s Mission Statement is: “To balance business and art to create quality inspiring films that present strong female characters while also making a positive impact behind the scenes,” according to the company web site.
Other actors in addition to Lucas, Foy and Burstyn include Laura Fraser, Ned Bellamy, Alano Miller and more.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com