By David Esteppe

Actor James Franco directing Child Of God’s Scott Haze in what is sure to be an Oscar winning performance as Lester Ballard
Actor James Franco directing Child Of God’s Scott Haze in what is sure to be an Oscar winning performance as Lester Ballard

It became official via the Facebook page for Child of God, the movie filmed in our area towns early last year is finally being released in several movie festivals beginning with a world premiere on Aug. 31 at the 70th Venice Film Festival.

It has been a long wait for the release of this independent film by James Franco. As with so many locals, I found my way into the film as an extra for a couple of days. Well one day, and a bitter cold night.

One of People magazine’s sexiest-man-alive cover boys, a mighty fine actor and notable scholar – Franco – came to the area and rounded us all up for some good clean fun playing scenery in a haunting piece based on a Cormac McCarthy novel. I haven’t read it yet; but if you’ve seen another film based on a McCarthy story, No Country for Old Men, you know how a little dish of macabre might be on the way again. Not plain macabre, but macabre with a moving storyline, which needn’t be divulged here. The novel is short; read it yourself. “James Franco’s uncompromising excursion into American Gothic about an unstable sociopath in early 1960’s rural Tennessee who descends into an animal-like state – not for the faint hearted,” says NYC Film Festival.

Through newspaper articles and word of mouth, casting agent Sam Holden requested for anyone interested in being in the movie to send in photographs with head and body shots and your stats listed, to an email address. Long after the cutoff date for submission, once I felt certain there was no way I’d get in, and the end of filming was announced, I sent in a simple face shot from my Ipad.

Two or three days later, I came home from a harrowing February day of driving through the state of snowy West Virginia. It was well into the evening, and I was irritated and tired, when my cell phone rang and I grouchily answered the phone. I denied being me to the caller, who asked if David was home. “Well, my name is Sam Holden and I am the casting director for a film. David submitted an email stating an interest in being in the film. I’d like to use him if he is available.” I told Holden I’d have David call him when he got in shortly. Holden went along with my charade when I called him back five minutes later; but I am sure he thought I was twisted.

I was told to report the next morning at 6 a.m. to a particular church in Ronceverte to be an extra in a scene. I arrived and the vintage military issued peacoat from the 1950’s I was wearing got a compliment and also made it into the scene. The rest of my clothing was swapped out for period pieces.

About four hours later, a very nice lady and I walked up and down a street many times as Franco directed the scene with Jim Parrack from HBO’s True Blood and some other characters. Mayor of Lewisburg, John Manchester was walking in the opposite direction of the street just as many times as I was doing.

Some time later, Manchester told me the movie ended up being filmed in our area because of the historical preservation in our towns. The location directors were not finding what they needed in Tennessee where the story is based. We also joked several times later saying “No autographs please!” to one another when we saw each other on the street.

I enjoyed that day and was thrilled when Holden called again a week later and asked if I could volunteer again for a night shoot at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea. He explained it might be an all nighter and I still said I’d love to do it.

There wasn’t a large turnout for extras that night and those of us present were asked to mull around as folk and cover the fairgrounds to look like a well attended summer night at the fair. We all froze before the many hours of shooting outside in summer attire ended around midnight on that February evening.

After the shoot, we were fed inside a warm building and the lead actor playing Lester Ballard, Scott Haze, sat down beside me. I think he must have still been in character, as when I said hello to him not knowing who he was, he looked at me, grunted and asked a producer nearby for a private place to eat.

As everyone was eating, Holden was roaming around trying to find a fortiesh looking male to play a character in another scene and stay much later. I told him I’d do it. He said, “You aren’t old enough.” I reminded him I was almost 50 and he said, ” Well you look 30 so you’re out, but thank you and good night.”

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