CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill on the Elk River serves as the backdrop for a short film scheduled to be shot in parts of southern West Virginia in December.
This week, casting calls are scheduled in Lewisburg and Summersville for “Crick in the Holler,” the film that is the MFA thesis project for Ursula Kay Ellis, a graduate student at New York’s Columbia University who has strong ties to the Mountain State.
“West Virginia is a family home. Most of my family still lives there,” Ellis told MetroNews.
Her mother grew up near Summersville, while her father, a 30 year U.S. Army veteran whose job required multiple moves when Ellis was younger, is originally from Alderson. Both are graduates of Marshall University.
“My grandparents live right over Brock’s Bridge in Canvas and it’s the family home that I return to every summer, every holiday and I did spend any extended period of time there when I was younger,” Ellis said.
“Crick in the Holler,” a family drama which Ellis wrote and is directing, tells the story of Dawn, a first-generation college student, who is charged with the care of her rebellious younger sister, Summer, for a weekend.
Instead, in the fictional account, Dawn becomes consumed by an investigation of the local water supply after witnessing early cleanup efforts at Freedom Industries on the Elk River when the spill is already in progress.
In the story, like in real life, tap water starts to smell like licorice.
Men and women between the ages of 20 and 50 are being sought for supporting and featured background roles in scenes that include a party in the woods, a grocery store and an industrial workplace for filming in Mt. Nebo and Summersville on Dec. 17 and Dec. 18.
Casting calls are scheduled for the following dates and locations:
Friday, Oct. 21
Summersville Public Library, Summersville
4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22
The Lewis Theatre, Lewisburg
2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Acting experience is not required, according to Ellis.
Contact information and photos can be submitted ahead of time via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Locations throughout southern West Virginia will be used during scheduled shooting for the film from Dec. 7 through 19.
Filming in the Mountain State comes with family benefits, in Ellis’ view.
“My family, they’re very, very supportive of what I do, but they’ve never seen it, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody,” she said. “I thought it would be really nice to do a film in West Virginia, about West Virginia, and to include them in what I’ve been doing for my adult life.”
Once finished, “Crick in the Holler,” the winner of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, will be screened at New York’s Lincoln Center during the Columbia University Film Festival and also submitted to short film festivals around the world with the goal of being picked up for distribution.
While studying film at Columbia, Ellis is employed as a development consultant with Cine Mosaic, a production house involved in Disney’s “Queen of Katwe,” now in wide release, and HBO Films’ “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” starring Oprah Winfrey.
Ellis currently has a feature film she wrote, one that is also set in West Virginia, in development.
After graduation next year, she said she will be trying to make that full-length film in the Mountain State.
“It’s the place I grew up going to and I don’t feel like West Virginia is represented enough in the media, in terms of telling authentic stories about West Virginians and by them as much as I possible,” Ellis said.
“I’d really love to see that happen. I’m really invested in doing that.”