Anticipation and patience were virtues of the day as actors waited in the American Legion Hall in Chewelah for filming on Rum Runners to begin. A movie set in the prohibition era, Rum Runners is directed by Bill Nelson of Valley and stars Yves Bright, Brian Stuart Boyd, Natasha Dee, Sarah Denison, and Vernon Wells of Commando and Mad Max 2 fame. Filming locations include Valley and Chewelah, Colville, Barstow, and The Davenport Hotel in Spokane.
Inside the American Legion Hall, film extras wait to be costumed for today's scene, which involves transforming an upstairs room over Valley Drug Store into a speak easy. Some mingle, one reads a book, and another plays his guitar outside in the sunshine. The lead actors have come from Manhattan and Los Angeles. Filming is expected to last over a month.
"It's been a lot of fun on set,â says Boyd, who plays Don, one of the two bootleggers who aspire to get rich by flying liquor over the Canadian border into Stevens County. "Bill is a very confident director who knows when he has it in the can. He doesn't second guess himself."
He's not about to start second-guessing himself either. This is the film that Nelson has waited over a decade to make. Owner of InTo Deep Productions, Inc. with his wife, Teresa, Nelson has made several films over the years, including Snapped and its sequel Fireworms, which were shot in Valley and surrounding communities.
âThe reason I made those two movies (Snapped and Fireworms) was so I could make this one,â Nelson says. âI am not a big horror fan, but they are inexpensive to make and they bring in money. I wanted to be able to have as many resources as I could to make this happen.â
The Nelsons have been volunteers at the annual Sundance Film Festival in Utah for several years. Through their work, they met cinematographer Bryan Martin, who worked on the upcoming Netflix series Tom Hennessy with Bright and directed Savior of None, which stars Wells. Martin also brings over 31-years of experience making films with big name Hollywood studios like Paramount.
One of the key elements to maintaining a sense of historical accuracy in an independently funded period piece, Martin half-jokes, is, âClose-up shots.â But given a choice of working on a big studio film or an independent feature like Rum Runners, Martin says he will take indies.
âThereâs really no restrictions (with an independent film),â says Martin. âYou can let your true thoughts on the project fly. Yes, youâre tight on resources and money, but that makes everyone really come together as a team, as a family, to do their best and get it done as accurately as possible.â
Martin compliments Nelson for researching the timeframe of the 1920s, gathering props and pieces reminiscent of that period, and for utilizing several local locations that have âthe look.â
âI admire his (Nelsonâs) rawness when it comes to film making,â says Martin. âHe hasnât been tainted by Hollywood. He tries new ideas, but he isnât reigned in by other peopleâs ideas or expectations of what his movie should be.â
Unique to the area
Vernon Wells, who plays historical real-life figure Louis Davenport, owner and founder of The Davenport Hotel in Spokane, relaxes at a table upstairs in Valley Drug Store. Wells, who hails from a small town in rural Australia, has had a extensive career in show business, starting in rock bands, dabbling in modeling (âWhich I hated,â he states), and eventually finding his way into film.
Though he has appeared in a long list of television shows and films, he is best known to international audiences for his roles in the 1981 science fiction action film Mad Max 2 as the psychotic biker Wez, and in 1985âs Commando as the villain Bennet, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Initially, Wells says he was offered the role of Rum Runnerâs antagonist, Tiny. He expressed interest in playing Davenport, whom Nelson wrote as a complicated character that masters the fine line between a charming public persona and ruthless businessman behind the scenes.
âThen I realized how many lines he (Davenport) has, and I was like, âDear God, what have I gotten myself into?ââ laughs Wells. âReally though, I am getting the chance to play a sophisticated, complex character. Iâm aware that I donât look anything like him, but I researched his bio, and he really was a fascinating man. He seized the opportunities that came his way and didnât look back.
âWhat I like about working with Bill is that he is easy to work with,â adds Wells. âHe allows me the flexibility to do what I do. He doesnât perch over your shoulder and say, âNo, youâre doing it wrong.â If you have a director who is an artist and knows his vision, and lets you play in the parameters of that, why should you get in the way?â
So far, Nelson is the only one to seriously pursue filming opportunities in Stevens County, utilizing local landscapes and resources to the benefit of his movies. With the exception of Kevin Costnerâs 1997 sci-fi drama The Postman, which was partially filmed in Metaline Falls, filmmakers mostly ignore the Tri-County area, preferring Spokane. A variety of movies, including the romantic classic Benny and June, and the recent fan boy favorite Knights of Badassdom, were all filmed in and around Spokane, including the upcoming zombie television show Z Nation.
Itâs safe to say that Nelson is the only person in the area doing what heâs doing where heâs doing it.
âI like movies,â says Nelson in his unassuming, manner. âI like living where I live. When I can combine the two and make movies here, itâs a good thing. I am grateful and excited to finally be doing this.â
For more information on Rum Runnerâs, including photos and cast information, go to the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rum-Runners-The-Movie.