Sophie and the Rising Sun
By Patra Taylor
In May the cast and crew of “Sophie and the Rising Sun” located to the town of McClellanville located just 40 miles north of the city of Charleston. The selection of McClellanville highlights the diversity of locations available for film and television production in South Carolina.
“The town literally became the set for the movie,” states Richard Futch of Charleston-based Futch-Mullins Casting Associates, which handled the location casting for this period film. “This small fishing town easily transformed into Salty Creek, Georgia and literally became the set for this movie that was based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Augusta Trobaugh. The location manager, Steve Rhea, hit a homerun when he introduced the film’s director and production crew to McClellanville. It was love at first sight, and remained that way throughout the month-long shoot.”
“Sophie and Rising Sun” takes place in a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941. Sophie’s lonely life was transformed when an Asian man arrives in town under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War II.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Maggie Greenwald, who also wrote the screenplay, the film stars Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd and Joel Murray. Greenwald writes of discovering McClellanville, “Perfect houses for each of our characters, empty, waiting for us to move in. A small town, it was the perfect size and scope for our low-budget movie. Waterside, we realized we could shoot the entire film, walking from location to location.”
“The town of McClellanville and the production had a really good relationship,” continues Futch, who is also president of the Carolina Film Alliance, an organization that advocates for the film, television and print industries in South Carolina. “In addition to local crew members and support services, we hired as many of the townspeople as we could. I think all of the people in the background were locals and we probably cast another 15 or so who were featured in the film.”
“The local people welcomed our production and have been generous and supportive throughout,” writes Greenwald. “We are so lucky to have them as neighbors and participants in our film. And the local food is some of the best I’ve eaten.”
“Sophie and the Rising Sun” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in January 2016. Held in Park City, Utah, Sundance is a film industry showcase of world premieres for some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.
Location manager Steve Rhea with McClellanville resident and film set caretaker Edward Manigault.
Actors [from left], Margot Martindale, Takashi Yamaguchi, and Julianne Nicholson enjoy a day in the Lowcountry. Photo by Jackson Lee Davis.
Classic wartime soldier/civilian mix at the General store. Photo by Jackson Lee Davis.
The following are excerpts from an interview with writer/director Maggie Greenwald conducted at Sundance.
Q: How did you end up filming in McClellanville, SC?
Greenwald: We decided to scout in South Carolina due to their excellent incentive program. Their film commission hired a great scout for us, Steve Rhea, who took us to some wonderful, old waterfront communities over the first few days. Beautiful, old, majestic houses and towns, but out of scale with our film, with our budget. Places that felt more like they’d be suitable for a bigger budget film. On day three, he took us to McClellanville, which turns out to be his home town. As soon as we drove in, we knew this was the place.
McClellanville is a beautiful, very old town on the water. The main street had only four or five storefronts and standing empty, as though waiting for us, were old houses – each perfect for one of our characters. It was as though the town was waiting for us to show up and film. Even the waterfront was relatively undeveloped and the shrimp boats in the harbor were over seventy-five years old. There is a resident woman crabber, the extraordinary Julie McClellan, who is much like our Sophie. It was like coming home to Salty Creek.
Q: What was it like filming in a town much like the small fishing village depicted in the script?
Greenwald: Filming in McClellanville was a magical experience. It is a tiny fishing village, a very old and diverse community. We wanted very much to bring the community into the film and not be the ugly outsiders. The residents welcomed us openly and it was a mutually wonderful experience. We hired local folks to work on the film whenever we could. Townspeople were the extras in the film. We used the work of local artists in the film. We even set up production offices in the abandoned middle school in the center of town. Crew rode their bikes around town, to and from locations. Every single location was in the town. It was extraordinary for all involved. We were sad to leave.
Q: Although Sophie and the Rising Sun takes place in the 1940s, do you think it has anything to say to audiences today about race relations and bigotry?
Greenwald: Very sadly, Sophie and the Rising Sun is tragically modern in what it has to say about race relations and bigotry today. Actually, producer Nancy Dickenson optioned the book and wanted to make it into a film because she saw us doing the same thing to Arab-Americans after September 11 as we did to Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. Tragically, it relates even more strongly today to where we are regarding black-white relations in the US.
Q: Several of your films have been period pieces. Do you enjoy making films about the past?
Greenwald: I do enjoy making period films, though it’s very difficult because I usually work on very modest budgets. It gives me a chance creatively to enterinto another world. Perhaps it appeals to the story-
book lover in me who still loves the idea of, “Once upon a time….”
Q: How do you make those films relevant to contemporary times?
Greenwald: I haven’t had to try to make the stories relevant to contemporary times. I live today so my experience of the world is of today. My characters take me to their time and then I bring them into our time. It’s a very natural process.
Photos courtesy of Sophie Films Inc.
Photographer: Jackson Lee Davis
McClellanville resident, now N.Y. transplant Colie McClellan in front of “Anne’s House” which served as Sophie’s home. Photo by Jackson Lee Davis.
Photo by Jackson Lee Davis.
Takisha Yamaguchi as “Grover Ohta” having a splendid moment. Photo by Jackson Lee Davis.