Stars and crew in action on set of #8220Honeydripper#8221;

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's a raw Thursday afternoon in the quiet community of Midway. A sharp northwesterly wind scatters leaves across the ground, still damp and mucky in places from heavy rains the day before.

Fleece-lined jackets and sweatpants feel good on day like this. Who says it doesn't get cold in south Alabama?

&#8220Oh, I like it. It reminds me of New England,” Maggie Renzi, her long silver-shot hair tucked snugly under a hood, says with a laugh.

She and most of the other people roaming around the little community east of Greenville that day are a long way from home.

Producer Renzi, her creative partner and husband, famed independent film director, John Sayles, and an array of talented actors and crew members are about to wind down three months of film making in Alabama, most of it done in Butler County.

What was once Phelps Grocery is the center of action that day as the rural blues club, &#8220Honeydripper.”

It's the spot owned by &#8220Pine-Top Purvis,” AKA Danny Glover's character, Tyrone, who dreams of a way to outdo his competition across the road at the Ace of Spades.

Exterior lights shine in through the windows to give the effect of morning light streaming into the wood-frame building. Inside, the director, camera operators, sound technicians, set dressers, and other personnel are busy amidst the &#8220controlled chaos” that is a movie set.

Glover, in character as Tyrone, is eating his breakfast when two shady fellows in pin stripes and fedoras appear in his club.

Actor Tom Wright, a familiar face from other Sayles’ films and numerous guest roles on television, is smoothly menacing. He polishes his snazzy wing tips, then carefully shows off the pistol he's packing to Tryone and his pal, played by Charles Dutton.

Will Tyrone be able to come up with the $200 he owes the guy in Little Rock, or will he lose his beloved Honeydripper? The two heavies seem pretty confident the club will soon be theirs as they stroll out the door.


The quiet of the room disappears as measurements are made, camera angles and lighting adjusted, strategies discussed. Someone scrutinizes an actor's suit and picks off a bit of lint.

Once they are ready to shoot the scene again, everybody and everything has to remain still and quiet. That includes the small portable heater taking the chill off things behind the bar. Three more heaters warm up the tiny makeshift kitchen in the rear of the building, where the script supervisor keeps a steady eye on both the monitor and her script pages.

The little room smells quite temptingly of fresh-cooked bacon. &#8220He (Glover) has to keep eating the bacon and eggs at the beginning of each take, and we don't want it to get too cold, so they’re keeping fresh food cooked back here,” Renzi explains.

Glover also slips into the room between takes to simply warm up as the three heaters are turned back on. &#8220It's rough to make an old man get cold like this,” he laughs.

His attire for the scene, a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and slacks, don’t provide much warmth.

&#8220In the film, the weather will be represented as considerably warmer than it happens to be today. Luckily we've got exterior shots with leaves and green grass,” Renzi comments, adding with a wry grin, &#8220The weather hasn't always been cooperative (during the shoot).”

Even the torrential rains of Wednesday didn't stop the cameras rolling.

&#8220Yes, we managed to get some interior shots done in the Honeydripper yesterday. We had to use this special material laid out on the roof to muffle the sound of the rain – you know how rain is on a tin rooftop – and it worked out well,” Renzi says.

The storm system moved out early enough Wednesday to allow some exterior night shooting as well.

With just a short time before the shooting wraps and everyone heads back to their respective homes, Renzi reflects on the crew's filmmaking odyssey in south Alabama.

In some ways, it's been a bit of a culture shock.

&#8220I do miss going to movies and having lots of good restaurants to chose from, being able to have a nice glass of wine with my meal, things like that,” she admits.

As a work experience, however, Renzi says, &#8220We have had a great time. The city officials have been really terrific to work with. Watching the rushes, we have some beautiful footage. I think it's going to be a wonderful film.