FILM OFFERS A TRIP BACK TO THE PAST

Article and interview by Terry Pace


I've been mad about movies practically since birth.- From "King Kong" to "Citizen Kane" to "The Searchers," I've seen Hollywood's masterpieces dozens of times -- hundreds, in some cases -- studying them scene by scene, shot by shot and frame by frame.

So naturally, when Tonya Holly's Cypress Moon Studios began filming their first feature in the Shoals, "When I Find the Ocean," I wanted a front-row seat. I've acted in a few short films, but this was a chance to watch a full-length feature coming together -- day by day, bit by bit -- with well-known actors I've admired for decades.

For the next few weeks, I showed up on the set any time a good story angle emerged. I covered the first week of shooting, George Lindsey's return to feature films and the arrival of a trained black leopard. Between scenes, I spent time chatting with Diane Ladd, Bernie Casey, Graham Greene, Amy Redford or Richard Tyson.

The highlight, however, has to be the day that Lee Majors, one of my childhood idols, agreed to sit down for an interview -- his first, he stressed, in some 20 years. I'd been a big fan since his "Big Valley" days, when Hollywood still made good, solid Westerns.

Majors is, without a doubt, one of the nicest men I've ever met. He's led a fascinating life, and he gave me a terrific, thorough, totally candid interview -- including his positive impressions of the Shoals.

"I really like this little three-town area," he told me. "Tuscumbia is really charming, and Florence is like the big city. My wife and I have tried to do it all, from the Helen Keller home to the W.C. Handy museum and the music hall of fame. We hit antique stores and pawnshops and all the restaurants. There's not much we've missed."

Two decades ago, Tonya and I studied theater together at the University of North Alabama. We quickly discovered that we shared similar hopes and dreams. Tonya wanted nothing more out of life than to make movies, and I wanted nothing more out of life than to write about them. We've both stayed true to our hearts.

For their final weekend of shooting, Tonya's crew packed up and moved to Selma for a scene recreating the civil-rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She needed an actor to play a TV newsman, so she enlisted me -- a real-life reporter -- to slip into the period role.

Stepping in front of the camera that day was like traveling in a time machine. When Tonya called "Action!" and the extras started singing those civil-rights anthems, chills ran down my spine. There was no acting involved -- the effect of the moment was instantaneous.

The fact that I've now played a small role in "When I Find the Ocean" means, of course, that I'll no longer be able to write about the film as Tonya's feature moves toward an anticipated spring release.

The Lee Majors interview that appears today was conducted long before I joined the cast, when I was recording the birth of a new film industry in the Shoals for the TimesDaily in 2005 instead of reporting on historic events in Selma for NBC News in 1965.

Terry Pace is the entertainment editor of the TimesDaily. He can be reached at 740-5741 or terry.pace@timesdaily.com.