It’s a wrap: Valley’s setting, amenities wow filmmakers

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Shooting for “Them That Follow” was completed over the weekend, and while the producers were tight-lipped about the film’s details, they were effusive in their praise for the Youngstown area.

The directors, actors and crew wrapped shooting Saturday and celebrated with a party at the MVR restaurant. The filmmakers now will begin the editing and scoring process, and the film should be released in about nine months.

“Them That Follow” is a low-budget dramatic thriller set among a religious group in Appalachia that ritualistically handles poisonous snakes. It is being produced by Hollywood-based Amasia Entertainment and G-Base productions, which took advantage of a $1.2 million float loan from the city of Youngstown. The loan program is an economic-development tool.

Security – and secrecy – was tight during the shooting, which began in mid-October.

But now that it has ended, producers Danielle Robinson of G-Base and Michael Helfant of Amasia discussed their experiences.

“It couldn’t have been better,” said Robinson. “So many wonderful people worked with us, and we were made to feel welcome.”

The cast and crew stayed in the Holiday Inn in Boardman and were impressed with several local restaurants where they dined.

“I would eat at the MVR every night,” said Robinson. Helfant jokingly said he gained 10 pounds while here.

The producers mentioned other establishments where the cast frequently ate, including Charlie Staples, Roberto’s, the Alternative food truck and Handel’s ice cream.

Because movies are rarely made in Youngstown, the city lacks some necessities that the crew had to provide.

“One challenge was the lack of a [film production] infrastructure that some cities have,” said Helfant. “We had to import several people for crew positions. But we ended up getting through it together. The people who were on the set all worked together and brought passion to the project, and it will show in the performances of the actors.”

The cast includes Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan, Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Thomas Mann, Alice Englert, Lewis Pullman, Bradley Gallo and Ashley Marie Lewis. The writers-directors are Brittany Poulton and Daniel Savage.

The producers noted that the Youngstown area provided settings that had the right look.

Shooting took place in several areas, including Mill Creek Park, some farmhouses and a variety of locations in northern Columbiana County.

The October-November time frame meant the filmmakers could take advantage of the changing of the seasons, with colorful foliage and falling leaves. Robinson said she was impressed with the natural beauty of the area.

“This film will be a calling card for the area,” she said. “It will show how beautiful these counties are.”

Helfant said the cast and crew “rolled up its sleeves” and took advantage of the season. “We worked 16-hour days, then caught up on our sleep on the weekends,” he said.

“Them That Follow” marks the first time the producers have worked in a city such as Youngstown that is not a typical player in the film industry. “We took a leap of faith,” said Helfant. He praised Youngstown’s float loan program, pointing out that the city bears no financial risk.

“This city deserves filmmaking as much as the next one,” said Robinson. “I’m incredibly proud of this film so far, and I’m already thinking about filming another one here.”

Fred D’Amico, executive director of the Youngstown Regional Film Commission, has been working to land films for a few years and was pleased with the success of his initial project.

“The commission is happy to see our hard work over the past few years has finally paid off,” he said. “The work we have done has laid the road for more producers to come to town. We are a manufacturing town, which we like to call a production town, and there really is no difference because movies don’t just happen – you have to manufacture them.”

Councilman Mike Ray spearheaded the project for the city, with downtown events director Michael McGiffin serving as the city’s day-to-day point man.

Ray estimated the film’s total spending in the city limits at around $200,000, spread over caterers, restaurants, rental companies and other businesses. When the downtown DoubleTree hotel opens, that amount will go up, he said, noting that the “Them That Follow” crew’s hotel bill was around $70,000.

The total spend in the Mahoning Valley was around $500,000. “These are new dollars, from an industry that was not here before,” he said. “The project also was an opportunity for us to work together with surrounding counties. Sharon Woodberry [director of economic development] and all of council was open to the idea and is willing to explore new things.”

The use of a city float loan for a film was a first, said Ray. The program is typically used for construction projects.

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