The cellphone rang. It was an early Saturday morning in the barn. Who would be phoning so early? Looking down at the display, it was an unfamiliar area code. Probably a telemarketing call.
Nope. It was Hollywood!
Huh? Why was Hollywood calling me here in Ohio?
On the other end of the line was a Hollywood producer, calling to offer a proposition. The fast-talking voice stated that, according to an online breeding association directory, this phone number was associated with an Ohio farm that raised beef cattle.
And so, the producer inquired: “Could the movie production company ‘borrow’ a calf for a day, and then use the farm as a backdrop for a few movie scenes for an upcoming film?”
A hasty decision was made. Without hesitation, I answered, “Yes.”
Upon verbal agreement, the emails started flying back and forth. Filming schedules and contracts were shared. Within three days of that first phone call, I had more answers from Hollywood:
• The movie script was a romance story, requiring a farm setting.
• The contract offered by the film production company indicated that the farm was not going to get rich from this movie, but it would make for an interesting event at an Ohio farm.
• A movie location manager was scheduled for a preproduction visit to the farm to scope out the scene potential and select a calf.
• And any cattle farmers would enjoy endless chuckles, with this: When the Hollywood crew learned that a beef calf was needed for the movie, a Holstein calf had been chosen for the role. Turned out Hollywood might know how to make a movie, but doesn’t’ know a dairy calf from a beef calf.
Ohio farm in the movies
Back to business, I learned that, once the location manager approved the setting, the film crew and actors would be scheduled for filming at the farm on the next Saturday with pleasant weather in Ohio.
But why Ohio? I checked into the reason. It turned out that the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit was created to encourage and develop a film industry in the state in 2009.
More chuckles occurred when Hollywood producers met the Ohio farm on the day of the preproduction farm visit. Walking the farm with the location manager, I told the slick fellow, “If the manure in the barn is offensive, it can be hauled out. The cob webs can be cleared out, too.”
“No, no. Leave it all there. Our set dressers will just ask to have it all put back. It’s perfect, just like it is,” explained the location manager. Chuckles for everyone. Then he went on, “It sure is nice of you to offer your farm for a horror movie.”
“Huh, a horror movie? The film is a romance story,” was my puzzled reply.
“No, our production people have another film crew in southern Ohio filming that one. We want this farm for filming of a supernatural thriller. You don’t mind a little blood splatter, do you? It will be Karo syrup with red dye,” shared the location manager. It was his turn to laugh.
After the location manager gave his stamp of approval for the farm, the movie crew and actors were scheduled to be on-site within a week of the initial phone call.
Ready, set, action!
It was time for more laughs. A large truck with equipment and then a bus pulled up to the farm on the sunny morning loaded with 15 individuals: actors, film crew, stage hands, props and the film’s director. It turned out the director had never worked with livestock.
Once the crew was all set up for some indoor scenes in the barn, the director asked, “Can you clean up the calf a bit? He has manure on him.”
MAKING OF FAME: A Hollywood producer selects a beef calf for a role in a movie filmed in Ohio. The movie “The Charnel House” is a supernatural thriller available for viewing this year.
“If you want an authentic calf, that’s what one looks like,” was my reply.
“OK, well then, now make the calf move just where we want him to go. No leash, just make him walk exactly this pattern,” the director requested, demonstrating a path through the barn.
My reply was simple, “It’s a calf. Dogs walk on leashes. And this bull calf has not been trained on a lead rope. The calf will go where it goes.”
The laughter was endless that day.
The weather was beautiful that day.
The cobwebs and manure were just perfect that day.
Yes, the paycheck from the movie company was nominal, at best. But the memories of teaching Hollywood about cattle will last forever — and the memories are available for streaming the movie online, as well as DVD, in 2017.
At the end of that long day of filming, all that little calf wanted to do was milk from his momma cow and rest in the pasture.
BIG NIGHT: Farmers Carrie Tomko and Ken Boersma attend a red-carpet night with actor Alden Tab for the movie.
After the long wait for film editing, the movie was presented in downtown Cleveland for a special Hollywood-like red-carpet event. Both I and Ken Boersma, owner of the Ohio farm that hosted Hollywood, attended the special movie showing.
And it was after a long night in the city that we farmers, too, wanted to simply rest, just like the movie star calf after a long day of filming.
About the movie
Filmed in part at an Ohio farm, “The Charnel House” is a 90-minute supernatural thriller whose storyline depicts an abandoned slaughterhouse that has been renovated by a famous architect to develop upscale loft apartments. But the history of the building plagues the residents in this mysterious and suspenseful film.
The calf is seen frequently through the film. The film’s director, Craig Moss, uses high-tech flashback scenes to tell the history of the slaughterhouse’s past, since each loft apartment is equipped with a large computer screen that is voice activated.
“The Charnel House” — starring Callum Blue as the architect, with supporting cast members Nadine Velazquez, Makenzie Moss, Alden Tab, and Erik LaRay Harvey — makes you ponder the fate of the livestock that have entered a processing building. The slaughterhouse and renovated loft apartment building scenes were also filmed in Ohio.
Tomko writes from Rittman.