Thus, I grabbed my popcorn and pint of “Strawberry Blonde Ale” (BearWaters Brewing) and meandered along to long corridor to my seat in the back of the audience. The room went dark and suddenly, high up on the screen, appeared Greenhill Cemetery, a mere half-mile from my current position in the theater.
I relaxed further into the seat and readied myself for Waynesville’s latest Hollywood treatment.
Lights, camera, action
Originally a novel by David Temple, the transformation of the 2010 book Discovering Grace into the film “Chasing Grace” came from a chance encounter a couple years ago. Temple, who spent his childhood summers at Lake Junaluska, was staying with local land Realtor Jackie Cure. Temple was looking to put plans into motion to make “Chasing Grace.” Cure suggested it be filmed in Haywood County. And with the recent revival of the Haywood County Film Commission by the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, the pieces fell into place to make the film a reality in 2014.
“Haywood County has so much to offer to the film and TV world as a local destination,” Becky Seymour, video marketing manager for the TDA, said last year. “Often, when approached with an opportunity like this, I work with residents of our community that I feel can send me in the right direction to find the location that’s going to seal the deal.”
Haywood County isn’t new to being in the cinema spotlight. With bestselling novels Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier) and Serena (Ron Rash) taking place in our own backyard, Western North Carolina often finds itself the subject of acclaimed literary endeavors. Though both books were filmed overseas, due to production costs and historic aesthetics, major blockbusters have come to the North Carolina in part to incentives put forth by the state and local tourism agencies to attract box office smashes like “The Hunger Games” (shot in Brevard) or recently “Masterminds” (Waynesville/Asheville), which is currently in post-production.
“From the first moment I began meeting with representatives from Haywood County, thanks to my friend Jackie Cure, the process was seamless,” Temple said. “Everyone opened their doors and hearts to both the mechanics of the machine of filmmaking and the message of the movie — everyone I came in contact with were gracious and accommodating.”
Filming sites in the county were the Canton Police Department, Canton Middle School and Haywood Community College in Clyde. Locations in Waynesville included The Classic Wineseller, The First Baptist Church and a residence near Camp Branch Road, amongst others. And while the main actors were handpicked from around the country, several extras in “Chasing Grace” are also residents of the community.
“There is nothing in the world like crafting a story out of thin air, choosing just the right actors and crew to help you build the machine,” Temple said. “And then see it come to life on the big screen? There’s nothing like it — I couldn’t be happier.”
And what does this mean for the HCFC?
“I think in the future, we will always have projects going on,” Seymour said. “Considering the N.C. Film Incentive status, we are a great destination for blockbuster movies and other types of productions.”
Your town onscreen
So, one question remains then — is “Chasing Grace” any good?
Actually, yes, in many aspects, it was.
The basic story revolves around the Matheson household, an A-typical family. There is a core of happiness and joy, one that seemingly revolves around the family’s gem — young Gracie. She’s the shining light of her parents and siblings. And yet, just as paradise continues like business as usual, tragedy strikes them. Although I won’t reveal too much of the storyline, the plot points of devastation and heartache are pretty powerful, to say the least.
There is alcoholism, violence, recklessness, and yet also a strong sense of compassion and perseverance. It is a story, a film, about redemption and finding forgiveness in the eyes of adversity amid deep, troubling secrets. For how hard we try to hide our skeletons in the closet, it is a matter of “when” not “if” as to them finally getting dragged out into the public eye.
All and all, “Chasing Grace” was an enjoyable cinematic experience. Sure, at first glance, one might brush off the film as another “Lifetime Afterschool Special,” filled with the usual overplayed emotions and blinking light thematic messages. But, to the seasoned moviegoer, “Chasing Grace,” though a tad rushed at times, doesn’t once came across as a surface level attempt to squeeze and dilute an entire novel into two hours onscreen.
Temple — who wrote the screenplay, directed and starred in the film — has crafted something of taste and substance. Of course, at times, the film did seem preachy, but that thought was quickly dismissed taking into account the story itself, and the mere fact, it was pretty surreal to see the beauty of Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and greater Haywood County splashed across the screen. The cinematography and technique was skillful and precise, where you knew viewing it that Temple isn’t some weekend warrior filmmaker. Even Temple himself, playing the black sheep Uncle Carter, pulled off an enjoyable performance, perhaps the best one of the flick, alongside Ashlee Payne (Gracie’s mother) and Leon Pridgen (Officer Mahler).
Simply put, David Temple — what can’t this guy do?
Onward and upward
When the houselights came back on, the audience loudly applauded Temple and several of the actors present in the theater. It was truly a proud moment for them, and for the folks of Haywood County. Filmmaking is a real and viable thing here. The sky’s the limit to what can, and will, find itself being produced in our corner of paradise in the world.
“[I hope] perhaps [moviegoers] will see this ‘faith-based film’ in a different light, and appreciate a more realistic story of one man’s journey,” Temple said. “I hope they walk away inspired by the message, and integrating that into their lives. I hope they will see the power of forgiveness, while realizing that none of us are perfect. After all, every one of us, at one time or another, needs to experience forgiveness.”
Exiting The Strand, there was a line out the door for the next showing of “Chasing Grace.” A sold-out screening, with dozens of folks eager to see what the fuss is all about, what their community looks like up there on the big screen.
“I’m very pleased about the turnout,” Seymour said. “I feel that the movie was received among the audience, and it was exciting to see Haywood County onscreen. I’m happy to hear about the sold-out showings because this film feels like a community effort.”
For Temple, he’s already working on the sequel, “Stealing Hope,” which is currently a novel gaining steam on Amazon. He noted there is also a horror/comedy and thriller on his plate.
“I have to follow my dreams,” he said. “And my dreams are about storytelling.”