Trifecta’s Hollywood-Level Work Standard Has Huntington on the Edge of Becoming a Boutique Film-making Community

Updated 5 years ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Trifecta’s Hollywood-Level Work Standard Has Huntington on the Edge of Becoming a Boutique Film-making Community

Having announced the potential filmmaking economic development magnet during its Economic Development transition meeting, the foundation for the discovery of Huntington has roots in work by Trifeca Productions, which itself expands in 2013 into a renovated former television studio

“If we bring film and commercial projects to Huntington, every restaurant wins,” explained Trifecta president Joe Murphy. “The entire economy gets a boost, whether it’s a three day shoot or a three month shoot. It’s not just Huntington, it’s happening everywhere,  Technology has leveled the playing field.”

Describing themselves as “opportunists” in a perfect storm of optimum, Murphy described the city as “on fire” ready to become a boon town again.  

Founded in 2007 by Joe Murphy and Jack Reynolds, the company received a break when Darrel Fetty and the History Channel asked them to produce a documentary. “America’s Greatest Feud: The History of the Hatfields & McCoys,” which offers the Insight of historians, scholars and descendants, as well as dramatic  reenactments  shot  at Heritage Farm, near Huntington.

In addition, Huntington has come together and worked on other “rush” film projects, such as a late 40’s commercial for the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Murphy credits the work ethic, innovation and co-operative attitude  of West Virginians for  success.

“I hope to be a boutique-like film location where you can come, spend your money, you get your fine meal, work a hard day’s work on a film set , meet  some nice people, and at the end of the day, week or month that you are here, go home with a great experience,” Murphy said.

To illustrate the attitudes of co-operation, Murphy described how an idea of a late 40’s period downtown promotional video for the city came together:

“Josh Edwards [director of photography] had an idea to take Huntington back to the late 40’s.  Normally, this is a huge undertaking.  Block off a street. You want a dozen cars.  20-30 extras dressed in period clothing.  Child actors. Light up the Keith Albee. Close down businesses , redress store fronts, and you want this by Tuesday.  We did it because the people of the city helped. Everybody comes and makes it happen. You don’t have to beg.

“We got the shoot together in a week and two days.  By Monday, we had six cars, Mayor Wolfe made a phone call and next thing you know, there were beautiful cars.  We called Marshall. Have you got any actors that want to dress up and play 1947-1952 and we will give them great parts.  We got 15 great actors and actresses. Everyone made it happen so easily. Every store that we pointed a camera at --- from Wrights to St. Marks --- was more than happy , every single vendor on that street helped. And, they did not charge us a thing.”

Suggesting that a surge in filmmaking activity could bring location fees and filming permits, Murphy stressed, “That’s a good thing. It’s good to have infrastructure boundaries in order.”

 Ironically, Warner Bros. use of Atlanta as a Huntington stand-in opened the eyes of local government. Following a three week on-location shoot in Huntington, the studio moved to Atlanta for action shots at a stand-in for the demolished Fairfield Stadium and for interior work on sound stages. Georgia importantly already had in place tax incentives for film makers. The easy access nationwide access became a necessity too.

Gov. Manchin visited the "We Are Marshall" set by Hodges Hall where Matthew McConaughey played Coach Lengyel.
Gov. Manchin visited the "We Are Marshall" set by Hodges Hall where Matthew McConaughey played Coach Lengyel.
Photo by Tony Rutherford

Then WV Governor Joe Manchin spearheaded a tax credit for film making in the Mountain State. Shooting the three weeks of the Marshall plane crash movie in Huntington had a ripple effect --- the crew spent money on rentals, employed some locals, stayed at motels, ate at restaurants, and , in short, pumped an economic multiplier into the city’s fragile economy.

Later, the premiere and tours of the movie set (a 40’s decorated Fourth Avenue) created a boon on tourism. The film provided advertising for Marshall University and the city beyond a thirty second spot on a sports network. It portrayed a small city in the West Virginia heartland without injecting negative stereotypes.

Both Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been landing tent-pole level location shoots i.e. “The Avengers,” “Dark Knight.” Detroit has started using empty structures and factories as film locations. Huntington has a low cost of living when compared to New York City or Los Angeles. The expenses translate to shooting a film too. And, the high speed broadband internet is the “train” or “plane” that sends the “dailies” (i.e. scenes shot during the day) back to studio heads so they can provide input without leaving their office. For that matter, the internet allows visual effects to be created anywhere  and sent for final assembly to Hollywood.

Having been exposed to the visual medium through “WAM,” “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and others, local and state government has learned the value of a creative community. Marshall brings in the rookies, not just in athletics . Students come for art, theatre , music, creative writing, and other educational endeavors.

Still from "America's Feud" at Trifecta Office
Still from "America's Feud" at Trifecta Office

Potentially counter-acting state stereotypes, Josh Edwards, who served as director of photography for “America’s Greatest Feud,”   indicated location shoots will enable “cultural exchange. People who visit and work in production here will learn about our state,  our lives and the great state that we are.  We can learn from them. Hopefully, they will spread the word about this great town that’s so good for production and where the people are so great. Maybe, it will influence people to want to move here.”

But the bottom line rules.

“It’s all about making your dollars go farther,” Murphy stressed.  “We have tax incentives. We hope to have a local tax incentive to make It more affordable to shoot in Huntington.  By all definitions, Huntington was a boon town once because of manufacturing ,  transportation, and resources. All serendipitous …. meeting at a perfect moment.  What’s happening now is we are building a crew . We have creative people and resources coming together and we have space.”

However, the creative openness does not equal simply film-making possibilities.

“The music scene here is fantastic,” accessed Murphy who is also lead singer of Mystic Mountain Blueberry band.  “The arts summit [showed] the fruits of our labor. There are so many great writers, artists and cyphers.   

“We are set up ready to serve the world stage, and give the world the best of what we have. It’s just a matter of time. Huntington’s has become a  much more progressive city now.  It’s a matter of getting it out to everyone else and letting them enjoy what we have here.”

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