The field at Centennial Park is particularly fetching in the late-afternoon sunshine as a group of young men toss around a baseball.
In the foreground, a young woman totters on her bike as she rides past. Then she pauses to fix the bike, and one of the ballplayers — you can consider him the local hunk, Austin — tries to help her, as she tartly responds she can handle this herself.
They’re actors. The fellows playing baseball are extras knocking about as if they’re in North Carolina, not Central Kentucky.
Austin and girl on the bicycle are part of a television pilot being filmed here. The story is about
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a Manhattan businessman who finds himself and his family settling in a small town and in so doing, reclaiming what makes them a family.
The crew standing across the road from the field is composed mainly of Asbury University film studies undergraduate and graduate students. The professional director is Anson Williams, who has a list of directing credits as long as your arm. Nonetheless, you’ll remember him for a particular acting role in his youth: the ebullient Potsie on Happy Days, which ran 1974-1984.
A professional crew in L.A. wouldn’t have done any better.
Director Anson Williams
It’s a busy season for film production in Central Kentucky. Shooting of the movie Above Suspicion began in Lexington last week. That movie tells the story of Mark Putnam, who became the first ever FBI agent convicted of a homicide when he pleaded guilty in June 1990 to strangling his informant/lover. Emilia Clarke (Daenerys the Mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones) and Jack Huston (Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire) star.
Nearby the TV pilot filming, on the main Asbury campus, is furniture that may sit in the pilot family’s living room next week. It’s inside a huge studio room near remnants of films in which people associated with Asbury have participated. And the school has the largest “green screen” outside Hollywood (green screens allow a separate filmed background to be added to the final image). On the main drag of the building, there is a bit of facade from a city street used in Citizen Kane.
The Asbury students are working the lights, cameras, sound, continuity, set dressing and props. On Thursday, the group filmed in Midway in the morning and early afternoon, and then hit Centennial Park just as the evening soccer crowd trickled into the nearby playing fields.
Williams is affable as he praises the Asbury students for their “tremendous talent.”
“A professional crew in L.A. wouldn’t have done any better,” he said.
He also likes the story behind the pilot, which may be pitched to cable networks. The hero getting out of Manhattan and regaining his family life is “the greatest gift in the world,” Williams said.
Williams doesn’t mind talking about his time as Potsie, the sidekick to Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) on Happy Days. Being on a studio lot with exposure to the production of great films was a gift, he said.
Later, Kentucky sunshine beating down on the crew as the stunt bike isn’t yet up to standards, Williams gently chides the students about the importance of having props ready and not holding up production.
Here’s the secret: Making seconds of film takes lots of time and a passel of people with sophisticated equipment. The scene of the bicycle girl and Austin meeting requires rehearsal, time to let the girl learn to ride the breakable bike, repeat takes after the lines come out wrong or the bike chain doesn’t slip properly, and traffic control to keep motorists from driving through the scene.
“Our goal at Asbury is to provide students with good coursework, but also practical application,” said Jim Owens, Asbury’s dean of the School of Communications Arts and chair of the media, journalism and digital storytelling department. “The project really started with, ‘What can we do to give our students an outstanding experience?’ The icing on the cake is if it sells.”
About 60 Asbury students are participating in the TV pilot, Owens said.
When the group filmed in Midway, signs identifying the area as Midway were changed to “Nazareth,” the name of the town in the pilot.
Aaron Bohn, an Asbury graduate student, is co-director of the pilot. During next week’s filming, he is expected to direct some scenes.
“Anson has been heading that way this week, with bringing me in next week,” Bohn said, about the final week of production. He has worked on projects before, he said, “but nothing this grand-scale. My favorite part is seeing all the different parts of the collaboration.”
Samantha Bruce was seeing the production from more of a beginner’s standpoint. One of her duties was holding back the parade of SUVs trying to drive into Centennial Park and past the bicycle scene.
“This is my first set,” said the Paul Laurence Dunbar graduate. “I haven’t even done student films yet. It’s been fun.”