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Ponying up a good flick

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One of my favorite commercials on the radio right now is for P.A. Williams Roofing & Guttering.


If you have heard it, you know that it starts out by playing on the owner’s name: Paul Williams. Is he the guy on “Young & Restless?” Nooooo. Is he the song composer? Nooooo. Is he the guy who put the roof on the building? Yes!


OK, so this week, a man by the name of Jack Johnson walked into the office to inquire about a story. And you may ask, as I have … is he the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson? Nooooo. Is he the American folk rock singer/songwriter and surfer Jack Johnson? Nooooo. Is he the Jack Johnson in Kelly whose horses were used in a short post-Civil War film? Yes!


I’m not really trying to horse around here, but I have drifted a little off the trail.


I’ll try to compose myself so there is a puncher’s chance of steering this pony back onto the ol’ beaten path. Yee-haw!


Folks out around Clarkton near the Red Hill Road area probably know Jack Johnson relatively well. They probably know his wife Dr. Susan Aycock a little more. But this isn’t really about either of them. It’s about Hershey, Sassy and … um, possibly Holly — their horses.


Not long ago, Jack was taking his regular Sunday afternoon ride with Joey Morgan of Wilmington and a group of others, when Joey mentioned that she’d been approached about using horses in an upcoming film to be shot in the port city.


“She asked if I’d be interested in having my horses used,” Jack said. “I thought, why not?”


A couple of phone calls later, and the deal was done.


One of the first big questions was whether Hershey, Sassy and … um, possibly Holly could be handled around traffic, cameras, people and water. But Jack was confident that his horses were what he called “desensitized” to all they would face on a movie set.


“I ride my horses regularly,” Jack said a short time after a day spent on the back of his horse in the swamp. “So I knew they’d be OK with me. But new riders … well, that was going to be the challenge.”


The film, a 20-minute narrative set in the post-Civil War South, is titled “Times Like Dying” and focuses on Percy Dixon and his two brothers, who are faced with few good options in life after the war. According to Producer Shon Blotzer, the film is “ultimately about choices.” I’ve already told you too much.


Riding Jack’s three horses would be a minimum of six “cowboys” — the three main characters of the film and their three stunt doubles.


The main characters include: Jim Cody Williams, who plays Percy and has more than 100 film, TV and commercial credits. Among them are parts in “Criminal Minds,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the Pace Picante Sauce commercial; Mark Jeffrey Miller, one of the Dixon brothers who has had roles on “One Tree Hill,” on the big screen in “Cold Mountain” and in Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow;” and Myke Holmes, the third Dixon brother who has credits including “One Tree Hill,” “Killing Lincoln” and “The Ultimate Life.”


The film, which will be given a PG-13 rating but not be publicly released until sometime in 2015, was shot in Wilmington at the Porter Farm in early March under the banner of Circle Street Motion Pictures. It was written, directed and produced by Blotzer, Evan Vetter, Anthony Reynolds and Parrish Stikeleather.


“Most people know about the movie-making being done in Wilmington,” Jack said. “But very few realize how much is done and comes out of Bladen County.”


For “Times Like Dying,” that meant three horses — Hershey, Sassy and … um, possibly Holly — the only horses in the film.


“OK, I may call the horse Holly, but I’m not sure yet,” Jack said. “She came to me with the name Sweetie, but I just couldn’t imagine riding her and saying giddyup Sweetie.”


Jack added that his horses all did well during the filming, and it was pretty cool for he and his wife to be able to see some of the film get shot and rub elbows with the actors. He also was able to get a moment or two to actually be in the film.


But perhaps one of the coolest things about the entire thing is the fact that Jack will get to see his name in the film’s credits.


“I’ll be listed as the head horse wrangler and double,” Jack said. “That’ll be pretty neat, but it’s my horses that are the stars, as far as I’m concerned.”


That’s Hershey, Sassy and … um, possibly Holly.


Is that Hershey like the park? Nooooo. Is that Sassy like “The Sassy Indian?” Nooooo. Is that Holly like the flowering plants in the Aquifoliaceae family? Nooooo. They’re Jack’s movie-star horses.


W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at cvincent@civitasmedia.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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