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Greenbrier County takes center stage in film

LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- In his debut role on the silver screen, John Manchester had a two- or three-word line, depending on the take.

"I played an individual walking along the street with his wife on his arm who greets the sheriff and said, 'Good morning, sheriff. Or, 'Morning, sheriff."

Manchester, the mayor of Lewisburg, had a small role in the upcoming James Franco film, "Child of God." Franco is best known for his acting roles in films like "Spider-Man," "Milk" and "127 Hours."    

Franco shot a portion of the upcoming independent film in Greenbrier County and used a number of the locals there as extras. The film is an adaptation of the 1973 novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy.

Filming in Greenbrier County started at the end of January and lasted three weeks. The crew also shot a portion of the film in Pocahontas County.

Manchester became involved with the film after the crew stopped by his office seeking guidance on where to go for renting cars, finding animals for scenes, space rentals and other things.

"While I was there they snapped a picture and said, 'you might be good in a role,'" Manchester recalls.

The movie, set in the 1950s in rural Tennessee, follows the story of a violent man who dabbles in necrophilia and pedophilia.

Manchester's scene was filmed in front of Ronceverte Presbyterian Church, which doubles as the county courthouse in the film.

Manchester wore a fedora, a sport coat, khakis and dress shoes in the scene.

"It was probably 20 degrees and windy and everyone had to act like it was sunny," he said. That was particularly difficult for the women who wore sleeveless costumes.

Manchester called the movie's filming "the buzz for the winter" in Lewisburg.

The crew of about 40 people stayed in local hotels and ate at local restaurants. A few rented an apartment in town, too.

One local business, The Bakery, catered two meals a day for the crew for two weeks and three meals for one week.

"At times, we were delivering at 4 in the morning," said Jennifer Gammon, a manager at The Bakery.

At the end of the shoot, the restaurant catered a meal for the crew and extras, a group of about 100.

"We got a lot of good compliments," Gammon said. "They said it was the best food they'd had on a site."

Sandy Carter, who owns The Bakery with his wife, Lisa, met James Franco and got to watch some of the filming, Gammon said.

Catering for the film was extra business for the restaurant, which has a staff of seven or eight people.

"[Winter] can be slow," Gammon said. "This has been one of the best winters in a while because of the weather. [The crew] was very, very nice to work with. It was a very nice experience."

The staff at Bella Casa, another local eatery, catered the dinner meal for the crew for about a week and a half, kitchen manager Daryll Short said.

Franco ate at the restaurant one night and enjoyed the food, he said.

Short said the crew helped business at the restaurant.

"In a town this small, any group that hangs around for a week spends some money," he said.

Caroline Smith and Michael Butrill, a husband-and-wife team who own Bootstraps Farm, also had small parts in the movie.

Smith played a role in a carnival scene that was filmed at the state fairgrounds in Fairlea. The scene included several locals who played jugglers, fire-eaters and other roles, she said.

In the scene, Smith's character walks through the carnival with her two young daughters, while the protagonist, played by actor Scott Haze, leers at them.

Haze's character has been playing, and winning, at the carnival games.

"As he's walking off they had fireworks," Smith said. "My one line was commenting about all the prizes he won. It was, 'Lord, look at all them bears he won.'"

Butrill played a farmer during an auction scene in the film, she said. Luna, the couple's 9-year-old daughter, played one of the children at the carnival.

Smith will be paid for her role. She hasn't seen it yet, but she was promised $260 for her one line.

She met Franco as well.

"I only got to meet him because I had the speaking part," Smith said. "[It was] after running the carnival scene. He was very funny and has a very good sense of humor about himself, and kept it light. He seemed like a down-to-earth guy. I wasn't expecting him to be otherwise."

Corey McQuade, a 35-year-old real estate appraiser and musician from Lewisburg, played a band member in one scene.

"I was contacted by local musicians who were already involved in it," McQuade said. "They were looking for a string band for one of the scenes and needed extra people to fill the band."

McQuade plays the dobro, an acoustic lap steel guitar. The musicians also recorded some tunes for the movie.

The band plays old-time fiddle music, he said.

"It was pretty interesting," McQuade said. "It was kind of like what you would expect it to be. You had to do it over and over again."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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