VINTON–Vinton’s Bootie Chewning recently worked as the casting director for the short film “Forgiveness” which was filmed in Roanoke over three days in early June.
She got the job because she knew Kathryn Hatam, the producer of the film, since they worked together on previous productions. Chewning was recommended to Roanoke native Andrea Shreeman, the director and co-screenwriter of the film. Although Shreeman is now based in California, she wanted to shoot a movie in her hometown.
Hatam, who grew up in the area, got her position because she knew Shreeman and producer/cinematographer Dave Perry, who is also from Roanoke. He wanted to create a narrative film after years of shooting corporate video.
Shreeman was able to recruit Ruth Connell, an actress with name recognition from “Supernatural,” who plays twin sisters in “Forgiveness,” because they took acting classes together.
The film industry seems to thrive on connections; who you know is important. The film production community in the Roanoke area is small; everybody knows everybody else.
The film “Forgiveness” is a short inspirational family drama about addiction. The plot involves identical twins whose estranged relationship is examined when they agree to participate in a Twins Study at a local medical college. The film was shot at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and at a private home in the Grandin area.
For “Forgiveness” Chewning put out a casting call on her Facebook page; people responded; in some cases, she recruited; she chose those who best fit the role and then sent her suggestions to Hatam and Shreeman for a final decision.
A higher percentage of the cast and crew than would be expected came from Vinton—many because they knew Chewning. Several of the extras in the film had worked with her previously or popped into her head as casting needs were defined.
Chewning said she often leans on her friends and acquaintances when casting. She has worked for years in theatre and films in the area in performing, casting, and production so she is “able to pull from her local connections with Showtimers, Mill Mountain Theatre, and the like.
Jim Hoover of Vinton played the non-speaking role of a doctor in “Forgiveness.” Chewning said he loves to do movies; he is from Vinton and
retired. He came to Chewning’s mind because she worked with him in the locally filmed “Kicked by Grace” and knew he could be depended on.
Lonnie Collier from Vinton played the custodian. Chewning’s “daughter’s friend is married to him. He is a big guy and totally looked the part he would play in the film, also appearing to be totally trustworthy as his character in the film would need to be.”
Annette Dickerson, who is a Physician’s Assistant in real life, played a lab technician. Chewning met her as a patient, discovered she was interested in performing and said she would keep her in mind if a part came open—which it did.
“The hardest role to fill was a look alike for Ruth Connell who was a twin in the film,” said Chewning. “We just happened on Ann Marie Soltis from Vinton, who resembled Connell with phenomenally similar bone structure and the right body language—the exact look we needed. She dyed her hair red to fit the bill.” She had acting experience and they had worked with her before.
Tyler Lyon worked as the Assistant Camera/Digital Imaging Technician. He is a William Byrd graduate who has done many professional shows locally and elsewhere and is “building a great reputation as a hard worker.” Hatam said she always recommends him because he is “good at what he does and is an excellent team player.”
Not only does who you know matter, but the history of those connections, working together on productions, and establishing a stellar reputation.
“I got involved with ‘Forgiveness in a couple of ways,” said Lyon. “I knew the Director of Photography, Dave Perry. I had worked with him before in various capacities. Dave has mainly done corporate style work to this point in his career and had always wanted to branch out into narrative work. He had collaborated with Andrea Shreeman in the past and finally felt like this was his opportunity. I knew Kathryn Hatam from working on “Where Are You Bobby Browning?” filmed in Vinton for which she was also a producer. I had also attended a meet-and-greet for production professionals in the Roanoke area hosted by Andrea Shreeman late last year. So basically, I knew the right people and was fortunate enough to have left a good impression on them.”
“I specialize in location sound, but working in such a small market, you have to be flexible, so for ‘Forgiveness’ I actually served as the Assistant Camera/DI,” said Lyon. “This primarily consists of lens changes, interchanging camera support systems (tripods, sliders, etc.), setting up video village (a collection of monitors where the director and others can see what the camera sees), and anything else that might be needed.”
“Currently I really do not get much production-related work in the Roanoke area,” continued Lyon. “Most of my shoots are outside of the valley, often in the Washington, D.C. area. I don’t mind visiting the DC area, but I’m apprehensive about relocating there. I’m also very hesitant to think about moving to Los Angeles. Even thought the landscape of filmmaking is changing, L.A. is still the epicenter of the industry. There might be 10 times as much work for someone like me in L.A., but there are 20 times more people competing for the same jobs too. It always comes down to who you know.”
“I would love for the production community in Roanoke to grow so that I could stay here and work here,” said Lyon. “Some of the recreation amenities we have from the hiking to the Grandin Theatre are world-class.”
“I have been fortunate to be a part of some amazing projects in the Roanoke area,” said Lyon. “For me that has come primarily through Marc Hutchins and his company Alexander Films. Marc is passionate about building the production community in our area and is doing a great job of it, but we always need more support.”
The Roanoke region is being recognized more and more for its limitless possibilities as a prime movie location because of its scenery, its lower production costs, its growing film community and because “Roanoke opens its arms to filmmakers,” says Shreeman.
Chewning and Hatam plan to re-launch Virginia’s Blue Ridge Film Office with a dual focus on educational programs for youth from elementary school through college in introductory film skills, and on support for people already working professionally in area.
They plan to “build a close partnership with the Virginia Film Office in Richmond and other professional industry groups while working closely with community organizations like Virginia’s Blue Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau to encourage outside film studios to bring their projects to the region.”
“I just want people to know there is filming going on in Roanoke and Vinton, and people do have a chance to be in a movie,” said Chewning. “There are lots of aspiring actors and actresses in area and we need to create more opportunities so they can be fully employed doing what they love.”