CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston attorney-turned-filmmaker Jon Matthews and actress Abby Wathen hope to bring their big-screen dreams home to West Virginia.
The two started a Kickstarter project to raise money online for "Unlovable," a film they want to shoot this fall to take to film festivals in 2014.
"The story is about Shelby, who contracted AIDS when she was 7 years old," Wathen said. "She lives in a small town, where everybody knows everything about everyone, and she's kind of been ignored.
"She's lonely, and then she meets Simon." Wathen smiled. "It's a love story."
To get the film made, Matthews and Wathen need to raise $20,000 through the website in less than 10 days. The clock is ticking, but they believe they have a story worth telling.The actress
For Wathen, who grew up in Hendersonville, Ky., and Huntington, the film is a passion project, something she relates to. She said she has Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a disorder that affects the nervous system.
"It causes the nervous system to freak out. There's a lot of pain," she said. "I'm in remission, but from the age of 11 to 18, there were lots of hospital visits."
Wathen lives in California, but her mother still works for the West Virginia Library Commission and her sister lives in Teays Valley.
Wathen got into theater young. She was 5 years old when she was cast in a production of "Madeline."
"After that," she said, "there was nothing else for me but to act."
She performed in whatever plays she could get into, but remembers her mother having to take her to do shows in Ashland because there wasn't a big theater program at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio.
In 2001, with her RSD in remission, she left to pursue stardom on the stage and screen.
"It was either New York or Los Angeles," she said. "New York was closer. My goals were to get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, get an agent and get mugged.
"All three happened."
She can laugh about it now.
She also got onto the soap opera "All My Children" for a couple of episodes. Things were looking up for her -- and then 9/11 happened. The city shut down. Soldiers were in the streets and work dried up.
"It was a very scary time," she said. "I got on a Greyhound bus and came home."
A few months later -- against the advice of friends -- she took the train back to New York.
Things were better.
"The city was rebuilding itself, and the funny thing was, TV and film was really taking off," she said. "They'd come back and were everywhere. It was really cool to be part of such a community."
After some nice successes, including a role in the play "Moonchild," a guest appearance on TV's "Third Watch" and a part in the film "The Baxter," she moved to Los Angeles.
"But L.A. didn't embrace me," she said. "I came in with great reviews for 'Moonchild,' a movie in theaters and an agent -- and I didn't work for a year."
She also met Markus Redmond, an actor and writer. Redmond played Raymond Alexander on TV's "Doogie Howser, M.D." and was in a few movies, like "Fight Club" and "The Inkwell."
Wathen eventually was called to do "Bloody Mary," a horror film that was never released.
"Lots of films never get released," she said, "but it changed my course. I was working after that."
Last year, she did four features, including a couple of romantic comedies, at least one of which, "Runaway Hearts," is slated to show at the Cannes Film Festival in France. By December, though, things had taken a bad turn.
"I was going through some personal things," Wathen said, "and I called Markus and told him I needed to work badly."
She got him to send her some of his scripts, among them the unfinished script for "Unlovable."
"I saw it and said, this could be beautiful -- and we could shoot it in West Virginia for next to nothing."The director
Wathen even knew someone -- sort of -- who might direct: Jon Matthews, from Alum Creek.
"I'm from the Booger Hole," he laughed. "On account of the moonshining, that's what they used to call it. Now it's Whispering Pines, but that's where I'm from."
Matthews grew up with a map of New York City, a mythical place he wanted to see. He might never have moved there if not for film director Spike Lee.