WRENS, Ga. — A Marine sniper and his spotter targeted and opened fire on Islamic State extremists in a former kaolin mine turned ATV park north of Wrens.
The craggy, mineral-lined slopes, brittle grass and wind-scoured terrain of the park doubled as Afghanistan mountain slopes for two days of filming the upcoming movie Submission.
“This is a great location,” producer Gloria Stella said as she drove a bouncing and rocking four-wheel-drive truck over a rutted dirt road on the way to the set. “When I read the script I was thinking, where am I going to find Afghanistan in the Southeast? Our budget won’t allow us to go to Afghanistan or really even New Mexico, not with our crews and equipment.”
Stella, an Augusta State University alumna who got her start in the film business in Augusta, said that friends told her about this rugged all-terrain-vehicle park on Highway 221 in north Jefferson County.
“When they showed me pictures I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this could really work,’” she said. “So we talked to the owner, and he has been phenomenal.”
Kurt Warneke, the owner and operator of Sunnyside ATV Paradise, said that while they have had one music video shot there, this is the first time in the eight years the park has been open that it has had a 60-plus film crew make use of the 900-acre park.
The movie’s director, J.M. Berrios, said that although the location was a tough place to get in and out of, it provided a great look and accommodated the story and shooting well.
The movie, which started its third week of filming this week, is primarily being shot in Greenville, S.C. According to Kristy Hodge, the location manager for the film, it tells the story of two Marines who return home after an interrogation by the Islamic State.
“One struggles to survive while the other fights his way back into the mixed martial arts world that he left behind years ago – looking for a fight worth living for,” Hodge said.
The movie is being made by Foretress Films, in association with Lingo Films and Skyline Post. The lead role of Staff Sgt. Codey “Bear” Blackbear is played by Scott Pryor, the owner of Foretress Films and the author of the script.
“Bear’s motivation to help his friend to survive leads him back to his old gym,” Hodge said. “He enlists the help of his coach to train him for a high-dollar fight in The Basement, an underground fight ring. In the end, Bear goes into his last mission truly living up to the Marine’ motto, Semper Fidelis, always faithful.”
Bringing the production so close to where she went to college, Stella reached out to Brad Owens and the Augusta Film Office.
“They have been instrumental in getting us what we need,” Stella said. “Then we were trying to get guns and all kinds of armor and military stuff, and all that is also local. Atlanta has a lot of resources, but a lot of it is difficult to coordinate with what we are trying to do.”
Stella said that in all there were about 15 Augusta area residents involved in the shooting.
“Bryton Entertainment, based out of Augusta, brought a camera and they provided footage, so that everything we shot we did with two cameras so we could do it twice as fast,” Stella said. “And they were amazing. I didn’t realize there was that caliber of technical talent in Augusta.”
There were also people working in general production, grip and electrics, setting up lighting, as well as a few stuntmen and actors from the Augusta area working on the film.
“Another key is that everyone here is working and getting experience. One of the key components to attracting a movie to your area is crew and service availability, ” Owens said.
Stella said she sees the potential for a lot more productions in the area.
“They have a great infrastructure here,” she said. “They have everything locationwise and this production shows that they have a good core group of people that can contribute as far as crew and cast goes. I also love the August Film Office’s website that has everything at your fingertips and a representative who can help those of us coming into a community we don’t know.”
After the movie is finished, she said, they hope to take it to the bigger film festivals such as Sundance, Toronto and Cannes, and then they intend to negotiate distribution with the studios.