Feature film to be produced in Wabash County

By Joseph Slacian

A feature film is scheduled to be filmed in downtown Wabash and other sites around the county in early October.

Skyler Lawson, a Southwood High School graduate and up-and-coming movie producer, plans to film the period piece “Whelm” from Oct. 8-Oct. 22.

The film is a 1933 Depression era film that’s a gangster film about a small-town family that gets tangled between a legendary gangster and another criminal, Lawson told The Paper of Wabash County. Two brothers who have trouble connecting with one another try to avenge their father’s being caught in the crossfire of a heist and, in the end, are drawn together.

“I grew up here,” Lawson said of his decision to film in Wabash. “My dad’s (Jeff Lawson) a farmer. I grew up helping on the farm, me and my brother. My mom (Lori Lawson) works at Ford Meter Box.”

Lawson has four short films to his credit, all of which have been shot in Indiana. Three of the films where filmed in Wabash County.

“No one knew,” he said. “It was happening where I grew up.”

His latest short film, “Left Hand,” is based on the life of George Price, former LaFontaine School principal and World War II veteran.

“I went in and zoomed in on a tiny piece of his story that I could tell right away,” Lawson said. “And so, I emptied my bank account to tell the story for a 92-year-old man who deserved it. That was last year.”

The film has played in two Academy Award qualifying film festivals during the last two months.

“The thing is, I filmed it all here, and no one would ever know it,” Lawson said. “We have some very diverse landscape here in Wabash.”

The film, he said, was well received during a recent festival at the former Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, now called the TCL Chinese Theater.

“It played to a sold-out audience, and it was received really, really well,” he said. “Everyone just assumed I was from Los Angeles or New York. They find I’m from Indiana, and I still live in Indiana, and they’re like, ‘How the heck do you do that?’
“I think you can make films anywhere, as long as you’re being authentic. I think, honestly the world is starved for authenticity right now. It was like, pick your poison. I think that was shining through when I was in Hollywood representing my film I was also representing Indiana. I was the only one there from Indiana.

“I found out really quickly that I should just write a movie for Wabash in general.”

Before doing so, he first contacted the actors who were in “Left Hand” and asked if they would be willing to work in his new film.

“I called them and asked them if they would be willing to go on a journey with me like they did for ‘Left Hand,’” Lawson said. “And they all said yes. Money had nothing to do with it. They just wanted to do it. And so, I decided right there I was going to write a movie for Wabash, and I wrote a Depression-era film.”

The film is loosely based on the legends of John Dillinger’s time in the area.

“He was in and around the area,” Lawson said, “so those local legends are rich here. Everyone’s got a story. Everyone’s grandpa has a story. So that intrigued me because I’m all about making period pieces.
“But also, these actors are so high quality that they deserve having high caliber parts written for them. But also, there’s the other thing, I could have written the movie for tons of places, but why not write it for my home town?”

The film circles around a small-town family that gets tangled between a bank robber and a rival criminal in a small town.

“Is it John Dillinger?” Lawson asked rhetorically. “That’s a question mark. That’s a question mark. He went by Jimmy Lawrence while he was here. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. He wasn’t going to say anything.

“So I wrote a movie about that. Part fact. Part fiction. It’s like one of those classic movies that don’t get made anymore, in the place that it actually happened.”

Among the sites to be featured in the film, Lawson said, are the Charley Creek Inn.

“We have a world-class establishment in the Charley Creek Inn right here in our town,” he said. “It’s like stepping back in time. Why would I not feature that?

“A lot of our facades in our town are from that era. You talk to my grandparents, or you talk to my wife’s grandparents, and everyone talks about that era, going downtown to the Eagles Theater. We’re revitalizing a ton of our downtown, and they’ve done an incredible job of bringing tourism here and taking care and seeing the value of what we have.

“Meanwhile, while I’m out trying to make a film career, every time I come back there’s more and more things going on. Why would I take my business to some place that gets films all the time? Why not feature where I grew up and bring value to the table. I think somewhere down the line, and my film career goes to where it may, it’s only going to go up in value with that first movie being shot here. And I’ll shoot more movies here, for sure.

“So I wanted to make sure it was a love letter to where I grew up.”

Lawson said he is looking for some help from area residents, especially when it comes to props. While he has many props, he’s always on the lookout for more, such as a bed from the 1930s and more. He’s also looking for period clothes.

“If people have a car that pre-dates 1933, I’ll put it in the film. I’ll put it on the street,” he said.

He’s also looking for groups or organizations to help feed the cast and crew while here, roughly 20 people.

The meals, he said, don’t have to be “five-star dinners. We’ve all gone to pitch-ins before.”

“I’ll put anyone’s name in the credits,” he said. “I’ll give you tickets to the premiere if I do it in Indianapolis, or here. It really would be amazing if, once the Eagles gets done, we have a nice event there, because … it is a love letter to Wabash.
“I think Hollywood has a reputation that they like to grandstand everyone. And they do. That’s how it is. I’m not that. I’m from here and I’m not different. That’s why, when I went to Hollywood I stood out. I was bringing the values of this town with me and it did stand out.”

Anyone interested in helping Lawson with props or food, contact Bev Vanderpool, administrative assistant at Wabash City Hall, 260-563-4171.

“I want the town to feel ownership, too,” Lawson said. “I’m making it happen, but it doesn’t happen without the town.”

Posted on 2018 Sep 11