Appalachian Trial is unique among the productions of Unusual Films because it was shot entirely in outdoor locations in South Carolina, including Camp Spearhead in Marietta, a river near Fork Shoals, South Carolina, and on rural roads in the Upstate area. The script was chosen in part because of this feature, since it was feared that the gym demolition and construction on the BJU campus that summer would make the sound stage too noisy to use for shooting.
Filming took place over a five month period—June to October 2003. Shooting was scheduled to be completed during the summer, but an unusual amount of rain created frequent delays. The crew became very adept at quick tear-downs to protect the equipment from the weather. Of course, shooting outdoors brought other environmental issues, like snakes, bugs, and the ever-present tree frogs. (Perhaps the gym demolition would have been quieter than tree frogs!)
One of the most challenging problems to solve was that of the rain—not just because it rained all the time, but because several night scenes required rain on cue. The solution was to shoot using artificial rain created by a fire truck and backlighting it so that it could be seen in the blackness of the night. Those shoots involved several very late nights and early mornings to accomplish.
Another challenge was costuming. Since most of the film takes place over about a 24-hour period, the actors had to be seen wearing the same outfits in various stages of dilapidation. The solution was to provide four identical costumes for each of the children, so that various copies could be “distressed” with differing amounts of mud. Like most films, Appalachian Trial was not shot in script order, so one day’s shoot might call for muddy and torn costumes, and the next would require clean costumes.
The entire Unusual Films faculty took part in the film’s production. The film was directed by Tim Rogers, the cinematographer was Wade Ramsey, and the production manager was Steve Ross. Other faculty members involved include Christopher Zydowicz (actor liaison and supervisor/screenplay), George Rogier (sound), Sharyn Jeffers (sound), Steve White (sound), John Magnuson (engineering), Terry Davenport (set design and makeup), Fred Pachter (costumes/screenplay), David Rogers (set construction), Bruce Polhamus (titles), Michelle Bechtel (original story) and John Mininger (assistant production manager). Laura Stevenson was the editor, and Dan Calnon provided both still photography and served as the project’s technical advisor, since he is a veteran camper. The beautiful music was composed by Joan Pinkston and Alexander Kruchkov in an impossibly short amount of time, and recording of the music was done on the campus with the able assistance of Audio Services and many of the University’s excellent musicians.
One of the great traditions of Unusual Films is the participation of students in the studio’s dramatic productions. The students get a remarkable opportunity to participate in a big production first-hand in an internship-like setting, and the studio benefits from their assistance. As usual, students in the Cinema and Video Production major comprised the crew. Sixteen students stayed for a significant part of their summer to participate in the production, and others helped wrap up the shooting portion of production once the school year began.
The cast included 7 actors, Bullet the dog, and an opossum.
The adult roles were played by Jay Bopp (Mr. Hart), Nancy Bopp (Mrs. Hart), and Ron Pyle (Mr. Crandall.) All three were faculty members at BJU.
Auditions were held for the four children’s parts. Since being chosen for a role meant a summer’s commitment plus part of a school year, those who were willing to volunteer and try out were much appreciated by the staff of Unusual Films. (And the commitment isn’t just the child’s participation—the whole family is affected when a child acts in a film.) Auditions included photographs, an interview, and in some cases, on-camera scenes. For the most part, the families who participated in the auditions were from the University family, since their proximity and schedule made them ideal candidates.
The choices were difficult, but in the end the parts went to Gabriella Huntress (Kayla), Samuel Worley (Zach), and brothers Jon (Jeremy) and Ryan (Brendan) Kappel. Each one made his own special contribution to the film.
Bullet played himself. He was owned by Mr. Mark Ring, who used Bullet in his own ministry to children. Bullet boarded with members of the faculty for the duration of filming, and became a favorite member of the crew.
The opossum was actually one of several animals who were tried out for the role of the mysterious noise. A raccoon was filmed doing the same action, but Possum posed nicely when coming out of the bushes so he won the part. Of course, none of the animals used were harmed in any way. Probably no one on the crew is eager to work with opossums or raccoons again.
The editing began while the film was being shot, though full-fledged editing did not start until the fall. Post-production of the film lasted from fall 2003 to early summer 2004. This included editing, laying up and mixing the sound tracks, writing the score, and preparing the DVD materials for distribution.
Appalachian Trial was shot on 16mm color negative film, but the film was edited electronically using an Avid Symphony system, and the major sound work was completed in ProTools. For the first time in the history of our dramatic films, we did not take the film to a laboratory for an answer print or release prints, and output the film directly to a video master instead.