Long before most residents of Buffalo Island had heard the rumor that movie scouts were in the area looking for sites to film John Grisham's "A Painted House," Melton and Monte Emery of Caraway had already had a home visit inquiring about use of props and equipment.
Employees of McGee Street Production spent many hours driving through and around Buffalo Island looking at antique buildings, businesses, towns, equipment and props. As they were traveling from Lepanto, Melton Emery's collection of old tractors and equipment caught their eye. Transportation Captain, Tom Moore, called Emery and left a message inquiring about old equipment for use in the movie.
When Melton's wife Faye related the message to Melton, he told her he didn't want to get involved in that, that it might just be a big mess.
When Moore called back, Monte, Melton's son, answered and was asked again about using the old equipment. Monte agreed to relay the message to his mother Faye and father Melton.
"I believe that he will get interested in it," Mrs. Emery told her son. Sure enough, she was right, Melton got interested, in a big way. After several contacts, several visits, and hearing all about the scenes in the movie, he soon came alive with ideas for props and equipment. He even purchased a large windmill in two sections, one part from Ohio and another section from Texas. He had it shipped in and assembled it for the movie.
"I got a kick out of Tom when he began to read off the list of things he was looking for," Emery said. "I had most everything on his list, right in my back yard, or across the road from the house.
"They were looking for a John Deere B series tractor. I had a 1942 model that I had given to my grandson Jake. It had been restored and repainted."
Melton, Monte and Jake are all tractor enthusiasts and are members of the Bottomland Tractor Club. Jake, age 9, is the youngest member of the club and loves old tractors. The club meets quarterly, at Paragould, and attends three tractor shows each year.
Melton also provided a 1951 Studebaker truck as a prop, along with truck loads of household furnishings, outdoor equipment, and antique barn supplies.
"The movie crew came back several times to get stuff for the movie," Melton said. "Finally, I just gave them a key to the shop and told then to come and look around whenever they wanted to. We have found them to be very friendly and honest people."
Melton and Monte have had almost daily conversations or visits with Mr. Moore, David Weathers, and Cindy LaJuness, who work with props and settings.The props are meticulously placed throughout every scene, while attending to every detail. All furniture at the fictitious Chandler bungalow house are early 1950 period pieces, from the children's room, the parents' room, the living room and hall, and the kitchen.Walking through the house is like walking back in time. Furniture, window shades, wallpaper, and even light fixtures are dated. One large pantry shelf located at the back door is filled from top to bottom with Mrs. Chandler's canned vegetables,
reminiscent of days when food was grown, prepared and canned for eating through the long winter months.
Several set locations will be used for filming A Painted House. The fictitious Chandler farm is physically located in the Clarksdale community, in the southeast corner of the intersection of Highways 50 and 77. Most of the Emery props will be used at the homestead property, owned by Allen Helms.
Other filming locations and sets include nearby cotton fields, Chandler house, Lepanto Main Street, building replica of Pop Watson's store, barn, vegetable garden, hillbilly Spruill's camp, Luke Chandler's bedroom, Chandler front porch, dirt road, Lepanto Cotton Gin, Dixie Theater, Co-Op, creek, outhouse, the Latcher shack, bridge, soda fountain, hardware store, back porch, and kitchen.
Day eight of the made-for-television Hallmark Hall of Fame film will be filmed first, beginning on Monday, Oct. 7, at the Chandler farm. The film will be a six act play, to be aired in the spring of 2003.
Monte has been hired by the film crew to teach the character Pappy to drive Jake's 1942 tractor. The Emerys added fenders to the tractor, and a double seat so Pappy and Luke could ride in safety. The hero tractor, as it is referred to, has been aged with the use of spray paints.
Jake quickly hopped up on his tractor, at the Chandler farm set, and encouraged sister Sydney, 5, to join him on the double seat. Probably the next time Jake will get to see his tractor, is when the movie is finished.
Jake is a student at Riverside West Elementary in Lake City, where he lives with his parents Monte and Kimberly (Crews) Emery. The Emerys have purchased the old Lake City Hotel, and are in the process of restoring and renovating it into a historic home.
Melton is pleased to have his equipment and props used in the movie.
"I think my kids and grandkids will get a kick out of all this, when the movie comes out," he said. He is quick to brag about his six grandchildren, three boys and three girls. His oldest son Merett, lives in Caraway, and Monte and Mark live in Lake City.
Melton finally has the satisfaction of knowing the old things he has kept all these years will be appreciated and useful again. For years, the Emery name has been synonymous with antiques and old equipment, now his antiques and old equipment will be synonymous with the movie, A Painted House.