PARKERSBURG - The former Wood County Holding Center was turned into a movie set Friday as a Pennsylvania film company began filming for its new movie, "Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies."
Actors and extras in zombie makeup could be found throughout the old jail as crewmembers set up lights and cameras and prepared to film different scenes in the former cellblocks and corridors.
The movie, directed by Pennsylvania native Cody Knotts, began shooting Thursday at a private residence in Parkersburg before moving to the former jail on Friday for more filming.
Cameraman Joseph Russio, left, and professional wrestler Shane Douglas, center, discuss the staging of a fight scene in one of the holding blocks at the former Wood County Holding Center. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
The shoot will continue today at City Park Pavilion, before moving over the next couple of weeks to sites like Fort Boreman Park and other local homes and businesses, Knotts said.
The film features real-life wrestling stars and actors, including "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, WWE wrestler Matt Hardy, former Olympian Kurt Angle, 2009 Penthouse Pet and VH1 reality star Taya Parker, ECW champion Shane Douglas and Howard Stern Woman of the Year Reby Sky.
Knotts said the wrestlers will be playing themselves dealing with a zombie outbreak, with Parkersburg standing in for Pittsburgh as the setting of the film, although places like the jail and City Park are set in West Virginia.
Douglas, who has wrestled for 32 years as "The Franchise" Shane Douglas, is taking an active role in the film, not only acting but also working behind the scenes as an action choreographer and producer.
Douglas said he and Knotts both attended Bethany College, in Bethany, W.Va., during the same period and Knotts approached him a couple of years ago with the original draft of the "Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies" script. Douglas thought it sounded interesting and began working with Knotts to get the project filmed.
"Wrestling has a huge audience," Douglas said, adding the various wrestlers attached to the project come from different eras and also bring their own fans to the table.
"With what the zombie genre is doing right now, it just seems like something that's perfect," he said.
Douglas is enjoying the experience of working on both sides of the camera.
"This is a different hat for me to be wearing. I'm learning as I go and really enjoying just seeing the whole process. It's fascinating when you see a movie being made from this side of it."
Douglas praised the support the film company has received from the Parkersburg community, from local officials, business owners and residents providing locations for filming to the people who have auditioned for roles and the extras who have been made up into zombies. Many are getting the chance to see what goes into making a movie, Douglas said.
"It's a completely different take, in respect to the movie industry, when you look at it from this standpoint, when two minutes of what you see on the screen may take two days to shoot. It's a very long, arduous process, but one that works out in the end," he said.
As director, Knotts has also enjoyed the support the production has received from the Parkersburg community.
"I was here, off and on, for the last month and so got to come down and it feels like a second home," he said Friday afternoon.
When shooting a film, Knotts said he prefers to use real locations, like the former holding center and jail, as opposed to using soundstages and film sets. Unless it's needed for a period film, he likes working in real places and doing practical stunts, with no computer generation.
"The jail's cool, it's a great place. It's a great location to film in," he said.
Several local residents will be in the film, including J. Andrew Clovis of St. Marys and Parkersburg resident Andrew Williams. Local band I Come Alive will be featured and will perform one of its songs, Knotts said.
The film is providing an opportunity for Parkersburg resident Lienn Swearingen, who graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater. A longtime participant in theater programs at the Smoot Theatre and the Parkersburg Actors Guild, she signed up to serve as a production assistant for Knotts during the Parkersburg filming, but ended up in front of the camera when someone was needed to fill a role.
"I ended up being handed the nurse's costume and saying 'Here, try this on,' and it fit perfectly," she said. "I'm really excited, this is probably the biggest thing I've ever done ... It's a professional film credit I can put on my resume."
Knotts said there are still opportunities for local residents interested in appearing in the film, with large groups of zombies needed for some of the scenes at the jail, at Fort Boreman Park and elsewhere during the next week or two.
The best way to learn more about those opportunities will be to email email@example.com, Knotts said.