Filmmakers debut film with local ties at Downtown Cinema this month

First Posted: 12/31/2008

From an early age, the stage had an inspiring power over filmmaker Joy Chapman. That, accompanied with her love of North Carolinas beautiful settings, made the perfect combination to transform the popular Mandie books written by Lois Gladys Leppard into a film.
Mandie and the Secret Tunnel is the first feature-length movie based on the popular Mandie books, and it was filmed primarily in North Carolina and has many local connections that earned Mount Airy residents the chance for a sneak peak.
The family feature will be screened at the Downtown Cinema Theater on Jan. 16 at 10 a.m. for area school children, and Jan. 17 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. for the general public. Tickets for all screenings are $5 per person.
Chapman co-wrote, produced and directed the film, and will host all the screenings along with her business partner, Owen Smith.
Chapman, raised in Loganville, Ga., often spending holidays in Mount Airy, spent many evenings in the Andy Griffith Playhouse watching her grandfather, Bill Chapman, and other residents perform on stage. She credits her grandparents, Bill and Jane Chapman, who were avid supporters of the local arts, with introducing her to the joys of the theater.
When I was very little, I remember my grandfather, Bill, performing in a play where he was a devil. I dont remember anything about the show, all I remember is being so thrilled and proud that of all people, my very own Papa was up there on stage. So from a very early age, the stage had an inspiring power over me, said Chapman. Later, when we visited, they took my brother and I to see the Sound of Music. We loved it so much, we wanted to go back and watch it the very next night. Granny thought that was excessive, so we compromised and skipped the second night but went the third night. This was when I experienced the power of the theater to move me emotionally. And I enjoyed being moved.
In later years, her grandparents introduced her to the Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta, Ga., where she saw several musicals. She said those early experiences shaped her as a filmmaker by showing her the joy and power of excellent performances.
Watching the actors on my sets give brilliant performances remains my favorite thing about film making, she said.
Chapman began working on independent films in Atlanta right after she graduated from Birmingham Southern College with a degree in psychology. She made a few short films, then got her first job on a Dreamworks film, The Last Castle in Tennessee starring Robert Redford. After that she traveled to Los Angeles, Calif., where she worked on several films including, Collateral Damage with Arnold Schwarzenegger, A Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff and Down With Love with Renee Zellwegar. She returned to her home state of Georgia to help shoot Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon, and even went to Morocco, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, and California to work on Hidalgo with Viggo Mortensen.
I returned to Georgia to write, produce and direct the Sugar Creek Gang movies, a set of five family adventure films with Owen Smith, my business partner. The next project was writing, directing, and producing Mandie, she said.
The Mandie project landed in the area where she fell in love the stageMount Airy and its surrounding area.
Actually, one of the reasons I wanted to do the film in the first place is because it was set in the mountains. I grew up camping all over North Carolina as well as visiting my grandparents, Jane and Bill in Mount Airy. Often when we were visiting, we would head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a day. I loved those mountains, loved the Parkway, and loved Mount Airy, so I immediately equated filming in the mountains with filming in North Carolina, she said. I believe my grandparent’s influence did play a role in my returning to the area to film. I think I was simply drawn back there. Mount Airy was an absolutely wonderful town to visit as a kid. My grandparents had a pool. Granny insisted that I have a pool party every time we visited in the summer. Shed set out lemonade and girl scout cookies, but she insisted that I make the phone calls to invite some nearby kids who I had met through vacation Bible school or church or whatever social event Granny took me to. Everyone I met, no matter what age they were, couldnt have been friendlier. So, even though I hadnt been to Mount Airy in many years, I felt very comfortable with the town and knew it would be a great place to at least start the scouting process. My cousin, Jerry Chapman, lives there now in a house on the same street that my grandparents lived on, so we stayed with him while we were scouting nearby areas.
We had several requirements when we began location scouting and knew that North Carolina could provide everything we needed in a relatively compact area. We began scouting in areas I was familiar with along the Parkway looking for scenic mountain vistas, the interior and exterior of a log cabin circa 1850-1900, a river, fields with mountains in the distance, the exterior of a mansion in the mountains, and the interior of a mansion, she added.
Chapman said the Mount Airy area and the mountains were the perfect for the story, and how she envisioned the place where Mandies adventures took place.
The mountains were the first great thing about the area that provided the perfect look for our vision especially with the great expanses and fabulous views. But then when we discovered the exterior of Brinegar Cabin at Doughton Park and the interior of the Hutchinson Homestead and the huge field at nearby Stone Mountain State Park, we were thrilled. They were perfect for what we envisioned Mandies cabin would look like, she said.
Chapmans decision to work on Mandie and the Secret Tunnel came from a suggestion from Smiths little sister, who was a fan on the book series.
Owens little sister read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel and told him he should make a movie based on the book. Within the next six months, Owen contacted the author and negotiated to obtain the rights. He told me about the project, I read the book, was intrigued by the subject matter and thought it would be a unique project to film, she said.
Mandie and the Secret Tunnel tells the story of Mandie, born Amanda Elizabeth Shaw in 1887, who grew up in a log cabin in Swain County, North Carolina.
In the first story of the series, Mandies life changes when her Cherokee friends help her escape to a mansion that holds the hidden secrets of her past and the key to her future. Set in the early 1900s, this series boasts a delightful cast of characters who, in the tradition of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables, learn valuable lessons as they conquer hardships and celebrate lifes triumphs. The films cast includes Dean Jones (The Love Bug, That Darn Cat). Lexi Johnson appears in the title role after making her feature debut in Chapmans other production The Sugar Creek Gang series. The supporting cast includes William Yelton (John Adams) plus several other North Carolina actors including Martin Thompson, Angela Oberer, Dave Blamy, and Gezelle Fleming.
We made the movie for kids around ages 7 to 13 to enjoy with their parents and grandparents. It is our hope that this event will give families an enjoyable evening to share, Chapman said. There are various aspects of the movie that will appeal to audience members in different ways, and in this regard we truly believe that there is something in it for everyone. We hope that folks will take away whatever part of the story or theme that most resonates with them. We also hope Mount Airy residents enjoy seeing nearby locations on the big screen.
For more information about the screenings call the Surry Arts Council at 786-7998 or the movie visit
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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