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'Gospel' comes to life in Rock Hill

Director Giancarlo Esposito and film crew members set up for a scene being shot on Columbia Avenue in Rock Hill on Monday, the first day of filming for the movie "Gospel Hill." Below, the film crew gathers in the shade of tree on Columbia Avenue.
Director Giancarlo Esposito and film crew members set up for a scene being shot on Columbia Avenue in Rock Hill on Monday, the first day of filming for the movie "Gospel Hill." Below, the film crew gathers in the shade of tree on Columbia Avenue.

Two things quickly became clear Monday as filming began on "Gospel Hill," the civil rights era movie being shot this summer in Rock Hill.

First, working outside in South Carolina in late June is really hot. And second, filmmaking isn't as glamorous as you might think.

An army of crew members arrived before dawn on quiet Columbia Avenue, part of an old mill neighborhood behind District Three Stadium, to prepare for the first scenes. Actors soon followed. Rock Hill police officers blocked off the street at both ends.

Six hours later, the process was still inching along. The crew of 30 -- mostly shaggy-haired guys in shorts and T-shirts -- needed time to move equipment and props into place for each scene. Then the actors needed multiple run-throughs to get their lines just right.

"It is hot as sin out here," a crew member said in between takes, talking to no one in particular.

The $6 million film is directed by Giancarlo Esposito, known for his roles in the Spike Lee films "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." It stars Danny Glover, Angela Bassett and Julia Stiles.

The plot revolves around what happens to an African-American neighborhood when a powerful corporation tries to muscle its way into buying up properties for a golf course.

Filming on Columbia Avenue involved two lesser-known stars -- Taylor Kitsch (Tim on the CBS show "Friday Night Lights") and rapper-turned-actor The RZA (formerly of the Wu-Tang Clan). The names may be unfamiliar, but that didn't stop curious neighbors from wanting a peek.

"You don't realize how much goes into a movie," said Keitra McClure, who watched from her front porch. "All the behind-the-scenes stuff. How many people it takes to make one scene. This will only be five minutes in the movie."

Glover and Bassett weren't in the scenes filmed Monday. Shooting is expected to continue through July in various locations around Rock Hill and Chester.

Stiles films on Evergreen Lane

At 4:30 p.m., a white passenger van stopped on the side of Evergreen Lane near Myrtle Drive. Out of the front seat hopped Julia Stiles, the 26-year-old blonde who danced her way to stardom in the 2001 hit "Save the Last Dance."

Wearing a denim skirt and a red tank top over a white shirt, Stiles stood out among the shaggy-haired crew members scurrying around her. She began rehearsing a scene in which she stops her car to chat with Kitsch's character.

The car, a 1960s-era Volkswagen stick-shift, proved difficult for Stiles to maneuver. The first time she tried to put it in gear, she jerked the car backward.

"We all saw that," an assistant said from up the street.

Stiles smiled sheepishly. Then she kept practicing.

After an initial run-through and a break to give the actress and director time to talk over the scene, the crew readied for filming.

The technicians aimed their cameras. The actors took their places. An assistant yelled "Lock it up!," signaling everyone to stand still. The street fell quiet.

And then ... another break. At the last moment, Esposito decided that Stiles should turn onto Evergreen from the other direction. "Have her come from this side," he said. "It'll be easier."

Stiles got out of the car. An assistant jumped in to move it. And the process started again.

'Very nice'

A half-hour later, Stiles had figured out how to shift gears properly. Esposito found a set-up to his liking. And the take went well.

"Very nice!" Esposito cheered, signaling for cut.

With barely a pause, the director and everyone else on set began to move into position for the next scene.

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