‘When I Find the Ocean’
By Terry Pace
FLORENCE — Actors are signing contracts, locations are being selected, secured and dressed, and the cameras will soon be rolling. The $2 million feature film When I Find the Ocean is scheduled to begin principal photography within three weeks, bringing local talent together with well-known actors for a family drama set in the civil-rights era South.
“We’ll start out shooting here in the Shoals,” according to Shoals filmmaker Tonya S. Holly, the movie’s producer, director and screenwriter. “We’ll shoot here for six weeks, then shoot in Selma for a week and finish up with a couple of days of shooting on the Gulf Coast.”
The story of When I Find the Ocean takes place in 1965 Alabama, during an era of tremendous change and intense controversy. The script follows the adventures of an 11-year-old girl (played by Holly’s daughter, Lily Matland Holly) who believes that the creek behind her home will carry her to the ocean.
“It’s about a little girl who believes in her dream and chooses to follow her heart,” explained Holly, whose Shoals-based Cypress Moon Productions company is making the film. “By the end of the story, she has to face and overcome a number of obstacles that stand in her way. It’s about family and love and friendship, and the story combines drama, adventure and a sense of history.”
More than 30 people have been hired for the film’s production crew, with another 15 expected to join the project later this week. Duties so far range from casting and location scouting to work by carpenters and painters who are busy transforming houses, buildings and other local sites into authentic period locations.
“We have a 70/30 split among the crew,” Holly added. “Thirty percent of the people working on the film are professional film people who are coming in from outside the area specifically to work on this project. The other 30 percent is made up of talent from Alabama, which is unbelievable. We’re using as many people as we can from this area and all across the state.”
Production of When I Find the Ocean marks the latest step in the area’s ongoing attempt to develop the Shoals into a destination point for filmmakers. Those efforts are being orchestrated by the Film Commission of Northwest Alabama, which is temporarily housed at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce offices in Florence.
“This is absolutely fabulous news for our local film industry,” noted Nancy Gonce, who chairs the film commission’s board of directors. “Tonya has brought this project from dream to reality — from concept to production. This is what has to be done with all our development projects if we’re going to build our area into a center for film production.”
Cypress Moon is in the process of purchasing Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, on the banks of the Tennessee River at the entrance to Riverfront Park. Between now and March 15 — when the sale is expected to be final — the company has set up temporary offices at what Holly intends to call Cypress Moon Studios at Muscle Shoals Sound.
“We’re hard at work on preproduction,” added Holly, a veteran producer and casting director whose credits include the Oscar-winning Blue Sky, Body Snatchers, Toy Soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen.
She made her debut as a director and screenwriter with The Mirror, an award-winning short film shot in the Shoals two years ago.
“We’ll be able to use the studio as our headquarters to finish this film, then move on to many, many other projects we have planned,” Holly said. “Once people see that it can be done — and once they see the economic impact this can have — I think this first feature we’re doing will inspire interest among other filmmakers.”
Filming ends today in Selma
By Valerie Ashmon
Sunday, May 15, 2005 8:05 PM CDT
Tonya S. Holly sat clutching a tissue in her hand and she watched a replay of the marching scene.
"Oh my Lord!," she said tearfully. "It's just amazing!. We worked so hard and so long to get to this point."
Holly, the writer, director, and producer for 'When I Find the Ocean' was not the only person emotional during Sunday's shoot.
"This brings back a lot of memories," said one marcher as he carried a "Heaven is crying out for justice" sign.
Another marcher stopped by the director's tent to tell Holly about a song that was sung during the original march in 1965.
"Everybody's excited today," Holly said. "This is going to change everything."
Sunday's shoot included scenes with Bernie Casey and Lily Holly.
"Lillie paints herself black to help Bernie Casey escape from jail because he is wrongfully accused," Holly said. "It's like a girl version of Tom Sawyer."
It also included scenes depicting voting rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
"It's important to retell their stories and be a part of the movement," said Karen Watkins-Hall, who drove from Birmingham with her seven year old son Isaiah to be extras. "When we came over for the march (during the Jubilee), we signed up during a casting call."
Selma natives Diana Tate and Larcena DeLoach agree.
Tate, a 10th grade student at Selma High School said that she just wanted to help out. DeLoach said that being an extra will allow her to learn more about her past.
"It's going very well," Holly said. "This is amazing to get to see something that's been in your mind for such a long time."
"I came up with the title 11 years ago and started writing it 10 or 11 years ago," she said. "I put it aside every year and told myself that I was going to finish it. I finished everything four years ago."
"We have the best cast," she said. "Bernie Casey is playing the tugboat captain, Diane Ladd is the grandmother, Amy Redford is the mother, Lillie is playing the girl, Lee Majors is the grandfather, and Richard Tyson is the fiancé."
Filming for 'When I Find the Ocean' will be completed Monday.
"I want to do this unlike any other film that tried to capture the Selma March," Holly said. "Most of my people were not here during the march, but devoted a lot of time to make sure that it's as accurate as possible."
Holly said that she is also working on a voting rights documentary.
"People must have a voice - and the only way they are going to have a voice is to vote," she said.