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Huntington Could Become a Filmmaking Hub Thanks to Soundstage
“The Night of the Hunter” (1955) starred Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters and Lilllian Gish in a surreal true story of a Clarksburg, WV reverend turned serial killer included shooting in Moundsville, Sistersville, and New Martinsville.
“Fools Parade” (1971) starring Jimmy Stewart, George Kennedy , Kurt Russell and Strother Martin had the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville as its principle location.
The Mountain State shared locations with Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia for singer Loretta Lynn’s biographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980) while “Sweet Dreams” (1985) starring Jessica Lange was lensed in New Martinsville, also the location for Paramount’s 1928 flick, “Stage Struck”, which featuredGloria Swanson, Lawrence Gray, and Gertrude Astor .
Prior to “Super 8,” the Wheeling/Weirton area was the location for the Academy Award winning “The Deer Hunter” (1978) starring Robert DeNiro , “Reckless” (1983) brought Daryl Hannah and Aidan Quinn to the big screen., and a portion of the documentary, “America’s Heart and Soul” (2000).
Various independent productions had been shot in the state “Matewan” (1987) and Daniel Boyd’s “Invasion of the Space Preachers” (1989), “Chillers” (1987) and “Paradise Park” (1990), and Clyde Ware’s “No Drums No Bugles” *1972) and “When the Line Goes Through” (1973), and the small budget exploitation picture, “Teen Age Strangler” shot in Huntington in 1964.
However, when Warner Bros. decided to bring the Marshall plane crash football tragedy and aftermath to the big screen in 2006 , it hit a nerve. Although many exterior scenes were shot in and around Huntington and Marshall University by director McG, the interiors were shot mainly in Atlanta. West Virginia did not offer filmmakers a tax incentive , Georgia did. Then, Gov. Joe Manchin found a way to extend the studio filmmaker’s stay a third week, then, the state passed incentives to woo filmmakers.
Still, West Virginia had the natural location, but lacked one essential --- a soundstage for shooting interiors. Not anymore.
Trifecta Productions, which teamed with Milton producer, Darrell Fetty for the “America’s Greatest Feud: The History of the Hatfields and McCoys”
“We have a couple of scripts and we are entertaining some feature films to be shot and produced in their entirety in Huntington,” said Joe Murphy, president of Trifecta Productions. “We don’t want to get anybody too excited, but that is on the horizon, as well as scripted and unscripted series and concepts.
Describing the 5,000 square foot sound stage as having twenty two feet to the lighting grid, the sound proof facility will have a cyclorama that will serves as a massive green screen for state of the art special effects.
Prior to the launch of Trifecta’s facility which is located in a remodeled former television studio, “We had limited studio space in West Virginia and as far as I know no sound stage to speak of. We could go out on location or find spots to do interviews,” Murphy explained, adding the new facility brings a “controlled environment” including a lock down location, sound proofing, plenty of electrical access, and any lighting equipment you need to bring.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has already embraced the economic development opportunities that come from filmmakers choosing Huntington for the production of their feature film, television episode, commercial or documentary.
MAYOR EVALUATING CITY FILMMAKING INCENTIVES
"Our city and region are blessed to have a company of the talent, caliber, and vision of Trifecta,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who graduated from Huntington High School by walking across the stage of the Keith “Joe Murphy and Jack Reynolds have complimented us by investing here and betting their business future on Huntington, WV.”
Williams who played football for Marshall University explained, “ We will do whatever is necessary to assist them in their efforts. We are evaluating what tax and fee incentives as well as city services that will place Huntington in the forefront of film, commercial, and documentary production.”
The Mayor added, “Huntington can provide one thing to production companies that is not available anywhere else in the world...the hospitality and warmth of Huntingtonians. Film companies will be embraced here so they will feel at home...yet be given the space needed to produce their product."
HUNTINGTON AND WEST VIRGINIA, ANYTOWN , USA ON FILM
Stressing the goal of turning the city into a film-friendly venue, Murphy too called the opening of the sound stage a “big step” for the city stressing that it will be comparable to any stage of our size in New York or Los Angeles when completed.
“We want to make Huntington a hub for production,” Murphy explained that “within twenty-five radius, I can create a Revolutionary War battle, see an 1890s-1960s bustling epicenter, and turn the corner to find Anytown, U.S.A.”
Business and residents of Huntington have been enthusiastic in making out of town filmmakers feel at home. “We Are Marshall” director developed such a connection to residents , he would have been a cinch to win by a land slide election to public office.
Co-operation from the city and the state’s host of tax incentives through the WV Film Office means, “We can invite crews into our hometown and not only will they have facilities, but we can share our culture and heritage. They will access to wonderful hotels, restaurants, entertainment right on our door step.”
The bottom line equals money, and, Huntington and the state have expense conditions well below the cost of filming in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Pittsburgh, which means a production company can get more bang for their bucks shooting in the Mountain State.
West Virginia writer/producer Darrell Fetty, honored as co-producer of the “Hatfields and McCoys” miniseries, indicated that he has already connected Trifecta “to a couple of productions” that may bring some film business to Huntington.
A few of the prospects surfaced after the debut of MTV’s Sissonville, WV filmed “Buckwild,” a realty series that follows a group of young West Virginians who could easily be a group of college age students from any rural institution of higher learning in the Heartland.
Admitting that he has not seen "Buckwild" nor is he a fan of 'reality television,' Fetty explained "networks need programs that people will watch. Currently, viewers are watching more and more "Reality" programs featuring wild and crazy 'Regional Characters' in unique locales or occupations - from "Swamp People" to "Buckwild" - As long as people want to see shows like that, the networks will continue to program them. Every state and specific locale has its own wide range of eccentric, looney, and outrageous indigenous personalities along with the vast majority of normal, intelligent folks who live there."
Unfortunately, most people do not watch shows about "normal intelligent people living normal intelligent lives," Fetty said. Although not advocating "Buckwild," the filmmaker explained "the only way to fight low-brow programming is to develop more higher-quality shows about real people, real conflicts and real human emotions, like "Hatfields & McCoys," to counterbalance any stereotypical or exploitive productions that come to our previously-underused area for filming."
Murphy, who currently plans to expand his “A Brief History of the Keith Albee” to a one hour documentary explained the economic multipliers.
“Filmmakers who select the Mountain State as a shooting location may be eligible for state tax incentives as the 'making of' production process of television and film stimulate an economic multiplier, which benefit local businesses (i.e. hotels, restaurants), but create temporary jobs that range from acting and extras to a need for carpentry and electrical skills to, for instance, build sets.”
The incentive is available to productions that do not present the state in a derogatory manner. "Buckwild" producers were denied the incentive due to the stereotypical nature of the project.
Despite the negative stereotypes exemplified by “Buckwild,” Murphy suggests, “We are the beginning of the hillbilly chic revolution. It’s happening in West Virginia, right here in Huntington, and all over America, whether its country music or muscle cars,” Murphy said, explaining that “everybody goes back to the blue collar of America, the common man. You’re going to see dozens of television shows like “Buckwild” , just like you saw everything “Jersey Shore” … If someone doesn’t agree with the content, then, make better content. If someone has a better story or a better answer to “Buckwild,” we want to hear about it… and we have creative content to share. We can let outsiders come in and take away what they want or we can be stewards over our image.”
LOVE LETTERS TO THE KEITH ALBEE
Trifecta’s close to their heart project , the restoration of the Keith Albee received $300,000 from the Governor’s office, the House of Delegates and State Senate for roofing repairs that will guarantee the integrity of the opulent interior architecture for future generations.
Currently, Murphy’s company seeks love letters from West Virginia about their fondest memories inside the Keith Albee, which was built in 1928 with an atmospheric Spanish Moorish design by famed movie theater architect Thomas Lamb.
Calling the documentary a time capsule to guarantee a hundred more years, Murphy asked for “good stories (and photos) that have slipped past the ticket takers.”
Hatfields & McCoys star, Tom Berenger , stricken by the theater’s beauty asked his wife to marry him from the theatre’s stage.
“We took him on a tour the morning before the [Huntington] premiere and he fell in love with it. He knew that was the spot where he wanted to propose, even though he had not worked out the rest of the details. He knew because she loved that theatre and saw her first movie there. Tom Berenger, whose credits range from “The Big Chill”’ and “Major League” to “Training Day” and “Inception,” “has been in some of the amazing and opulent theatres in the world premiering movies and making movies,” Murphy revealed.
“We have only just begun the project,” he said. Although a lot of great events have happened involving A-list celebrities, “many stories have slipped through the cracks and never been told.” Trifecta seeks stories and photos about first experiences, falling in love or watching a band at the Keith. “I’ve heard dozens of stories of first dates, getting married there or dancing in the aisles during vaudeville days.”
Send your personal Keith favorite to the documentary filmmakers by checking links at www.friendsofthekeith.com .