Last Wednesday evening, as many were preparing to hit the road for their Thanksgiving treks, some movie magic was taking place in La Vernia.
It was anything but the usual night in Witte’s Bar-B-Q, as a California film crew rolled the camera back and forth among extras seated in the back room of Witte’s restaurant.
Ruthie Doyle, a California Institute of the Arts graduate student, has been working on her thesis; the film being made at Witte’s is her project.
A crew of technicians from Los Angeles, San Antonio, Austin, and New York shot the film at Witte’s restaurant in the back room. Guests that night served as extras and everyone had to sign a release form. With help from the camera crew and set decorators who strung lights across the room, Witte’s was transformed into a down-home honky-tonk for the film scene.
Ruthie wrote the story about being home for a grandmother’s funeral and the chaos and emotional turmoil that goes on behind the scenes with families. In the movie, she and her mother were not getting along with each other; in the last scene of the movie -- which was the one being shot at Witte’s -- they finally reconcile.
She arranged for her mother, JoDee Doyle of Sutherland Springs, to have some of her musical friends along to play some good ol’ country and western tunes to set the scene. Ruthie’s high school drama teacher, Tammy Frazier, who is now the drama teacher at Garner Middle School in San Antonio, was the actress singing in the movie. She played the part of Ruthie’s mother in the movie.
Ruthie wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred in the movie. Her mother and sister, Evelyn Doyle, also starred in the movie.
In order to use the song, “I’ll See You in the Morning” in her film, Ruthie searched the music licensing site BMI for the name of the songwriter, Red Johnson. She then called the number she found and spoke with songwriter Arvid “Red” Johnson, who lives in Minnesota, who gave her permission to use the song for free, as long as she sends him a copy of the movie.
Musicians Johnny Bellinger and Carrol Sammons from the “Circle C” band played guitar. They were joined by dobro player Joe Jones and R.C. Blackmon on bass, along with guitarists Bubba Buckley, JoDee Doyle, Otis Mills, Roger Brietzke, and Wayne Dubose, Ed Fritz on a 12-string, and Tyler Rakowitz on fiddle. They played the song over and over, while Tammy sang to Ruthie. The extras got to sing the chorus, “I love you!” along with the band.
The film is titled, “La Vernia.” Local residents Marlin and Sharon Tanneberger and Patty Blackmon were directly in camera shots; Patty actually had to do a live action motion shot of crossing the room.
It was a neat experience to see the “grip,” “gaffer,” “script,” and “slate” (the clapper board), cameramen, boom microphone, and lighting technicians in action.
Joel Pavliska, a Wilson County home-schooler, was there as a grip/swing trainee (crew person).
The film crew used a Super 16 film camera, instead of digital, so the shots had to be precisely measured before each take.
Ruthie has been an actress for several years and made her debut starring in a film shown at the Sundance Film Festival this year. She hopes her film, “La Vernia,” will debut at Sundance in Utah next year. This is her directorial debut; Ruthie hopes she has success like other “Cal Arts” students, such as Tim Burton. She would like to direct productions for television.