Sep 292010
 

On the Lexington set of Hitting the Cycle

By Jennifer Miller

It’s somehow symbolic of Hollywood that Tara was just a facade with no rooms inside.”David O. Selznick

It’s 3 AM, and I sit at the computer, trying to describe just how hospitable filmmaker Richey Nash found local friends and strangers to be during the production process for Hitting the Cycle (www.HTCmovie.com). Then my friend Lucy calls from a show at Buster’s and asks whether she can bring a touring punk rock band to sleep at my house, since hotels are fully booked for the World Equestrian Games. Of course, I say. And then I have my metaphor.

The punk quartet can now tell other bands that Lexington is a place with quality professional venues, talented artists, and caring local people. And the HTC cast and crew can take the same message back with them to Los Angeles.

For the band Easy Action, it was a no-brainer to follow headliners The Meatmen to a gig in Lexington. In Nash’s case, a generous offer from Lexington Legends President Alan Stein clinched the decision to base HTC production here in his hometown. Nash lined up key talent in L.A. then travelled cross-country, optimistic he could fill a strong roster—on both sides of the camera—for three weeks of shooting at a dozen locations beyond the ballpark. Nash’s hometown HTC team exceeded his expectations in skill level and dedication. Plus he ended up with rich, authentic sets a Hollywood studio could not easily replicate.

In the early scenes of Hitting the Cycle, Nash’s character Jimmy “Rip” Ripley plays for the Lexington Legends. The HTC crew first filmed actual games between the Legends and the West Virginia Power. When the Legends went on a road trip, the HTC team enjoyed three nights of full access to Applebee’s Park, as well as use of Legends and Power uniforms for HTC actors.

In the story, Rip hopes to return to the Major Leagues, but is instead released by the Legends. Lexington is a cinematic stand-in for the fictional Sayreville, the hometown Rip has not seen for more than 15 years. In the film, he faces his estranged family members and charts a life after baseball at “Sayreville” locations filmed throughout Lexington: Lafayette High School, Chevy Chase Inn, public parks and private homes, to name a few.

On the lookout: Lexington locations

Several of us on the production team spent the summer scouting locations with Nash, who said, “Lexington is such a beautiful place, and I knew from growing up here that there were great filming locations available. This city has changed quite a bit over the years, and the number of options for places to shoot has grown considerably.  There were just so many excellent choices.  In many cases it was difficult to narrow down.”

At several locations, overnight shoots enabled the HTC cast and crew to use facilities outside of regular business hours. Nash and his team knew that scheduling scenes in a working hospital would present a particular challenge, since patient care could not be delayed for a film crew.

Kristi Lopez, the Director of the University of Kentucky’s Medical Center Public Relations, explained the creative response to the request from HTC producers: “We immediately knew two things—[that] we wanted to help out and be a part of this project, but that it would be nearly impossible to have a crew in patient areas of UK Chandler Hospital.”   Lopez and UK HealthCare administrators reasoned that, though the adjacent Kentucky Clinic is “overflowing with patients, health care providers and UK students weekdays… the building and its hallways are nearly vacant by late in the evening.  We soon realized that it was the perfect place to turn into a movie set.”

Local residents Derek and Heather Wingfield provided a more personal movie set, with their house (and the belongings and even artwork of their sons Duncan and Griffen) doubling as the home of Sayreville nurse Samantha Worth and her son Billy.

Derek Wingfield, who along with Heather also spent an afternoon in front of the camera as extras in a scene shot at another location, was impressed. “I have always been interested in the film industry, but have never had an opportunity to participate in it. My wife and I double-checked with the neighbors about an overnight shoot, and all were very excited about the prospect. It was amazing to see how many people are required for a ‘simple shot.’”

A few blocks away from the Wingfields, the home of Ron and Vicki Mitchell became the set for the Ripley family house – in both present-day and flashback scenes. Local designer Barrett Hudkins and realtor Sara Morken made several rooms and hallways fit the well-defined Ripleys.

“It was interesting to think of the interior sets to the last detai from the perspective of a character rather than a client,” Hudkins noted. “I particularly loved thinking through what each piece said about the space, even though most are seen for only a split second.”

A Kentucky crew

In addition to essential part-time volunteers like Hudkins and Morken, Kentuckians also filled a majority of the full-time HTC crew positions. Nash said, “For some of them, it was their first time working on a feature film set, so there was a feeling of uncertainty going into that first week. But everyone really pulled together, and the more experienced crew helped bring the rest up to speed.  It didn’t take long before we fell into a really good rhythm.”

As HTC’s Assistant Director, local filmmaker George Maranville oversaw the technical crew, several of whom he had supervised on other movies. Los Angeles-based Director of Photography Lincoln Lewis is a Louisville native, and film Editor Harry B. Miller III grew up in Lexington (as did his brother, Associate Producer John Winn Miller). Associate Producer Charlee Heaton worked for two decades at Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and brought former colleagues on board.

Some of the more novice HTC crew members and production assistants were recommended by Video Editing Service’s Arthur Rouse, and trained through programs that Rouse co-founded to nurture Kentucky’s film industry. In 2002, Rouse and two Hollywood screenwriters created the Kentucky Film Lab at the urging of the IdeaFestival’s Kris Kimel.  Rouse explained, “we offer hands-on workshops, bring in interesting people from the industry, promote Kentuckians around the industry and generally try to make things happen in the cinematic arts in KY.”

Rouse has also developed the Filmmaking Certificate Program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, from which half a dozen HTC crew members and PAs had earned certificates.

“I was amazed how many local people worked as film crew, wardrobe, make-up and craft services,” said Margo Miller, whose home was used for several days of shooting. “In addition to the professionals, I observed how local people rolled out the red carpet. Lexington people were incredibly generous with gifts of their time and location access.”

Lisa Fryman, for example, contributed during pre-production many ideas and connections for both locations and casting. Once filming started, she and her college-aged daughters volunteered on-set, as production assistants, still photographers, and background actors (“extras”). Fryman said, “I grew up in L.A. and know that movie making is a process, but I now appreciate more the virtues of collaboration, patience, and humor. This work is long hours and some of the shoots are tediously repetitive, but this group was fun and committed to the job they were doing.”

Nash’s own family pitched in for many aspects of the production. His parents Julie and Cotton Nash made the cast and crew feel at home, plus connected us with key resources. His brother Patrick and sister-in-law Christy organized dozens of children, teenagers and parents for multiple baseball practice and game scenes shot at Veterans Park (with the assistance of youth leagues based there). And a few young Nashes made their silver screen debuts for their Uncle Richey.

As for me, I stayed behind the camera during our 12-hour days on the HTC set. I’m proud to have been an ambassador for Lexington on the HTC team – helping introduce visiting cast and crew to diverse professional resources, talented local artists, and colleagues who value innovative artists. From now on, however, I plan to draw the line at hosting any more hardcore punk bands.

Jennifer Miller (jenniferbethmiller@insightbb.com) is a Lexington attorney and community activist, the Cruise Director of March Madness Marching Band, and an Associate Producer of Hitting the Cycle (www.HTCmovie.com).

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