Friday, August 3, 2012

Filming at the Old Plantation

An article published in the Arts and Entertainment section of  the  Hattiesburg, American in 2007.                            


                                                By F.J. Wilson

Last February I was hired on a film in Shreveport, LA entitled “For Sale By Owner”.  This was a psychodrama about an architect who buys old mansions and renovates them into very expensive, historic, private homes, like the “Flip this House” series on the House and Garden channel.  The script written by Mr. Scott Cooper was good, interesting and very scary. Our lead character buys the perfect mansion.  As he innocently begins to renovate; he disturbs and annoys ghosts and demons that’ve been inhabiting the place for over 200 years. The characters were believable and the actors hired to play them were people you’ve always admired and trusted to bring you good entertainment.  They were Kris Kristofferson, Tom Skerritt, Frankie Faison and Rachel Nichols to name a few.

The Director and Location Manager began their search for the perfect derelict mansion with which to torment the frightened audiences as the film progresses from fun to nightmare.  After a couple of weeks of searching the area, (should have come on over to Mississippi) they decided to look around the Nachitotches, LA area.  To their delight they found the old Magnolia Plantation.  If you’ve ever taken the Louisiana Plantation tour, you’ll remember this as one of the most beautiful spots in Louisiana, (should have been looking in Mississippi).  So the deal was made with the owner, an elderly and very nice lady, and descendant of the original family of two hundred years back.  She was glad to have the place refurbished by the film company as the script called for the ‘flip’ to be almost finished before the end of the film.  This meant she’d have the beautiful house freshly painted, shutters mended, woodwork repaired, floors lifted and freshly polished.  The film company was glad to have her blessings and appreciation for their hard work.  The house became the perfect setting for their scary movie; thanks to a brilliant art department and construction team.

It is said that once a film begins it’s like a train going down hill, you either help, or get out of the way.  The wheels were in motion, the actor’s deals were made and travel arrangements were underway. The Director and his 1st Assistant Director were busy making schedules for filming (when to film the rain scene, when to film the crowd scenes, when to film the bloody Indian massacre scene). (Mississippi had Indians, massacres too; they could’ve filmed it here) The crew was hired, the heavy equipment ordered and the make-up people were ordering enough stage blood to fill a water truck, or so it seemed.  The SFX (Special Effects) crew was beginning their work on the house so that walls would fall when needed, doors would open by themselves and all of the exciting things that they spend hours and days accomplishing for our viewing pleasure. The costume designer was off on shopping trips to New Orleans and Dallas, the prop man was ordering bloody hands and instruments of bodily destruction from the prop houses in Los Angeles and the office was humming along wondering when the first shoe would drop. 

It did,the first day of filming:

The first shoe fell with a thud when the SFX guys discovered one entire wall of the old Plantation was completely filled with honey bees and about 60 gallons of ancient inedible honey.  The Pest Control people were called and they came to relocate the bees.  It was not their job to relocate the honey, nor fix the wall.  In case you ever want to shoot a film around Natchitoches, be fair warned: there are no honey cleaner uppers in or around the town.  A few days later the next shoe to thud was when one of the very heavy equipment trucks backed over what they thought was a mud hole in the side yard and discovered too late it was the main water line to the entire plantation.  Being after midnight, the Parish water workers couldn’t help until morning.  (Our Mississippi boys would’ve been out there in no time) By morning the entire area was covered with water and the electric and camera crews lost half a day trying to rig the lights walking knee deep in water.  The rest of the shoot had to deal with missed airline flights for actors, due to rain closing the airports in Dallas, (Mississippi uses New Orleans airport and rain doesn’t stop their flights) a very angry home owner who didn’t want her bees disturbed, and really preferred a working bathroom, and not so much water in her yard.  Moral of this story, film in Mississippi.  We may have our bees and we are used to water soaked yards in the spring, or at the very least, we keep a huge bush of mint over the water main so the big teamster doesn’t drive his rig over it and get bogged down.  So what more can I say, if the country would stop calling us stupid and learn to love and appreciate what we have to offer, we could be in the movies.

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