Updated Aug. 15, 2013
By DAVID BORAKS
Downtown Davidson has had a starring role over the past few weeks in a film called “Saving Westbrook High,” which is being shot here and directed by Huntersville filmmaker Gary Wheeler.
Wheeler’s films are positive and inspirational and aimed at a family audience. The film was written by Rhonda Baracka and tells of a group of high school students, parents and teachers who come together and inspire a divided community to save their once-popular high school, which is scheduled to close.
(Sound familiar? That story line played out with an unhappy ending here a few years ago when Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools shuttered Davidson IB Middle School on South Street – ironically the main setting for “Saving Westbrook High.”)
[The film went by several names during development, including "Teachers" and "Lake Charlotte High." The most recent word from producers is that the final title will be "Saving Westbrook High." See more in the interview with Wheeler below.]
Anyhow, our town has been ready for its closeup – no matter what it takes. Wednesday was the final day of local filming, beginning at the crack of dawn at Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse, at South Main and South streets.
A bleary-eyed Flatiron manager Jason Tognarina told us at 9am that the crew had been at the restaurant since 5am. The scene depicted a dinner meeting between the school principal and others talking about the fate of the school.
After that, the actors, camera and lighting crews and Wheeler moved across the intersection to Summit Coffee, where another scene was filmed upstairs.
As a local resident, Wheeler knows the area well. And moviegoers already know him. His film “The Trial,” based on a book by Robert Whitlow and starring Matthew Modine, premiered at Davidson’s Our Town Cinemas in 2010.
He knew about the Davidson IB School (originally Davidson Elementary School) on South Street and it had just the look he wanted for the film. The 1940s-era building is now Lake Norman Christian School.
“Saving Westbrook High” will feature actors Esai Morales, Loretta Devine, and Salli Richardson-Whitfield, along with an army of local extras from Davidson and the Lake Norman Christian School.
“This film is a perfect combination of stars that have been in many popular shows and films,” Wheeler said in a statement last week. Devine will play a guidance counselor, Richardson-Whitfield is the principal and Morales is a parent. The crew also is entirely from the Charlotte area, and it’s being produced by Dave Eubanks and Keith Neal with Eric Tomosunas of Swirl Films.
“This is the first filming experience for many of the extras – what a wonderful way to learn about this industry in their own home region. It has been a rewarding experience for me working with all of them,” Wheeler said.
The production is the first in town since the Town Board approved a new film production ordinance on May 14. The producers were required to obtain a $150 town permit for filming in public locations and to provide proof of insurance.
WHEN CAN WE SEE IT?
“Saving Westbrook High” is scheduled air this fall on the UP network (UPTV.com), which describes itself as a “family friendly cable network.” It also will be show during a celebration for the local talent that participated sometime this fall at Our Town Cinemas in Davidson.
July 22, 2013, DavidsonNews.net, “All quiet on the set, on South Street”
INTERVIEW WITH GARY WHEELER
Publicist Jan Black supplied this Q&A with Gary Wheeler after filming on “Saving Westbrook High” wrapped up.
Q. What’s the final name of the movie and why was it so hard to decide?
Gary Wheeler: The final name of the film is “Saving Westbrook High.” The script was always called “Teachers” but there was a 1980s movie starring Nick Nolte with the same name. As a film, this story was always about more than just teachers. It was about a community banding together to save their school. So this name feels more appropriate.
Q. Did Davidson turn out to be a good site for this movie?
Gary Wheeler: Davidson turned out to be a great site for the film. The people were great. We shot the entire film within five blocks and everyone was really nice. Davidson is a very picturesque, welcoming setting and I think the film will pay tribute to that.
Q. What were a few of your favorite moments during shooting?
Gary Wheeler: For me it is always about how harmonious and peacefully everyone works together. This was one of the easiest shoots I’ve ever been on and it will show in the final product. The cast really got along great and so did the crew. I think beyond that, this one will go down in the books for me as the greatest group of extras we’ve had on a film. Which is quite amazing because they were mostly teenagers! They were all also local Lake Norman area kids, so I’m even more proud of how our community came out.
Q. When will it be shown at Our Town Cinemas?
Gary Wheeler: I think it will be sometime in late September.
Q. When will it be shown on UP network?
Gary Wheeler: Oct. 19
Q. What will your next film be……tell us a little about the story?
Gary Wheeler: Our next film is “Mountaintop.” It is based on a Robert Whitlow novel and will be shot in Boone, NC, soon. We will probably have a whole new group of extras, but anyone from this film is welcome to make the trip up the mountain.