Lights, camera, action! On the set of #8220Honeydripper#8221; with Steve Holmes
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007
In early July, word got out in South Alabama that a movie called “Honeydripper” would be filmed in and around Greenville.
I contacted the Chamber of Commerce there and was instructed where to mail a cover letter, resume and recent photograph.
I gathered the material and placed it in the mailbox on July 18.
Our family spent July 19 – 23 in Gulf Shores for the beach wedding of our daughter Jessica.
When we returned home, I used the Internet to find out that the “Honeydripper” would begin casting in late August for 18 speaking parts and some 500 extras.
According to my computer search, casting directors Kathleen Broyles and Galia Hardy would be looking “primarily for African-Americans.”
They needed “more adults than children and more men than women” as the film includes soldiers preparing to serve in Korea.
The film would be “set in a black-owned juke joint” in 1950 south Alabama cotton country near the soldiers' base.
Director John Sayles was projected to start filming October 16 with hopes of completing camera work before Thanksgiving.
“Beginning September 16, location casting directors will begin getting in touch with those who will be called to read for parts.”
I also learned Sayles would be directing such noted actors as Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton in a screenplay he wrote himself.
The film would shoot on location in and near Greenville, Forest Home and Georgiana.
Also, as a fan of 50's style rhythm and blues music, I was excited to learn the movie would feature acclaimed blues' musicians and their music.
I was able to obtain a phone number for Honeydripper Films, Inc. in Greenville and so called to find out that they had indeed received my resume and I was being considered. Would I “be sincerely interested if chosen either for a speaking role or an extra?”
I assured them I would.
On August 7, I started a new full-time job after pointing out that I had made both verbal and written commitments to work a few days with a motion picture production, if offered the chance.
Of course, with only 18 speaking parts and most of them African-American, I didn't really believe my chances were very good to become even an extra, but on September 16, I got a call from casting directors Galia Hardy and Kathleen Broyles to go to Greenville and read for a part.
The part I read for was Judge Gatlin, and I was given a brief character sketch and a page of dialogue featuring other characters.
The actual reading took place in an office, and the other characters' lines were supplied by Kathleen and Galia (who spoke with a delightful Australian accent).
While I was there, they also asked me to read for the part of the clerk, counting out pay to cotton pickers and field hands.
These folks were very nice, but I still didn't think these efforts would amount to much.
I spoke with Kathleen and Galia a few times later in the month, but they seemed evasive, saying only that John Sayles, the director, was still evaluating tapes from the readings.
Truthfully, I had all but given up on hearing from “Honeydripper” again.
At least I gave it a shot.
However, on October 6, Kathleen called with “Congratulations!”
She wasn't sure what part I got, but the director had chosen me himself.
The next week we met, and I found out that I was cast as a deputy, (a part I did not read for).
On screen, I was to appear guarding forced prison labor in a sweltering Alabama cotton field.
I picked up a complete copy of the script and was told to practice “my line.”
Again, I was congratulated by “Hollywood types” and they assured me I would be paid daily scale for at least one day.
Just finding my line in the huge script was tough enough, but there I was on pages 56, 57 and 58, scenes 35 and 36.
“A DEPUTY calls out – DEPUTY: Let's see more pickin' and less talkin' over there!”
The next week I visited Mollie in the wardrobe department.
She fitted me for my 1950 Butler County deputy's uniform.
The uniform looked a lot like Barney Fife's.
Then on October 19, we were “on location.”
I showed up at the old Poole Gin Company building where the parking lot had become a mobile movie studio.
Assistant Producer Paul Snyder told me to ask for Michelle.
I found her wandering amidst trucks and trailers and tents filled with dressing rooms, a wardrobe department, cafeterias, lighting, sound equipment, hundreds of union workers and actors.
Michelle showed me my own dressing room with a star over its door and my name “DEPUTY.” Inside there were my deputy's uniform, a little couch, an audio/video system, a small toilet, a lighted makeup mirror, an air conditioner and heater, which we ironically needed.
The temperature was in the forties with a terribly overcast sky, and we were scheduled to shoot a movie in a “sweltering” cotton field.
All this for one line!
Some scenes actually were shot that day, but mine were not.
Michelle took me to hair and makeup and introduced me around while bringing me breakfast and showing me the ropes at the cafeteria wagon.
Diane, my make-up lady, was from St. Augustine, Florida, one of my favorite cities.
Nobody told me Diane was going to shave off my thirty-year-old mustache!
Since I wasn't involved in shooting yet, I was able to take a few pictures and meet fellow actors and extras.
One of them was fellow deputy Alan Ingram of Greenville.
He had no lines, so was considered an extra, and was grateful that I allowed him to warm up inside my little dressing room.
Meals were great.
If I attempted to mention everything offered, no one would believe me and I'd probably leave something off.
Available were special orders at the window and a huge hot buffet line, along with fruit and salad bars inside the cafeteria tent.
Snacks, soft drinks and water were always made available throughout the day at all locations.
Even though I was only there a few hours, I was fed twice, provided transportation expense, and paid for a day's work.
My scenes were canceled for the day because of bad weather, and I was asked to return on Friday.
Although it was still chilly, Friday did turn out to be sunnier, so Diane, the make-up lady, kept our faces daubed with fake sweat.
Even though I only spoke one line, Alan and I (the deputies) were seen in the background in more than one scene, so shooting took nearly all day.
Fellow actors in my speaking scene were Mr. Brent Kennings, classically trained and quite experienced, as “Ned,” and Mr. Gary Clark, Jr., a handsome 22-year-old blues guitarist from Austin, Texas.
He said he was experienced as a musician, not as an actor, so he was excited but a little nervous about his first shot at the movies.
I predict great things for Gary and am proud to have met him.
His tall good looks and mastery of the blues guitar make him a natural for the role of “Sonny.”
It turns out that my dressing room was located in the same “Honeywagon” with quite a few “known” actors.
I also met Charles S. Dutton as “Maceo,” Sean Patrick Thomas as “Dex,” Eric Abrams as “Ham,” Kel Mitchell as “Junebug” and Ron McCall as “King.”
For two days, I was Steve Holmes as “Deputy.”
I also got to meet and work with director and screenwriter
John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzl.
South Alabama's fire ants were quite a surprise to Maggie.
She almost scared a few of the other non-Alabamians completely away from the cotton fields before we assured them that the best way to avoid fire ants was to avoid their ant beds. We also assured her their stings were seldom fatal.
Although I didn't get to meet the star, Danny Glover, my wife Cindy and I did get to meet many of the supporting actors and actresses, and got to visit with them again at the wrap party on Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Locals we enjoyed meeting were youngsters Absalom “AJ” Adams from Greenville (as “Lonnie”), and Nagee Clay from Montgomery (as “Scratch”).
At the wrap party, we were also pleased to meet Mr. Ozell Waters from Georgiana.
We all persuaded Gary to play guitar with the band at the wrap party and he blew us all away!
We enjoyed a slide presentation featuring stills and candid shots taken during production.
And, of course, the food and drink were first class.
I also found out that a few other Crenshaw Countians appeared in the movie as well.
College students Eric “Easy” Hammond and Nicholas “Rocky” Atkinson played young soldiers preparing for the Korean War.
They boarded company buses early one Saturday morning and traveled to Anniston for location shooting near the old Fort McClelland Barracks.
Bennie McDonald, as pointed out earlier by The Luverne Journal, was hired as an extra with no speaking lines, but he did get the added prestige of being a stand-in for the lead male, Danny Glover, who plays the role of “Ty.”
“Honeydripper” will hit theaters next fall.
I hope everyone goes to see it and then rents the DVD.
Maybe we'll be invited to the premiere!
They sent me a tee shirt!
Anyway, if I had it to do again, I'd do it.
I enjoyed the “star treatment”, the food, the folks and the atmosphere.
More importantly, every person I met, from makeup artists, lighting directors, casting directors, producers, sound truck drivers, extras and actors, to secretaries, wardrobe ladies and hairdressers commented on our southern hospitality.
They all seemed genuinely interested in using local color, local flavor, authentic southern accents and moral attitudes and hopefully, for once, South Alabama residents will be cast in a more positive light.
They all told me they'd never been in a friendlier place!
Congratulations to Butler and Crenshaw counties.
Thanks John, Maggie, Galia, Kathleen, Mollie, Michelle, Paul, Allen and Danny (to name a few) for bringing your movie to south Alabama.
Although you folks seemed a little goofy about things like fire ants, the truth is, I've never been around friendlier people.
Let's do it again soon!