Editors’ Note: Deadline’s latest series, Reopening Hollywood, focuses on the incredibly complicated effort to get the industry back on its feet while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Our goal is to examine numerous sides of the business and provide forum for leaders in Hollywood who have a vision for how production could safely restart in the era of coronavirus.
As Hollywood continues to put together a plan for production to resume post-COVID-19, David Arquette and his wife Christina McLarty Arquette have laid out a bold plan to start production on their latest film in Arkansas.
The pair are circumventing the production shutdown to get filming up and running on period thriller Ghosts of the Ozarks over the next couple of weeks and explained to Deadline how they’re getting the train back on the tracks.
Mindful of keeping everyone, including cast (which includes Watchmen’s Tim Blake Nelson) and crew, safe, and navigating a multitude of other issues, many of which were outlined in Deadline’s Reopening Hollywood kickoff piece, the Arquettes are testing cast and crew, taking temperatures and putting cast into quarantine before the start of the film.
But the main thing that has helped them plan for a shoot over the next few weeks is the work done by their partners HCT Media in turning a former cotton factory in Trumann, AR into a ghost town.
HCT Media, run by Jordan Wayne Long, Matt Glass and Tara Perry, with the help of Matthew Price, Aaron Preusch and Long’s father Roger Wayne Long, have been able to build the set in the city outside of Jonesboro after all quarantining together. They’ve also been putting together production offices and space for hair, makeup and wardrobe.
They have been helped by the fact that Arkansas is one of the states least hit by the coronavirus, with just over 3,000 cases and 57 deaths. No official stay-at-home order was ever put in place, and the governor is expected to allow some businesses to reopen at the beginning of May.
“It’s such a vast amount of space, we can build it so everyone can social distance,” Christina McLarty Arquette told Deadline.
David Arquette said, “We have everything in line; we have the ability to be able to still produce things with a reasonable expectation of social distancing, take everybody’s temperature, and we have flexibility with quarantining people before they get there.”
“This is a really scary time, obviously, so we wanted to come together and support each other and do what we can to keep people working and be creative,” McLarty Arquette added.
The film, which was written by Perry and Jordan Long, with Long directing with Glass, follows a young doctor who travels to a remote town in the middle of the Ozarks after being summoned by his uncle. It’s 1866, a post-bellum world, but race has never been an issue in this self-policed area. The doctor will question ethics and his own principles in order to keep such an idealistic lifestyle in this utopian town.
McLarty Arquette said that the hope is to start shoot by June.
“Obviously, we’re monitoring the daily situation and following all of the local, state and national mandates. We want to remain optimistic but respectful of what’s going on in the world. We’re playing it day-by-day. We’re having lots of conversations about how we adapt to this new world that we live in as filmmakers. It’s not a large production and a lot of people are local that we hire, which helps. Things change every day but we’re all just trying to be hopeful, and at the same time, respectful,” she added.
Jordan Long, Glass and Perry said they were pleased to be able to give their team something stable, both creatively and financially, during this time. “We feel fortunate because we’re quarantined together and on private property we found ourselves in a unique position to continue with the build of the town and stay on schedule,” they said.
Because the film had been fully financed, the trio were able to keep others working remotely. In fact, they restructured their art budget after friends of theirs that own a fabricating business in New York lost clients and were able to send business their way. “As creative people we know that freelance and stability don’t always go together, and we’re grateful to be able to do what we can to keep other creatives going,” they added.
Meanwhile, the Arquettes, whose wrestling documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette was set to premiere at SXSW, are hopeful that Ghosts of the Ozarks can be one of the projects that bolsters fledgling local filming in Arkansas.
The pair, and HCT Media, produced Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift, which was set to have its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, in the state, and True Detective‘s Season 3, which starred Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff, also filmed there. Otherwise, there haven’t been many projects shot there.
Following the success of the HBO drama, with locations such as Yellow Rock at Devil’s Den, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed a resolution to offer tax incentives, including a 20% incentive on goods and services and 10% for Arkansas workforce.
McLarty Arquette, who was born in Hope, AR, said, “The best thing about shooting in Arkansas is that it’s new to the state. The film commissioner is great and governor is very supportive. We feel very strongly that Arkansas could be the next Austin, it’s a beautiful state and a really supportive community.”
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