FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — When R. Todd Campbell needed outdoor locations to shoot scenes for his upcoming independent film, "The Mourning Hills," he knew exactly where to go: the rolling hills, hollows and woods of northwest Alabama.
The area had everything he needed for his film about two women who become lost in the woods and are pursued by unscrupulous locals.
Campbell's Mourning Hills Productions recently wrapped up about a month of shooting in extreme northwest Alabama and the Bear Creek Educational Center near Hodges.
The writer, producer and director of "The Mourning Hills" is a former Shoals resident.
"I lived there from kindergarten through my junior year in high school," Campbell said. He attended Bradshaw High School and transferred to Coffee High School for his junior year.
Campbell left Florence in 1995 to pursue a career as a filmmaker.
"The Mourning Hills" is being shot on a shoestring budget of less than $100,000.
"We've pulled a lot of in-kind stuff into the budget," he said. "We're all friends, the cast and crew. We all believe in the project. We got a great deal on a camera."
Not to mention everyone is taking a pay cut to see the project through to its completion.
"We're able to do this because we pulled a lot of strings and a lot of people pulled a lot of strings for us," he said.
When Daniel Stoddard discovered via a Facebook post that his high school friend needed woods in which to shoot his movie, he offered the use of Big Cedar Farm, which is owned by his father, local dentist Dr. David Stoddard.
"It's mostly shot in the wilderness," Daniel Stoddard said. "A lot of the locations were what he was looking for."
The woods, ridges, streams and other sites on Big Cedar Farm also were close the crew's base camp, which was established near Daniel Stoddard's home on the farm.
The actresses stayed in his father's hunting cabin, and Campbell rented a recreational vehicle and a pop-up camper for the other crew members. One actor stayed in Stoddard's recording studio.
"It was a madhouse circus for a month," Stoddard said. "Interns came and went, and they got (the University of North Alabama) to cater their meals."
Campbell said the locations provided by the Stoddards exceeded his expectations.
"It was not only the look, but the people involved in helping us, like Daniel and his family," Campbell said. "They were a joy to be around. The people at Bear Creek were genuinely hospitable. The locations were spectacular, far better than I imagined."
The most exciting part of the project for Stoddard is yet to come. Campbell has asked him to write the musical score for "The Mourning Hills."
While they were hanging around the studio, Campbell explained his thoughts about the music, so Stoddard began playing pedal steel guitar with some reverb to distort the sound.
"A light bulb went off in his head," Stoddard said.
Stoddard said he plans to use a variety of string instruments, such as the pedal steel guitar, guitar, banjo, mandolin, Dobro and fiddles, then use different effects to manipulate their sound. He plans to involve other local musicians in the project.
Stoddard is known for his pedal steel and guitar work with a variety of local bands, including Lauderdale, Belle Adair, The Threds, The Bear and others.
"I think Todd is serious about this," Stoddard said. "He had a serious crew, and they worked really hard in the time they were here."
He said Campbell's independent spirit is what drew him to the project.
The movie has a second local connection with another Campbell classmate, Eric Gebhardt, also known as the eclectic electric bluesman, Redmouth.
Gebhardt was cast as one of the antagonists in the film, a rather unsavory character that is a far cry from his first acting role.
"I think I was a Christmas card in a Christmas play when I was a kid," Gebhardt said. "Playing a bad guy is a far cry from a Christmas card."
Gebhardt said he sent Campbell a text message saying he would like to be considered for a role in one of his films.
"If he ever had a part, I'd like to try out for it," Gebhardt said. "He called me about six months ago and said he had a part for me to read for and I did and he hired me."
Gebhardt said acting is similar to performing live original music on stage, except as an actor someone else is directing him in a role created for him.
As Redmouth, Gebhardt knows the roles because he created them.
"I wrote the songs and I know what the stories are and I know what the characters are feeling," Gebhardt said.
While it was a "different kind of exhausting," Gebhardt said he enjoyed his foray into the film industry and would like to give it another shot if the right opportunity arises.
Campbell said the majority of the actors in "The Mourning Hills" are from the New Orleans area, except for Los Angeles-based actor Tracy Miller, who portrays the main villain.
Gebhardt portrays the brother of Miller's character.
The cast also includes a pet turtle belonging to Shoals musician Doc Dailey.
Campbell said he decided to shoot the film in Alabama rather than Louisiana because the film didn't qualify for the tax incentives Louisiana makes available to filmmakers.
Campbell produced "Torch," a documentary about the torch held aloft by Birmingham's Vulcan and has worked on a Redmouth documentary.
When "The Mourning Hills" is completed, Campbell said he will shop it around on the film festival circuit.