Manufactured tornado used on Painted House set
Residents of Buffalo Island are accustomed to having tornados sweep across the landscape, from time to time, but never have they witnessed a planned and orchestrated tornado arrive on an prearranged schedule -- that is until the filming of "A Painted House" came to Northeast Arkansas.
McGee Street Productions filmed a scene in John Grisham's upcoming made-for-television movie in a cotton patch behind the fictitious Eli Chandler home, and manufactured a tornado right down to the high winds, rain and swirling effects. Powerful airplane engines were used to stir up the high winds as water and mud were added for special effects. The actors held on for dear life during the scenes as they maneuvered from place to place yelling their lines back and forth. All the tornado scenes were well planned and executed by a cast and crew that were well prepared for creating such events.
The actual picture of the swirling black funnel cloud will be added to the film electronically after the camera crew returns to the studio with the film footage for final splicing and editing.
A Painted House cast of major characters on the set last week at the Clarksdale community set included Eli "Pappy" Chandler, played by Scott Glenn, Jesse Chandler, Luke's father, by Robert Sean Leonard, Luke Chandler, by Logan Lerman, Kathleen Chandler, Luke's mother, by Arija Bareikis.
Additional actors included Luis Garcia as Mexican Cowboy; Miguel Perez as Miguel; Pablo Schreiber as hillbilly bad boy Hank Spruill; Audrey Anderson as Tally Spruill; Geoffrey Lewis as Mr. Spruill; Diane Delano as Mrs. Spruill; Luke Eberl as Trott Spruill; Sean Jones as Bo Spruill; and Michael Fhamus Wiles as Policeman Stick Peters.
Cotton picking scenes were filmed in back of the Chandler home, as farmers, hillbillies and Mexicans began picking cotton by hand. Long work days enduring heat, high humidity and rain were depicted in believable fashion. Homestead scenes involved Luke taking his Saturday night bath outside in a tub, his escape to his tree house to avoid having to fess up to being a witness at a fight and killing in downtown Black Oak, a runaway couple and their pursuit by family, friends and police, the Mexican farm workers living in the barn loft, and the hillbilly Spruill's tent dwelling in the Chandler's front yard.
Pappy Chandler's 1939 Ford pickup truck was used for several action scenes as it ran up and down the dusty road near the homestead and through the mud holes when it rained.
Monte Emery of Lake City drove his son Jake's 1942 John Deere tractor in one scene, where the tractor alone was shown going through deep mud in the cotton field. Handling of the vintage tractor would have proved difficult for actors in the movie, but Emery was quite accustomed to driving it in all conditions. Working on the set, Emery was also called upon to drive a four-door 1948 Plymouth car in a passing scene on the main road leading to Black Oak. Old cars and equipment helped set the time frame for the movie dating back to the early 1950s.
Even though the Chandler homestead, barn, chicken house, outhouse and sheds were made new for the filming of A Painted House, they were painted by set artists to look aged and weathered. A passerby would be unable to tell that the buildings were not authentic when looking at them from the road.
The rusted tin roofs and aged wood were totally reminiscent of old homesteads and barns still visible on the landscape around Black Oak where John Grisham's inspiration for the best-selling book occurred.
The fictitious Chandler family, like Buffalo Island farmers today, had to deal with heavy rains while trying to get their cotton crop harvested. Delays, high water, fear of failure and overall wet and muggy conditions were realistically depicted.
Filming at the Chandler homestead at the Clarksdale set is expected to continue until Oct. 31, when the cast and crew will relocate to downtown Lepanto for in-town scenes. Other locations will later include river scenes east of Lepanto and flooding conditions.