Farm becomes movie set

Shipley property in Jessup is used as stand-in for 1800s Midwest

November 11, 2007|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,Special to The Sun

When retired teacher, community theater director and sometime actor Wayne Shipley went looking for a location to shoot his first movie, a Western set in 19th-century Missouri, he looked no farther than his own backyard.

The Shipley family's 38-acre farm in Jessup, with its sweeping meadows, grazing horses and weathered ranch house, has been a stand-in for the rural Midwest of 1887 for the past 13 months.

Though the community is better known for its strip malls and state prisons, the movie set has been a perfect fit. It's one of many sets that Shipley, 64, has been delighted to make use of, with the help of friends he has gathered over the years who became the heart of his cast and crew.

Making a movie "is a collaborative project," said writer-director Shipley of the project, titled One-Eyed Horse. "One person has the vision, but it doesn't get done unless you have people who will get down in the mud. I have had wonderful support in the sheer amount of time that people spent."

Shipley, who retired in 1997 as head of North County High School's English department, was instrumental in the development of the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park in the late 1990s. No stranger to film, he has taught filmmaking and film appreciation, and instructed teachers in the use of movies in the classroom.

"One-Eyed Horse is structured like a five-act Shakespearean play," said Shipley, whose favorite authors are the Bard and writer Larry McMurtry.

The story takes place 22 years after Lee's surrender at Appomattox and concerns the life of former Union officer William Tecumseh Curry, who struggles with his personal demons, reconnects with a man from his past and reunites with his estranged daughter.

According to Shipley, post-Civil War residents of states such as Missouri and Kansas retained their divided loyalties long after other regions had reconciled their differences. Shipley used this tension to add drama to his story.

"It's really a drama that takes place in the West," said Ruthie Holmes, the film's production manager, who has worked with Shipley since they met during the planning stages of the Chesapeake Arts Center.

Shipley declined to disclose his budget but said the movie is privately funded. He said he firmly believes that a quality movie can be produced on a shoestring budget.

Filming should be completed in December, followed by four months of editing.

Shipley estimated that 92 percent of the film has been shot in Anne Arundel County, with 72 percent in Jessup.

The film crew will soon set up saloon sequences for a bar fight in the dance hall at Blob's Park. With the installation of some "wild walls" and a borrowed 12-foot bar, all that are needed are antique playing cards for the gamblers and tables and chairs ready to break during the fight.

Props, such as a period baby carriage and an old wheelchair critical to the story, are on loan from county antiques shops whose owners have been very cooperative, Shipley said.

Cameraman and soundman Jeff Herberger has to deal with the ever-present airplanes flying in and out of nearby Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and devise ways to camouflage modern fixtures, such as wrapping a burlap bag around an outdoor light that might come into camera range.

Gathered for an early-morning production meeting last week around a large circular table covered with shooting schedules, "treatment" notebooks (the film's story in narrative and pictures) and leftover Halloween candy were the director, Holmes, horse wrangler Bob Brown, veteran film actor and director Mark Redfield and Jennifer Rouse, who plays his daughter in the film.

"We want to open with a hook and bang," said Redfield, a longtime theater comrade of Shipley's who directed Rouse in the film The Death of Poe in 2006.

He suggested using a flashback "teaser" shown before the titles to engage the audience. Shipley agreed.

A native of Baltimore, Rouse, 26, graduated with a psychology degree from Towson University and has studied music and voice at the Community College of Baltimore and the Peabody Conservatory. Her credits include appearances on The Wire, The West Wing and The District.

She's among the more than 50 actors and crew members for the film, including Shipley's sister, Katherine, and his wife, Pat, who wears several hats: actress, riding instructor and costumer among them.

Tom Drury, who plays a lead henchman, heard about the movie and brought horses from his Millersville stable to help the actors become at ease on horseback.

There are 25 horses involved in the movie. Old Westerns used pinto ponies because they were hard to tell apart, Shipley said. His horses, however, can't be interchanged.

Shipley plans for One-Eyed Horse to have its premiere at a local multiplex next spring.

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