The Transylvania Times -

Award Helping 'Cucumber' Get Made


May 16, 2019

Pictured are (in back) Edwin Dennis, "Cucumber's" writer and director; (middle left) Tammy Hopkins, "Cucumber" producer and actor; Camille Maren, who will do "Cucumber's" behind-the-scenes photos; and Evan Schmidt, part of the "Cucumber" crew. (Courtesy photo)

A 2019 film award granted to Tammy Hopkins, executive director of the Transylvania County Arts Council, provides fertile soil to grow an old script - "Cucumber" – into a locally shot movie this fall.

"I've wanted to make 'Cucumber' for years," Hopkins said. "We were in the middle of raising funds for it when I heard about the grant through the Cucalorus Film Festival and the NC Film Office."

The award was an initiative of the Cucalorus Film Foundation in Wilmington, the N.C. Film Office in Cary, with support from the California-based Artless Media independent film production company, which includes the Magnifying Glass micro-grant program.

"The program was launched in 2015 to increase independent production activity and to support the work of emerging artists," according to the press release listing the awardees. "The fund has distributed more than $40,000 to support original and singular films by diverse artists working in North Carolina."

From 80 submissions, the Filmed in NC panel picked 11 projects that focus on seven female producers/directors, four projects from African American filmmakers and two Latino artists.

The film will be considered to be shown at the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, which Hopkins said is the largest in the state, as well as a $2,500 grant to put toward the $250,000 project.

"If we were to make 'Cucumber' in a big city, or in a big market, it would be a million-dollar film because of its huge cast and many locations, but because we are shooting it 100 percent in Transylvania County, we can make it for $250,000, which is unheard of in other places," she said. "So, we've been able to raise half the funds for this project, but we still need to raise the other half of the budget."

They hope to get three big stars, with the remainder being Western North Carolina talent, which will include Brevard's own Tyler Chase. Hopkins herself will be playing the sheriff, in a "unique twist" on the small-town narrative.

The script, written by writer, director and producer Edwin Dennis, Hopkins' long-time friend, is a southern gothic satire about factory-town culture involving a cucumber growing competition for the county fair, a tent-revival preacher, "a feisty pagan and a man who thinks he's a chicken."

In a community where everyone goes to work in a factory after high school, the story follows Bubba Love, who's felt stuck in life and in an engagement to the same woman, doesn't have a car, and he hasn't talked to his dad for years after his dad, in struggling with the philosophical question of what came first – the chicken or the egg? – decided he himself was, in fact, a chicken.

Peter's Pickle Company is giving a car away to those who can grow the biggest cucumber, and Love thinks, if he can win, his life will change.

"It's a satirical piece about the South, small towns where everyone knows everyone's business, and a look at religion and how far people can take it," Hopkins said.

Dennis wrote the script in the late 1980s before attending Columbia University's School of the Arts Film Division, where he graduated in 1995 and studied screenwriting under the tutelage of screenwriters such as Terry Southern, who wrote the scripts for "Dr. Strangelove" and "Easy Rider."

While attending Columbia, he studied editing and cinematography, and was one of three students to receive the Film Division's Excellence in Screenwriting fellowship the first year it was granted.

He returned to North Carolina after receiving his Master's of Fine Arts degree to continue his involvement in the NC Film Industry, where he scouted for films such as "Cold Mountain" and "Hannibal," and was a location manager for scenes of "The Green Mile" shot in Blowing Rock, N.C.

"I carried 'Cucumber' with me throughout this time, and when I went to Columbia, I took the first draft with me and used it as my first-year script project, where I had it polished under Terry Southern, who was from Texas; so he got the southern gothic aspect of it," he said. "Up until that point, my being a southerner, born in Alabama and grew up in Boone, I was heavily influenced by Flannery O'Conner, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams."

After Columbia, he said he "shopped the script around."

"It was read by a lot of people, but my favorite story is when it was read by a woman at Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment," he said.

At Columbia, he said, all scripts written there at a senior level, or any a student would want to submit, are catalogued and passed to all of the "big movie companies."

"So, this woman calls me while I'm still in New York and tells me she loves the script, and I'm like . . . 'and?" he said.

"'And,' she said, 'Spielberg will never touch it,'" he recollected. "She said she just couldn't green light it because it wasn't his type of material. Not good or bad, just a matter of taste."

He said that throughout the years he passed it around, and, eventually, met Hopkins, who was taking one of Dennis' film classes at A-B Tech 18 years ago where they became friends.

"It was a film appreciation class I taught there on Saturdays and Tammy was taking it," he said. "So, we got to be friends, and she said she would love to read what I had written, so I gave her the script, and she said she loved it. She told me she was determined to be a film producer and that she wanted to make this film, so it's a story coming to fruition after decades. It's been a labor of love for a long time, and it's my first feature."

Dennis called Hopkins the "fire in the belly of this project."

"It's great to have her as a partner on this," he said.

Hopkins said she always knew she wanted to make films the evening she saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" at a drive-in theater in Saint Joseph, Mo.

"I was sitting in a lawn chair, and in one scene in which the space ship is landing, the wind is blowing in a character's hair (Teri Garr), and as that happens, the breeze where I was sitting picked up and it was literally like I was standing there with the characters," Hopkins recalled. "I knew then, I wanted to make something like that."

When Hopkins was a child, her family lived in Brownstown, Ill., with a population of 500, and it got an honorary "shout out" from the television show "Hee Haw" at the time.

"Then we moved to a city about the size of Asheville, with a couple-thousand people living there, and then I moved to San Diego, Calif., so I've seen the change phenomenon in going from a small town where everyone knows your business, to sort of disappearing into a big city," she said.

She got her first theatrical role as the part of "Rizzo" in "Grease" during high school, and studied theatre and dance at Tarkio College in Tarkio, Mo., before moving to San Diego, Calif., where she worked as an outdoor environmental educator with Orange County Outdoor Science School.

"I've always juggled a full-time job and have always had ties to the arts, and tourism and education," she said. "I've always been able to mix and mingle them."

She then moved to Transylvania County after 10 years in San Diego to work at the Cradle of Forestry Historic Site in Pisgah National Forest.

"When I got here I was amazed by the film opportunities," she said. "In California it's so big and exaggerated, and I really wanted to get into writing and producing, so being here allowed me to do that."

Now that "Cucumber" is rolling through the fundraising stage, donations are appreciated.

"There is a big economic impact for a film like this to be shot in Transylvania County," Hopkins said. "The cast and crew we pull from Brevard, Asheville, Weaverville and Hendersonville will spend their money here, and the money through the process of production is turned around and spent here, with housing, catering, locations."

She said she always tries to use - when she can - local artwork, local musicians, local actors and local interns, from middle school through college.

"We have at least three to five on every project, so those interns have great resumés," she said.

Hopkins' job, aside from playing the sheriff, is to "make the film happen here."

"I'm working with executive producers to help raise money, and we are hoping to take the PR from the award and the rest of the funds and start pre-production in late summer," she said.

Donations can be made out to CUCUMBER the Movie, LLC and mailed to PO Box 942 Brevard, NC 28712. All donations will be used in producing this feature film in Transylvania County.

To follow this production and to watch for casting calls and location needs, like and follow CUCUMBER on Facebook. For more information call Tammy at (828) 884-2787.

In addition to discussing "Cucumber," Hopkins provided an update to previous films shot in Transylvania County.

"The Evil Inside Her," starring Eric Roberts and shot in Rosman and Brevard, will be available for rent and purchase this summer on all major digital platforms, including Amazon, Comcast, TubiTV, iTunes, Googleplay, Xfinity, Sony Playstation Store, Microsoft Store and other platforms throughout North America.

A premiere will be held at the Fine Arts Theatre in Asheville on Thursday, June 13, at 7 p.m., where Roberts himself will be attending for a meet and greet.

"The Good Things Devils Do," which was shot earlier this year, will be released on Halloween.


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