Film tells West Virginia small-town story
MARLINTON - Hold onto your popcorn: a band of Los Angeles filmmakers are shooting a movie in Pocahontas County that does not involve coal miners, moonshiners or murderous hillbillies.
Instead, "Angel's Perch" is about small-town life, family ties and big-city ambition.
Screenwriter J.T. Arbogast, who also is co-producing and starring in the film, has deep ties to the Mountain State. He said he wanted to present a more accurate portrait of West Virginia life than television and movies usually provide.
"He just kind of got tired of Hollywood's representation of this area," said Kimberly Dilts, Arbogast's wife and co-producer.
Though "Angel's Perch" is sure to feature some banjo music, the only monster in this movie is Alzheimer's disease.
Arbogast grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in California. He spent many summers and holidays in Cass with his grandparents. Those visits served as inspiration for "Angel's Perch."
In the film, Arbogast's character, Jake, returns to West Virginia after his grandmother, Polly, is found wandering outside her home. The successful Pittsburgh architect finds himself torn between his new career and his old hometown when he's unable to leave Polly at an assisted living facility.
Filming on "Angel's Perch" began in Cass on Sept. 3 and will end this Saturday.
The movie is set primarily in Cass but also will feature scenes in neighboring towns. On Monday, the small crew set up at Pat's Beauty Shop in Marlinton.
They pointed lighting rigs at the shop's front porch to compensate for the day's overcast skies. Around the side of the building, a small craft services table served Little Debbie cakes and Walmart-brand pop.
Arbogast and actress Joyce Van Patten, who plays Polly, stood outside the front door until a production assistant gave them the cue to enter.
Inside the shop, town gossip Judy tried to convince Polly to accept the honor of "Queen of Cass," a real-life award bestowed at the town's annual homecoming celebration.
Outside, crewmembers remained silent as they waited for the scene to end. They cast sidelong glances at the Pocahontas County school buses rumbling by.
Judy is played by Ally Walker, a television actress who stars in the Lifetime series "The Protector."
Van Patten is a veteran stage and screen actress who has appeared on classic shows like "The Twilight Zone," "Gunsmoke" and "The Bob Newhart Show" as well as recent hits "Desperate Housewives," "The Sopranos" and movies like "Marley and Me" and "Grown Ups."
The film also will feature Ashley Jones, a former "Bold and the Beautiful" regular who also has appeared in "The Young and the Restless" and the hit HBO series "True Blood," as well as Ellen Crawford, who played "ER's" Nurse Lydia Wright from 1994 to 2009.
Not bad for a movie made by a pair of first-time feature filmmakers.
Arbogast and Dilts have been working on "Angel's Perch" for three years.
Both are actors, and both have produced live theater, but Dilts said she and her husband do not have much experience behind the camera.
She knew they had to make "Angel's Perch," however, after the first time she read the script.
"I thought 'Aw, dammit. This is good,' " she said.
It took a year for Arbogast to finish the script, and the couple has spent the last two years trying to raise money for the venture. Dilts said she and Arbogast originally budgeted the film for $500,000 but quickly realized they needed to cut back.
"We were fundraising in the worst economy of our lifetimes. We said, 'How can we make this with less?' " she said.
They slashed the film's budget and raised $32,000 using the website Kickstarter, which allows projects to collect small cash donations from supporters. Arbogast and Dilts also partnered with the nonprofit West Virginia Alzheimer's Association, which enabled "Angel's Perch" to accept tax-deductible donations.
Although filming is almost complete, work on the movie is hardly over. Arbogast and Dilts already have mailed some footage back to Los Angeles, where editors will develop a "rough cut" for director Charles Haine to refine.
The production team also has to pick out music for the movie's soundtrack. When that's finished, they will begin submitting "Angel's Perch" to film festivals.
Dilts said the film should hit theaters sometime in 2013, depending on which festivals want it. Bigger events like the Sundance Film Festival in Utah sometimes require movies to premiere there.
No matter where "Angel's Perch" appears first, Dilts said it likely would begin its theatrical release in West Virginia. That will include a special screening in the Cass area, she said.
As the actors and crew readied for another take outside Pat's Beauty shop, a mother walked past pushing a stroller. She wasn't around to hear second assistant director Alicia Ayoub call "Quiet on the set!" so she asked, a little too loudly, what was going on.
A bystander explained in a hushed voice.
"Well," the mother said, still a little too loud for Ayoub's liking. "Pocahontas County might be famous some day."
That probably will not happen. But if it does, let's hope moviemakers like Arbogast and Dilts are writing the scripts.
For more information or to donate to the project, visit www.angelsperch.com.