Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Australian film director hints at 'Wettest County' casting

Matt Bondurant's "The Wettest County in the World" (Scribner) is a fictional account of a very real time.

Who best to play a Franklin County moonshiner?

Maybe the son of Indiana Jones.

Hollywood hunks Shia LaBeouf and Ryan Gosling are apparently interested in director John Hillcoat's film adaptation of "The Wettest County in the World." The still-in-development production is based on Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel about his moonshine-making, Depression-era Franklin County ancestors.

Hillcoat, the Australian-born director whose film version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" hits theaters Nov. 25, has been involved with "Wettest County" since Columbia obtained the movie rights 19 months ago. He let it slip during an interview with an Internet movie site that LaBeouf and Gosling are considering lead roles, which may include portrayals of whiskey-making Franklin County brothers who shoot it out with lawmen.

LaBeouf, 25, is a fast-rising leading man, best known for his roles in the "Transformers" movies and for playing the son of Harrison Ford -- aka Indiana Jones -- in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." He is currently shooting "Wall Street 2," Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 Oscar winner.

Gosling, 29, has starred in numerous movies, including "The Notebook," "The Believer" and "Lars and the Real Girl."

"The Wettest County in the World," however, is still far from getting to the screen. The project has languished for much of the past year and a half, with few updates appearing in Hollywood publications or film Web sites.

After mentioning LaBeouf and Gosling's potential involvement during an interview withAtomicPopcorn.com, Hillcoat added, "I shouldn't really talk about it cause it's in the middle of all sorts of stuff." He also said of the film's prospects, "It's really tough out there."

Other Web sites have reported that Scarlett Johansson has been interested in the project. Musician and author Nick Cave, who has worked with Hillcoat previously, has written the script.

Incentives low in Virginia. Bondurant's novel is a dark, violent, fictionalized version of real-life events that involved his grandfather, Jack Bondurant, and two great-uncles, Forrest and Howard.

The real Bondurant brothers made and sold illegal whiskey and fought local officials who wanted their cut of whiskey-making profits. The Bondurants' criminal case was at the heart of what has become known as the "Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935."

The book includes references to several Franklin County communities and to Roanoke. American author Sherwood Anderson, who owned two newspapers in Marion in the 1930s, is a major character in the book.

It is unclear which roles LaBeouf and Gosling would play or if the movie's setting would remain in Franklin County. Hillcoat might have misspoken during his interview when discussing the plot. TheAtomicPopcorn.com transcript quotes him as saying: "Yeah it's west [sic] Virginia, moonshine, backwoods, and Prohibition."

If he meant "west" as in Western Virginia, he's got his geography right. However, if he meant West Virginia, he just moved Franklin County to the Mountain State.

Wherever it's set, don't look for any casting calls near Rocky Mount. The movie probably won't be filmed in Virginia because of the state's inability to compete with neighboring states' movie-incentives programs.

Virginia's incentives program to attract film projects is budgeted at $200,000 annually, with an additional $375,000 expected from a new digital media tax. By comparison, incentives packages of neighboring states generally amount to millions of dollars.

North Carolina recently passed a film-incentives bill that included large tax breaks, a program that trade publication Variety ranked among the nation's top three incentives packages. West Virginia offers up to $10 million in state tax credits.

During the Virginia governor's race, Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell proposed increasing the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund by $2 million.

Mary Nelson, communications manager for the Virginia Film Office, said she was not familiar with the "Wettest County" project. Besides, the state has seen its share of big-budget films decrease in recent years. According to a February article at RichmondBizSense.com, the economic impact from out-of-state film companies has fallen 53 percent since 2005.

"[T]ypically films of this size go to states which have stronger incentive programs than ours," Nelson wrote in an e-mail. However, "we certainly will pursue them."

Article from The Roanoke Times article here By Ralph Berrier Jr. 981-3338


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