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A Ford Double Model A truck has carried a local antique car collector into the world of independent cinema, and he’s enjoyed the ride.
Tom Littrell’s love of antique vehicles has seen him take off on the cross-country Great Race, made him a partner in Old Cranks Museum in Galax and now garnered him a bit part in the production of “Wish You Well.”
The movie is a screen adaptation of the 2001 book of the same name by David Baldacci.
Set in the 1940s, the story follows the Cardinal family as they try move from New York to California due to money problems, but finds them in mountains of Virginia after a car accident leaves the father and the mother paralyzed.
“Well, I read the book twice, and it’s a really heartwarming story,” Littrell said.
The movie, with Baldacci adapting his book for the screenplay, continues shooting in and around Giles County and the Alleghany Highlands.
The person in charge of getting period vehicles to include in the shoot contacted a car club in Christiansburg, composed mainly of owners of Model A Fords. Littrell is a member, the car collector explained.
The movie could use an old gas tanker, and it just so happened that Littrell had one.
It sat in the back of Old Cranks, and Littrell had to undertake some serious vehicle shuffling to get it out, but he provided it for production company Life Out Loud to use.
He also had to fill out some film paperwork to let them use the truck. Then, to his surprise, Littrell got a call back from the filmmakers to be an extra.
They asked Littrell to appear in a scene at the riverside for a baptism. In the movie, he’s a father of two, and he’s supposed to pick up his son to kiss his sister on the cheek before she’s baptized.
Why Littrell, in particular?
“I guess somehow they needed somebody in their 60s and is five-foot-six, I don’t know,” Littrell offered a guess.
Littrell has long been curious about how a film production works, so he said yes.
He has been impressed with how long it takes to get the shortest bit of usable film.
He called it, “the mind numbing boredom of shooting maybe 10 seconds of film.”
Filmmakers let him watch as his truck was used in the background of a scene around a recreated general store. Littrell noted that there were some extras playing coal miners, with bib overalls and dusty faces, who hung around there all day for that moment on film.
Littrell also got to see a scene that featured other antique cars, like the extremely rare 1922 Earl, a 1922 Sampson and a 1941 GMC truck. In the scene, the villain runs a truck full of kids off the road.
Despite the repetition of the filming methods, Littrell said he found the experience interesting and enjoyable.
“Extras don’t get paid anything,” he said. “It’s just the glory of being on the set and watching everything that goes on, I guess.”
Participating also allowed Littrell to meet the author.
The staggering amount of people participating in making the movie also impressed Littrell. The crew alone is comprised of about 75 people, some of whom carry out minute tasks for the production.
One crew member had the task of keeping a doll that one of the child characters would need. Littrell watched as another crew member rubbed dirt on the villain’s clothes for an authentic farmer’s appearance.
The movie will probably provide an economic boost to Giles County. Littrell believes a lot of the set dressing for the general store set was bought in local antique stores. A lot of them still had their price tags on as they were put in place. They included items like liquor barrels, apple crates and wooden buckets.
The large crew and the cast, including such stars as Josh Lucas, Ellen Burstyn and Mackenzie Foy — who played Renesmee in two “Twilight” movies — had to stay somewhere, which was a boost to local lodging.
And if the movie catches on and inspires an increase in tourism, like “Dirty Dancing” did for Mountain Lake or "The Hunger Games" did for the Asheville, N.C., area, then the economic impact could be even more substantial, Littrell noted.
It was a good experiences for him all around.
“That was a bucket list item that I can check off,” Littrell said, noting how it came about was quite a coincidence. “It all started with them needing and old truck — you never know where your opportunity will come from.”
The movie is set for release in 2013. It is directed by Darnell Martin, whose credits include directing episodes of TV shows like "Grimm," "Law & Order," "ER" and "Grey’s Anatomy."
Hillsville native is producer of 'Salvage Dawgs' TV show
ROANOKE — Fans of Virginia-based Black Dog Salvage and lovers of historical treasures have a new way to share their passion when the DIY Network premieres the original documentary-style series, “Salvage Dawgs” on Nov. 8 at 11 p.m.
The series is co-produced by Hillsville native Jeff Lanter, of Trailblazer Studios.
“Salvage Dawgs” chronicles the adventures of Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside, owners of Roanoke-based Black Dog Salvage.
The antics of these long-time friends and business partners leave audiences laughing, inspired and amazed as they stay just ahead of the wrecking ball to reclaim a wide range of vintage architectural elements and oddities, according to a press release. “The salvaged materials go in a dazzling number of directions — from being incorporated into new ‘old’ houses to being transformed into one-of-a-kind furniture and art.”
“When it comes to tearing things apart to find treasures and selling them to make a profit, Mike and Robert have experienced it all,” says Lanter. “From extracting architectural elements out of private homes and classic historical properties to disassembling old hospitals and crumbling mills, every day is a challenge and an opportunity. That’s the stuff that makes great television.”
Lanter is one of the executive producers. He heads up Trailblazer Studios Entertainment and has produced many series including the wildly successful docu-reality series “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”
Lanter has produced programming for TLC, Discovery, PBS, HGTV and Fox Sports.
In the premiere episode of “Salvage Dawgs,” the Black Dog crew salvages the Izard House, a 14-room farmhouse built in the 1890s that was said to have served as a schoolhouse and post office.
Kulp strives to run a tight ship with his eye on the bottom line, while spirited Whiteside wreaks havoc, tearing through old homes and making things happen.
After its Nov. 8 premiere, “Salvage Dawgs” will air again on Nov. 9 at 9 p.m. and Nov. 10 at 8 a.m.
Learn more about Black Dog Salvage at their website, www.BlackDogSalvage.com, and check out Trailblazer Studios’ site, www.TrailblazerStudios.com.