Movie officials prepare locations for upcoming film
By Rod Guajardo and Lindsey Shelton
NATCHEZ — Production officials for the James Brown movie “Get on Up” say they’re feeling right at home in Natchez so far as they begin preparation for filming to start in November.
Executive producer Trish Hofmann said movie personnel are busy preparing sets, scouting locations and continuing to cast parts for the movie, which will chronicle the life of the “Godfather of Soul.”
“We’re a bit like a well organized circus,” Hofmann said. “Every week, you’ll start to see more and more people and come November, they’ll be another big chunk of people coming with all the technicians and shooting crew that will be filming.
“Certainly when we’re shooting, people will see our trucks and trailers all over and feel a presence even more than now.”
The film will depict Brown’s life from when he was nearly 5 years old and will extend to 1993. Tate Taylor, who directed the Academy Award nominated film “The Help”, will direct the film.
Hofmann said a majority of the work happening in the next few weeks in Natchez involves preparing locations that will be filmed for the movie.
One of the locations featured in the movie, Hofmann said, is the former house of Nellie Jackson, which is located at the corner of Rankin and Monroe streets.
Workers spent several hours this week taking down limbs and shrubbery around the house to reveal more of the iconic site that was known throughout the community.
“We loved the history of Nellie’s and that it was a very important part of Natchez — like an institution,” Hofmann said. “There are lots of fun stories about it and of course we love the look of it.
“We thought it was funny that there seems to not be anyone in town who doesn’t not know about Nellie’s.”
Historic Natchez Foundation executive director Mimi Miller said she’s been pleased with the amount of detail movie officials have put into planning the restoration of locations around Natchez.
“They’re all competent, knowledgeable and seem to want to make sure what they do is correct to the time period,” Miller said. “When I think about the movie ‘The Help,’ I think that’s what made it so successful.
“It really drew people to the story, especially for those of us who were alive at that time and noticed all the details.”
Hofmann and Miller said the majority of the renovations at Nellie’s will be done outside and all interior shots will be filmed elsewhere.
“They sent me a sketch (Thursday) with the few things they’re going to do to the house, including reopening the porch,” Miller said. “It’s mainly just improving the exterior of the building.”
The Natchez-Adams County School District Board of Trustees gave movie officials the go-ahead Thursday afternoon to use two school district facilities for filming and rehearsal.
Superintendent Frederick Hill told the board at its meeting that movie officials had contacted him about using Braden auditorium and the Natchez High School band hall.
The filmmakers want to use the stage at Braden auditorium beginning next week for actors to rehearse their performances for the two weeks prior to the start of principal photography, which is the phase of production during which the movie is filmed with actors on set and cameras rolling.
A concert scene for the film may also be shot in the auditorium.
The band hall will be transformed into a Hollywood recording studio, where in 1968, Brown hosted a group of children from South Central Los Angeles. The scene would involve a half-day of filming, about a day of preparation and a day of restoration.
Other locations for filming, Hofmann said, are still being scouted or finalized and can’t yet be revealed.
“We’re matching Natchez to a number of different cities in the United States because our story covers quite a bit of (James Brown’s) life,” she said. “The nice thing about Natchez is that you have a lot of locations available, and it’s largely untapped.”
Part of Taylor’s original announcement of the film included a guarantee that every frame would be shot in Mississippi — including scenes taking place in Paris and Vietnam.
“We’re going to have period aircraft flying in for the Vietnam scene,” Hofmann said. “There will, of course, be some visual enhancements for the Vietnam scenes, but we’re excited about that scene.”
Some of the filming, Hofmann said, might require entire areas to be closed off to the general public to ensure no generational gaps accidently occur.
“There will be times we will want to have some street control for traffic to ensure we don’t get non-period cars in the scene,” Hofmann said. “We’re working with the city on that, and notifications would go out well in advance to anyone in those neighborhoods.”
Apart from scouting locations, Hofmann said officials are also continuing to cast roles to Hollywood celebrities, as well as some locals who have auditioned.
Actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42,” will be portraying Brown in the film.
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who both starred in “The Help,” have also been confirmed for the movie, Hofmann said.
Davis will be playing Brown’s mother, Susie Brown, and Spencer will be playing Aunt Honey, who Hofmann said was like a second mother to Brown.
Local residents still hoping to score their big break in the movie industry should visit tammysmithcasting.com for more information on film casting.
“We’re still casting and looking for plenty of people — Caucasian and African Americans of all ages,” Hofmann said. “We need plenty of extras, but there are still speaking parts, as well.”
Movie officials will speak at 8 a.m. today at Natchez Coffee Company as part of the weekly Friday Forum event.