By Debbie Adams
ReelWorks Studios and the film department at Liberty University have teamed up for the movie production of “Never Give Up.” Professional filmmakers and Liberty students spent a good part of the day on March 29 at Jerry’s Restaurant in Vinton shooting one of the scenes in the movie.
According to a synopsis frorm ReelWorks CEO Rick Eldridge, “Never Give Up” is based on the true story of Brad Minns who at age 20 “does the impossible in the Men’s Singles Tennis Finals in the 1985 Deaf World Games. In a five-hour Match for the Ages, Minns somehow comes back from match point in the third set to winning the Gold Medal in the fifth set.”
“The match serves as a framework for the story of this inspirational man who became deaf at age 3 [from a high fever] and rose to the height of his sport thanks to God helping him to ‘Never Give Up.’ It’s the tennis match of his life– University of Toledo freshman Brad Minns versus 30-year-old Jeff Osborne, the reigning world gold medalist. Through the ups and downs of the match, we follow Brad’s story from age 3, to attending elementary school as the only non-hearing person, to learning tennis and upsetting the junior tennis world, to winning a walk-on spot on his college squad, and finally making the United States Tennis Team in the Deaf World Games.
“With the help of his family, Minns is able to make it in a hearing world – and with the help of God he is able to win this never-to-be-forgotten match.”
Eldridge describes the film as “The Blind Side meets Rocky—on the tennis court.”
ReelWorks is based in Charlotte. It has worked with Liberty University and their film students in the past on other projects. Eldridge says they like to produce films which have inspirational messages for the general market. He was especially touched by the story of Brad Minns, who learned to communicate by reading lips.
Eldridge says the film company is glad to give back by mentoring students from Liberty who have declared a major in film and to give upperclassmen hands-on experience working with the professionals from ReelWorks. Often when students graduate from college, they have little practical experience to list on their resumes as they apply for jobs; this group can say they helped produce “Never Give Up.”
As for how the company ended up filming a scene for the movie in Vinton, the location manager from Liberty came across photos of Jerry’s online. They needed a nostalgic setting from the 1970s and ’80s era. Jerry’s projects that atmosphere, filled with memorabilia from those times.
The location manager came and took some photos, showed them to those in charge of the production, who decided it was “perfect for the film.”
Owner Jerry Lamb first opened the restaurant located on Washington Avenue 18 years ago in 2004. He says he has gathered all the vintage pieces on display on the shelves and the walls of his restaurant from yard and consignment sales through the years, in addition to gifts he has received from others.
The film students were careful to take photos of the mementos in their places so that they could be returned to the correct spot once filming ended. Students are taught to “respect the location you are working in and maintain its integrity.”
Eldridge says the company mostly films in “practical locations” in order to create an “authentic feel.”
Filming for “Never Give Up” began on March 22 in locations within a 50-mile radius of Lynchburg. He expects filming to be completed in the middle of April with plans to release the film in the second quarter of 2023.
Last week’s filming was a tennis court scene at a private school in Lynchburg, then on spring break. Next week’s scene will depict the Minns’ home, using another Lynchburg location.
The segment of the film at Jerry’s came from the middle of the story as Brad Minns (at age 7) and his mother are eating out. Jerry and his general manager Lisa Payne were actually preparing some of the props for the movie to feed 25– chicken nuggets, hot dogs, grilled cheese, French fries– but not the sausage poofs and strawberry jam that Jerry’s is famous for. One of the film students created some “fake ice cream” with strawberries and yogurt as well.
The restaurant was filled to overflowing with film equipment– lights, cameras, monitors, microphones, dollies, and more. Setting up took several hours. Eldridge says, “most of the time, it takes all morning to get a minute’s worth of actual usable film.”
He says that as producer, most of his work was completed prior to the beginning of filming. He was on the set mainly to answer questions and solve problems.
One challenge they faced on this movie was finding four young men whose features were similar enough to play Minns as he matured from age 3 to 7 to 14 to 20.
Scotty Curlee, a professor in the film department at Liberty and co-producer of “Never Give Up,” was on hand for the filming in Vinton. He said that his students had received both general and specialized training to prepare them for the production of the film.
Patrick Jamison, a junior at LU who serves as background coordinator for the film, was responsible for coming up with the “extras” needed to fill the tables in the restaurant during the scene. He said mainly he found them by word-of-mouth and networking, reaching out to attract those who might want to be part of the telling of this story. He said he has chosen film as a career because he “loves getting to tell stories that will impact people in a positive way.”
The actual filming session opened with Scripture, a prayer and reminders about safety on the set. The company and LU had done their best to ensure personal safety with COVID testing before filming began last week and required masks, except for the actors as they were performing.
The film crew was also admonished not to try crossing busy Washington Avenue to Lynn Haven Baptist Church, a holding and catering area for the film crew and actors, but to wait for transportation.
One Liberty student commented that the filming was “a bit chaotic, super fun, and a great learning experience– although getting up at 5 a.m. is a little daunting.”
Joe Housel, a junior from Charlottesville, explained that the film is this year’s “Junior Class Project.” All of the students on the crew are members of the junior class at LU. Every spring, students enrolled in the Junior Film Class participate in a special hands-on project, hopefully actually producing a film. They indicate which niche in film production they might want to explore and hopefully are assigned to that duty. Most are more interested in working behind the camera than in front as actors.
This is a four-week endeavor. Some students majoring in certain fields will continue on into the editing process. Housel said he isn’t sure where his film major will take him, but he believes he has some talents in the field and has a “Christian obligation to use his talents for the glory of God.”
ReelWorks will be releasing another film completed in conjunction with LU, entitled “The Mulligan Movie” on April 18 and 19, on about 1,000 screens across the nation, including Lynchburg and Roanoke. Sixty Liberty students were involved with that project, which featured some notable actors, including Eric Close, Nancy Stafford and Pat Boone, and was filmed in North Georgia.