Long gone is the sound of the tobacco auctioneer’s voice at the old Thornton Warehouse on South West Boulevard in Clinton, where, years ago, bales of tobacco and a line of graders could be found on any given summer day. All of that will soon be replaced with gaffers, grips, set designers, makeup artists, actors and the strain of a director’s voice yelling ‘action,’ as the warehouse changes from its agricultural roots to a Hollywood sound stage.
The warehouse, located beside Kivett’s and just below the larger of the two yellow structures, is now home to ‘Tarnished Notes,’ a film based on the soon-to-be-published novel “Hymn of Commitment” by Sampson Independent publisher and editor Sherry Matthews. The movie and the book are based on the 1984 murder of Clinton Minister of Music Dan Arnold, whose murder was plotted by his wife and their lover.
The movie’s title and the warehouse are two of many recent actions taken as the film shifts from the printed page onto the screen, involving dozens of local residents who will bring their time, energy and talent to the project.
“This seems very surreal even now,” said Matthews who, along with Sampson’s Gloria Edwards, serves as co-producer on the project. “I have to keep pinching myself. Someone will ask me how the movie is going and I have to look around to be sure they are actually talking to me.”
But reality is setting in, Matthews said, because the work has kicked into high gear.
Although the project is still in what movie aficionados call “Pre-pre” or pre-pre production, a bevy of activity is underway, with the opening of the production office, the completion of casting calls and the offering of roles, the hiring of the production team, the final tweaking of the script and the all-important green light on the film’s title.
“It took us about two hours of batting around ideas before we came up with Tarnished Notes,” Matthews said. “It was myself, Gloria, executive producer Mitchell Maxwell, director Tom Avitabile and Production Assistant Sarah Crumpler just sitting around talking about what would be a captivating title, one that fit the plot of the movie. Out of that conversation came the name Tarnished Notes.”
And from that came the Facebook page bearing the movie’s title which is now up and running and garnering more and more likes on a daily basis.
Funded through local investments, Tarnished Notes is unique in many aspects, including the fact that a large percentage of those working on the film are from the county, most of the locations are in Sampson and the bulk of services — from transportation and food to lodging — are being contracted here.
“I wanted to be able to do something for this community I love so much,” Matthews stressed. “When Mitchell and I talked about doing the film, he loved the idea of doing things locally, and as much as we have been able to, we’ve stuck to that. I’m thrilled that we could.”
Key among that is actors. While two of the three leads will likely be cast out of New York, where negotiations are currently underway, many of the secondary roles and day players will be familiar faces to Sampson residents.
Nick Owen, Kathy Day, Stephanie Prestage, Lillie Turlington and Clay Boney, all veterans of Sampson Community Theatre, have officially been offered roles in the movie, as well as Brennan Huggard and Crumpler. And Matthews promises there will be more.
For those chosen locally, the chance to show off their talent in a movie is thrilling.
“I’m really excited, and a little nervous,” Owen said. “This will be my first speaking role in a movie, and to tell you the truth, the role is one that offers me a chance to stretch my acting chops a bit. It’s a new type of role for me since a lot of what I’ve done has been comedy. I’m trying to branch out and be more diverse … this part should do that.”
The roles are still under wraps, but actors know the parts they will play, and Owen assured his will be against type without question. “It’s exciting to get to do something that is such a stretch for me.”
Another big selling point, he said, was the local aspect. “When I heard about the project and the fact that it was being done locally, was based on a book written locally, I wanted to see if I could be a part. That I am is thrilling for me.”
Like everyone else who has heard the story, Owen said the plot is compelling and those already working on the production a great team he is looking forward to working among. “It’s just a great opportunity for me.”
Day, who just wrapped up a two-week stint on SCT’s High School Musical, feels much the same as Owen. “Well I’m just thrilled,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “This will be a great learning experience for me. It’s my first movie and it will give me the chance to learn the ins and outs of the movie business. I can’t wait to get started.”
Day has been acting on the stage since the age of 15. Living in New York at the time, the teenage Day earned the part of Bloody Mary in South Pacific. “That did it; the acting bug bit and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
She’s done jingles along the way, but most of her acting career has been on the stage, mostly at SCT but also alongside Tom Wopat in a N.C. Theater production. She starts her second professional stage show in October at the Temple Theater in Sanford, about the same time filming begins for Tarnished Notes.
The task of memorizing lines for two productions isn’t daunting for Day, though. “I love the challenge,” she said, “and I’m up for it.”
Ditto Owen, who said he was chomping at the bit for rehearsals to begin.
In addition to roles on the SCT stage, where he has acted since a boy, the 29-year-old Owen has done commercials and industrial training films and served as background on TV shows such as Sleepy Hollow, The Longest Ride and Eastbound and Down.
On the production side, in addition to Matthews and Edwards, Sampson natives and Lakewood High graduates Monty Hobbs and Pam Hyatt have been brought aboard — Hobbs as line producer (see profile on him in Wednesday’s paper) and Hyatt as casting director. Also brought on this week is Craig Thieman as director of photography, Pamela Smith as script supervisor and Hugh Bonner as assistant director. All have dozens of credits to their name. Up next week will be the hiring of key hair and makeup, a stunt coordinator and key wardrobe.
“Every day is different,” Matthews attested, “but they are all exciting.”
While much of the production crew is being brought in from Wilmington, where the film industry has taken a hit because of NC legislative action, most of the services that will be provided will come from local businesses. Already on board is Van-Go , which will provide transportation services throughout filming and Piggly Wiggly, which will provide catering to the cast and crew throughout the 20-day shoot.
“We are working on lodging right now,” Hobbs said, “and we are locking up the remainder of our locations. We begin pre-production on Sept. 14. That is when our director comes down and things really begin to hop. It’s exciting for us and, we hope, for Sampson County.”
In weeks to come, Hobbs said, the filming locations and the remainder of the cast will be announced.
Principal photography begins Oct. 5, with the film expected to wrap by month’s end.