An old storefront on South Thompson Street in Iowa is among the local landmarks being considered for shooting locations for the upcoming independent film “Along the Dirt Road.” Filming is expected to begin next month in Southwest Louisiana. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, April 07, 2014 11:52 AM
An independent film being shot in Southwest Louisiana next month will feature locations in Kinder, Iowa and surrounding areas.
“Along the Dirt Road,” will be filmed entirely in Louisiana, with many locals involved in the production, according to screenwriter and co-executive producer Terry O’Neal.
“It will definitely bring attention to the smaller communities like Kinder and Iowa and hopefully attract other film productions and artists to the area,” O’Neal said during a recent telephone interview from her home in Sacramento, Calif. “I want to bring Southwest Louisiana into Hollywood because there are some very talented people here.”
The film, based on O’Neal’s novel, “Sweet Lavender,” which is set in Louisiana in the 1960s and 1970s.
“It’s a becoming-of-age story that tells the story of a father bringing home a newborn son conceived from an adulterous relationship, then abandoning his family, leaving his wife to struggle to raise their children during a difficult time of racial tension in the South,” O’Neal said.
Most of the story focuses on the perspective of the man’s young daughter, Rae, who is faced with the challenge of growing up without a father.
O’Neal began writing the novel in the late 1990s and finished it in 2002 while staying at a cabin in Breaux Bridge. It took her five years to build the story and characters based on the rich culture and history of the South, she said.
“I love writing about time pieces and the South,” she said.
Although born in California, O’Neal has ties to Southwest Louisiana. Her mother, Barbara Tillman Williams, was born in Lake Charles and many of her relatives still live in the Lake Charles and Iowa area.
“I visited my family there often, and my roots are there,” she said. Many of the film’s production crew also have ties to the South, including Mississippi and Alabama.
O’Neal began scouting filming locations last August. “I met a lot of great people and saw some really great spots,” she said.
Many Southwest Louisiana residents will have lead and supporting roles in the film, O’Neal said.
“The majority of the cast is from Southwest Louisiana,” she said. “We’ll probably have about 130 actors, including 50-plus young people under the age of 16 from anywhere from Lake Charles to Breaux Bridge to New Orleans.”
Newcomer Camryn Levert will play the role of Rae, with Desreta Jackson, best-known as young Celie in the film “The Color Purple,” playing the role of her mother, Angela. Charles Jolivette will play the role of the father, Raymond.
The film is set in Cecilia, but towns from Lake Charles to Breaux Bridge will provide most of the backdrop for filming, O’Neal said. “The homes of the main characters will be in Lake Charles, and there’s one house in Allen Parish,” she said.
Other scenes will be shot at the Moorehead Public School, just north of Kinder. The one-room school was established in 1880 as the first black school in Allen Parish and closed its doors in 1945. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s a perfect location for the film because it’s primarily an African-American story, and that specific school is a historic landmark,” O’Neal said. “The schoolhouse is perfect for our scenes, and I am excited about adapting it and bringing it back to the 1960s.”
St. Paul Baptist Church will be used to shoot early-1970s church scenes. Scenes will also be shot at the Allen Parish Courthouse and a restaurant in Oberlin and at an old storefront in Iowa. Several scenes will also be shot at BZ Farms between Kinder and Iowa.
Production was set to begin earlier this year, but weather has delayed it several times, O’Neal said. “We’re hoping to begin production by May 19 and be wrapped up by June 13, if all goes well and the weather goes nice,” she said.
One important element of the story is the lavender fields where one of the main characters spends much of her time working and healing. Blooming of the plants was delayed by cold weather, O’Neal said.
“The mother (in the story) depended on lavenders to sell for extra income, but it was also her healing,” she said. “She spent a lot of time there. It was her healing, yet it almost killed her in the end.”
O’Neal hopes the movie will be in theaters in 2015. “It’s my very first production, so I’ve learned a lot through the process about film production down to the little things, like set decorating and scouting locations,” she said.
With a production budget under $100,000, O’Neal said she has been able to accomplish much of the work because of the “great people involved in the production and wanting to be a part of something great.”
“I couldn’t have pulled it off in California,” she said. “There’s nothing like Southern hospitality. I have been overwhelmed by all the support we have be getting. The phone is ringing off every day with people wanting to help and to be a part of something great.”