News Column

Hollywood comes to Rockingham County (or the other way around)

August 25, 2013


Aug. 25--There's nothing quite like seeing people and places you know on the big screen.

You'll be able to do both in late August and early September.

First, those places you are sure to recognize.

On July 31, a private screening of the movie "The Ultimate Life" was shown at Regal Cinemas Greensboro Grande Stadium 16. Locations around Rockingham County were used for scenes in the movie.

I sat behind Bobby Pleasants and his wife, Lisa, who own a building in downtown Madison that was used as a cafe. Nearby, Richard and Kathy Miller, owners of Madison Dry Goods, were there to catch a passing glimpse of the entry to their store and the bench out front.

Behind me, a group of antique and vintage-car collectors from Kernersville were watching for scenes with their cars. There was an audible groan from Jim Quick when a hefty actor takes a seat with four or five others in the cargo area of his prized antique pickup truck.

"I know that tailgate hit the ground," he says.

That's the take-away for bragging rights to say Peter Fonda once drove your truck in a movie.

But even if you didn't have a business, a vehicle or a walk-on role in the movie, you still will see lots of Rockingham County on the big screen when the movie opens in Greensboro on Sept. 6. It was directed by Michael Landon Jr. and stars Drew Waters, Bill Cobbs, David Mann and Ali Hillis.

In the first minutes of the film, you see a nurses' station at Annie Penn Hospital. Six minutes into the film there is a nice shot of the interior of a court room at the Judicial Center in Wentworth.

Other Rockingham County locales are featured, such as the exterior of Wentworth School and gym, street scenes of downtown Madison, and the old Rockingham County courthouse, which is now the Museum & Archives of Rockingham County.

Seeing those places may have lured folks to the theater for the private screening, but the story line wasn't overlooked.

The movie is both a sequel and a prequel to "The Ultimate Gift." Both movies are based on books by Jim Stovall, a novelist and motivational speaker.

In the first movie's plot, the late Red Stevens has videotaped his last will and testament, which sends his grandson on a journey that teaches him to recognize and appreciate the important things in life.

In "The Ultimate Life," the grandson, who now is running his grandfather's foundation, has become a workaholic and seems to have forgotten some of those lessons. When he begins reading his grandfather's journal, he's transported back to the 1930s and the hardscrabble life that launched Stevens' billion-dollar career.

Rockingham County stands in for the fictional Tyler, Texas.

"I bet 60 percent of the movie was filmed in Rockingham County," says County Manager Lance Metzler, who was at the screening with his wife, Gwen.

Metzler was an extra in the film and was pleased that his roles survived the editing process. Look for him in a street scene of Madison and in the "belt buckle" scene in the cafe.

Other scenes were filmed in Winston-Salem, Salisbury and Spencer.

In fact, executive producer Rick Eldridge told the audience that the only scenes not filmed in North Carolina were a few shots on location in Haiti.

When the movie opens on Sept. 6, Eldridge expects it to be shown in most major cities. He urged people to see it opening weekend. Box office sales from opening weekend usually determine how long a movie will be in theaters.

Eldridge describes "The Ultimate Life" as a movie about basic and important values. In fact, he hopes to develop Christian study materials around the movie.

"People always ask why we don't have more movies like this," Eldridge says.

"Blame yourself," he says. "If you want more movies like this, you've got to buy tickets and go opening weekend."

If the movie is successful, a sequel could follow. That means Rockingham County might have another shot at hosting the film crew.

I suggest you mark your calendars for Sept. 6.

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Another movie with a local twist premiered on Aug. 19 in Atlanta. It stars Eden native Tabitha Thomas Brown, a 1997 graduate of Morehead High School.

"Laughing to the Bank" is a comedy with actor Brian Hooks playing the lead. It's a story about a Hollywood hopeful who sets out to raise his own money to break into the business.

It's a subject Tabitha Brown knows a lot about.

A year after graduation, she and Chance Brown, who then was her boyfriend and who now is her husband, headed to Los Angeles where she wanted to break into the film industry. The couple met in the fifth grade at Leaksville Intermediate School, and they dated off and on through school.

While at Holmes Middle School and Morehead High School, Tabitha Brown never missed a chance to perform, appearing in school plays and productions staged by the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County.

After spending a year in California, the couple was broke, and they returned to the area, finding jobs in Greensboro. With Chance Brown employed at Oakwood Homes, and Tabitha at UPS, they felt stable and started a family.

But the dream of performing never died. Driving to the mall more than a decade ago, Tabitha heard an announcement about a contest to win a co-host position on "The Busta Brown Show" on WTWB. Out of 30 who vied for the spot, Tabitha Brown got it.

Interviewing singers, comedians and actors only revived that itch to make another stab at breaking into acting. Eleven years ago, Chance, Tabitha and a daughter headed back to Los Angeles, this time with money saved and a plan in place.

They got jobs: Chance Brown is a police officer on the Los Angeles force, and Tabitha Brown works in administration. They also added another child to the family.

While working, she's snagged a few movie roles in "Keepin' the Faith; My Baby's Gettin' Married," "Jessica Sinclair's Thug Love" and "Outrighteous."

But "Laughing to the Bank" could be her big break. In the movie, which is rated R, she plays Hooks' girlfriend, as well as other roles.

"We've always been big dreamers," says Chance Brown, and this just might be the one that comes true.

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Finally, the movie "You Are Here," which was filmed in North Carolina and includes scenes shot in downtown Madison, is set to be released at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival. It runs from Sept. 5 through 15. It stars Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler. It is directed by Matthew Weiner.

There is no date set for its release in the United States.

Contact Myla Barnhardt at 627-1781, Ext. 6116, or myla.barnhardt


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