Halloween in March
Morgan County provides backdrop for filming of zombie sequel to classic horror film re-make
By Kathryn Schiliro • Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
It's not everyday that a crazed, psychopathic, Captain Kirk-masked murderer comes to Morgan County. Then again, it's not everyday that a gritty Hollywood director with a cult following does either.
At least, not until now.
Director Rob Zombie, along with a full cast and crew of roughly 200, have been in town since last month filming "H2," a sequel to Zombie's re-make of John Carpenter's 1978 horror film "Halloween," released in 2007.
Filming began in Dunwoody and Covington before making its way to Morgan County, nine days in Madison and Newborn to be specific.
Executive producer Andrew LaMarca estimates that about one-third of the movie will have been shot here in Morgan County.
"It's a great look," LaMarca said. "It's perfect for this movie. It's just what Rob was after, to be able to open up the 'Halloween' look...It has been so tight."
For "H2," downtown Madison's Dog Ear Books was converted into "Uncle Meat's Java Hole," and more filming took place outside Madison Markets, near the Madison City Cemetery and in an alley on West Jefferson Street. The Morgan County Courthouse is also set to be used as the Haddonfield Sheriff's Office, and filming will commence there later this month. In Newborn, filming at a house on Broughton Road, or Sheriff Brackett's house, said to be the location of the climax of the movie, should wrap up this Wednesday.
According to LaMarca, the cast includes seven principal returning cast members as well as two new principal cast members, along with close to 50 other roles, including quite a few stunt people. The majority of the crew is based in Atlanta, as is about 25 percent of the cast and all of the "atmosphere artists," or extras.
As far as the economic impact of filming "H2" in Georgia, LaMarca and location manager Mike Neale estimate that about half of the $20 million overall investment will be spent in the state. In fact, some of it was spent right here in Morgan County, compensating county residents and local businesses for the use of their space and paying for accommodations, among other things.
Some things took getting used to, like not being able to access a plumber in the middle of the night and being on a well system, but LaMarca and Neale, both here from the Los Angeles area, are pleased with the reception they've received.
"There's a lot more cooperation here, more interest in helping," LaMarca said.
Here in Madison, Jessica Royal, of Madison Markets and the James Madison Inn, has been working with the "H2" crew for months now.
"I knew they were looking at Dog Ear for a while," Royal said. "I knew it was always a possibility."
But she didn't find out the film was officially coming until a few days prior to their arrival, which also happened to be the weekend of the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center's annual Antiques Show and Sale, a big weekend for Madison Markets.
Apparently, the crew took down the sign atop Madison Markets on the Thursday before the big antiquing weekend. Although she was compensated for the disruption, she asked that a sign be placed on posts and set out front.
"It had to be something substantial," Royal said.
In all, the movie was filmed in Madison Markets, primarily Dog Ear Books, from Thursday morning through Sunday night.
"It was bizarre all the people who walked in and didn't notice a difference," Royal said. "It was funny being Uncle Meat's Java Hole for the weekend."
As far as accommodations, about 10 members of the cast stayed in the James Madison Inn in downtown Madison, across from Madison Markets, some for about 14 days.
"To maximize time at the set, we have to put them [principal cast members] in the closest location to shooting, in this case Madison," LaMarca said.
Recalling the experience, Royal was impressed by the set design.
"The coolest thing about it all is the way they transform things," Royal said, referring to the transition of Dog Ear Books, and of the Madison Markets' front yard from winter to fall. And Royal played a hand in that as well.
Royal escorted members of the crew to a nearby farm to gather leaves, which were hauled back to the set, spray painted and spread around the grass and on the building.
"There were about 40 bags of leaves," Royal said.
"And we re-use them," Neale said.
Royal doesn't believe that the filming was too much of an inconvenience to the city, but did have an impact on older customers coming into the bookstore for their daily reading.
"Probably the biggest impact they had...was confusing the elderly," Royal said. "People just wanted their papers."
Being that he is the owner of Dog Ear Books, Jon Tonge had a similar experience.
The process of filming in Dog Ear Books began on Thursday, February 26 and, while it was supposed to take six days, Tonge was going on the ninth day of being closed due to the movie as of being interviewed for this article.
"I think they filmed on time," Tonge said. "They've just gotten behind on set tear down...It's definitely cool to see, but at some point you want your store back."
Tonge stuck around from day to day to watch the filming, and was excited about the scene filmed in what became a record shop, most of which happened behind the counter.
"The scene they filmed here was cool," Tonge said. But, he added, "It's not as much fun to watch these things being made as it is to watch one [on a screen]."
Tonge had the store phone ring to his cell phone, and despite his best attempts to let customers know that Dog Ear Books would be out of commission for several days, he still got some business.
"People came asking, 'Where are the papers?'" Tonge said. "And some people from Michigan came by who hadn't been here in two years."
And, despite the chaos that comes with converting a bookstore to a record store, filming a movie and hosting a variety of cast and crew members, Dog Ear's resident cat, Eve, never left the store.
"She took it very well," Tonge said. "She's been sleeping. She's just not impressed by all this glamour."
Both Madison Baptist Church, while filming took place in Madison, and Pennington United Methodist Church, when filming moved to Newborn, hosted the film's trailers in their parking areas.
"They used the back parking lot for the trailers for their wardrobe and make-up," Jim NeSmith, of Madison Baptist, said. "They used our fellowship hall two mornings."
All in all, NeSmith, said that the experience, which lasted throughout Monday and Tuesday, wasn't imposing.
"I gave them some guidelines as far as what they had to do," NeSmith said. "I have no complaints."
As far as the City of Madison's role in the filming of "H2," much like NeSmith at Madison Baptist, Madison City Manager David Nunn didn't find the film crew's requests too much of an intrusion.
"What we do is we assess the impacts they have on the city," Nunn said. "They all know they have to talk to and deal with the affected businesses. That didn't happen as much in this case."
Further, Nunn saw this experience as potential for a positive economic impact.
"We know that business and property owners are compensated," Nunn said.
"H2" crew did come to Nunn to request water from city hydrants to clear newly fallen snow on Monday, which the city denied.
"We don't allow access to those hydrants except for emergencies and clearing the line," Nunn said. "It would disrupt the system terribly."
So, the crew took it upon themselves to come up with a solution, which they did, and the snow didn't slow filming down.
"Our brilliant producer decided that a water truck would do the trick," Neale said.
They also came to Nunn to ask if they could film in the Madison City Cemetery, a proposal he took before the city's Cemetery Stewardship Commission.
"We talked about potential damage and whether that's appropriate for a city cemetery or not," Nunn said.
When the commission came to the conclusion that the filming wasn't worth the risk, Nunn offered up another solution.
"I said we would not try to keep them from filming the image [of the cemetery] from someone else's property, which ended up being what they did," Nunn said.
This wasn't Nunn's first brush with Hollywood in Madison, nor does he believe it will be his last.
"We look at it as a film shoot, whether it's a made-for-TV movie, a commercial, high budget, low budget," Nunn said. "If a company wants to shoot in Madison, we treat them all the same way. We try to be as accommodating as we can without inconveniencing people or businesses."
Georgette Tarpley is a fan of Zombie - she and her husband have been to see Zombie's musical outfit, White Zombie, in concert a couple times - and heard at Madison's Starbucks, where she works, that "H2" was being filmed in Morgan County. So, she packed up her three-year-old son, who wasn't too interested, and headed out to Newborn.
"They had all their trucks out by the road, filming a scene that was going to go down the driveway," Tarpley said. "We watched them basically setting up for the scene. Rob Zombie came down. I didn't meet him or anything, but I got to see him less than 50 feet away."
Another local fan of Zombie, Matt Laseter headed down to the Dog Ear Books set last Monday to check out the filming, but not before returning to home to gather his collection of Zombie DVDs.
"I was standing there by the edge of the street and, when they cut, he comes walking out," Laseter said. "As he got close to me, he walked right past me and I asked for his autograph."
One problem. Laseter didn't have a Sharpie.
So, Laseter went in a nearby trailer and got one. Zombie found him when he returned.
"He just came over, found me and signed both of the movies."
Laseter was admittedly star-struck.
"It's just incredible to see Rob Zombie in Madison, Georgia," Laseter said. "If I could meet any celebrity, it would be him."
"H2" is set to debut in theaters on Friday, August 28. Just in time for Halloween.
See Page 10C for more images HERE
PRINTED IN THE MARCH 12 EDITION