Director shares process of making movies with Rotary

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 23, 2006

&#8220Long before there was an Independent Film Channel or a Sundance Film Festival, there was John Sayles.”

Ricky McLaney shared those words written about the Rotary Club's guest speaker on Thursday, Academy Award-nominated director, John Sayles.

Long considered the father of the independent film movement, Sayles' latest project, &#8220Honeydripper,” is set for principal filming to begin in Butler County in mid-October.

The director, who said the crew is &#8220right on schedule,” explained some of what goes into the process of shooting a film on location.

&#8220Making a movie is a short-lived phenomenon. You spend anywhere from 5 to 15 weeks on location and then you disappear,” Sayles, whose home base is upstate New York, told his audience.

&#8220You start small with one or two people. We now have 20 or so people here in various departments, and at our peak, there will be around 100 actors, crew members, drivers and so forth.”

Many factors go into a day's shoot, including planning the day around the availability of light, determining where to park trucks so they won't be seen in the shot, lining up and costuming extras and other needs.

&#8220A great deal may go into just two minutes of screen time,” Sayles said.

&#8220Honeydripper” is set in the fictitious small town of Harmony, Ala. in 1950, and stars Danny Glover as a blues club owner battling his nearby competition.

Lisa Gay Hamilton of TV's &#8220The Practice,” blues guitarist Keb Mo and actress Mary Steenburgen are also slated to appear in the film. Extras and small speaking roles are being filled by individuals &#8220from Montgomery on down,” Sayles said.

Many exterior scenes for the film will be shot in downtown Georgiana.

&#8220You will see quite a transformation on both of the Main Street blocks down there,” Sayles said.

While they will not undertake the huge task of rebuilding the old train depot, the director said the facades of several of the buildings will be restored to give them that early ‘50s look.

&#8220If it's a building that happens to have been vacant a while, the owners will get some new windows and improvements out of this,” Sayles explained.

One of the big factors in choosing a location for a period film is finding a place that harkens back to the time being portrayed.

&#8220Sometimes people find out you're coming and suddenly they want to spruce up everything, make it look new. What we like about it is the fact it looks like it comes from the ‘50s,” Sayles said.

The director, who visited and familiarized himself with the area prior to writing the &#8220Honeydripper” script, said interactions with locals will likely create some changes in the script along the way.

&#8220On one film we were shooting, I had a character catching a bass in a river. I was told you would never catch a bass in that part of this river at that time of year. So I changed it to a different kind of fish.”

Research also goes into the right period clothing and details to paint an accurate portrait of the times.

&#8220We'll have people using cotton sacks as they pick cotton. We know the bottoms were reinforced, but what did they use instead of plastic? It is things like that we have to discover.”

Sayles said it is generally some aspect of history, life or a particular part of the world that captures his interest and spurs him on to write a book or screenplay.

&#8220'Honeydripper' is set on the cusp of a revolution, the birth of rock and roll. What do you do when there suddenly is a revolution in your field, and you've been doing things the same way your entire life?” Sayles said.

&#8220That's the decision that faces our main character. Will he sell his soul to do this new thing, or will he be able to keep a part of himself? That's what drama is all about.”

The director said they are still looking for vintage vehicles, particularly from the ‘30s and ‘40s, to use in the film (they do not have to be able to run).

&#8220We can also use household items from that time period and earlier to dress the set, so if you have something you can loan us or know someone who does, check with our production office.”

For more information about supplying vehicles and other items, contact the Honeydripper production office at 371-6400 or visit them downtown at the Whitney Bank.

Rental properties, preferably furnished, are also still needed for crew members.