Now the city can add a new film to its growing resume.
“Sinking Sand,” produced by locals from Savannah and Georgia, is a suspense thriller set against the backdrop of Savannah. Recently, the cast and crew spent some time filming in downtown Savannah and on Tybee Island before heading to Atlanta.
Writer and director Brian Yarbrough said there were two reasons for setting “Sinking Sand” in Savannah: practical story purposes and the city’s beauty.
“Savannah is really pretty,” he said. “It’s very tantalizing to the eye.”
Star Jenn Gotzon said she sees the city as its own character within the film.
“The depth of consequence in the characters is reflected in the depth of history seen in Savannah,” she said. “The feel and tonality here is something you don’t see in any other city.”
The film stars Gotzon as Brooke McHenry, a woman who feels she is “no longer a priority” after her lawyer husband decides to run for Senate. Enter Tyler Griffin, the mysterious man from her past who sweeps her off her feet. But he has a sinister motive for seeking Brooke out, one that devolves into a web of murder and courtroom drama that will test Brooke’s faith.
“It reminds me a lot of a John Grisham novel,” Gotzon said. “It’s a plot-rich story that deals with things that humans struggle with every day.”
To access her complicated character, Gotzon said she uses her imagination to “fully absorb the world of the script and the character.” She said although some actors like to work from their own experiences, she likes to keep her on-screen and off-screen lives separate.
“We did a scene the other day where I ended up working from a personal moment, and it wrecked me,” she said. “(Each actor is) like a painter with a canvas. Each painter is going to use a different color or a different kind of stroke.”
Gotzon’s co-star, Jim Chandler, who plays Tyler, prefers a very different color and stroke. He said he likes to find a bit of his characters in himself in order to connect with them.
“I have to have an element of me in there or else it feels fake,” he said.
The variety in acting styles matches the diverse backgrounds of the cast.
Gotzon has starred in a number of faith-based films, including the recently released “Doonby,” and was also a part of the first family in Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” where she played the president’s daughter, Tricia Nixon.
She said Frank Langella, who played Richard Nixon in the film, insisted everyone call him “Mr. President” on the set so he could stay in character. But she was a special exception.
“I got to call him ‘daddy,’” she said with a laugh.
Chandler has done a number of short films, including “The Hideout,” which won a slew of awards at the 2014 Christian-based SONscreen Film Festival.
Tom Clark, who plays Brooke’s husband Daniel McHenry, used to be known as “Major Tom,” a well-known on-air radio personality in Atlanta - a job his fellow cast members said he hasn’t quite abandoned.
“He’s on all the time,” Chandler said. “There’s no dead air when he’s around.”
“Sinking Sand” isn’t just tied to Savannah as a filming location. Working freelance on the movie is local Savannah production company First City Films. Founded by Savannah native Chip Lane, First City strives to “create or promote films or media that use Savannah, Georgia, as a backdrop . and to advance local actors in these productions.”
About five “Sinking Sand” cast or crew members are Savannah natives, Gotzon said.
Gotzon, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was cast after Lane saw her work in 2012’s “God’s Country.” She has since worked with him on another film, “Untouched,” a crime drama to be released in July that Lane wrote, produced and starred in.
“They’re a top production company because they’re grounded in morality,” Gotzon said of First City. “They do things excellently every which way.”
Gotzon said the company’s local connections have also been a huge benefit during shooting. Earlier in the week, the cast and crew were supposed to shoot in a restaurant downtown, but things fell through. Luckily, First City was about to coordinate the right permits and paperwork to obtain a Tybee gazebo for shooting and make it look like a café, she said.
“They did it in one day,” said Gotzon with an air of amazement. “That never happens. And it was a Sunday, too!”
Gotzon recounted a similar tale of quick thinking in a moment of bad luck when the crew lost electricity shooting on Tybee during a shoot. Lane walked over to a beach house adjacent to the location and asked for help. The homeowner, John Bishop, gladly agreed and invited the hair and makeup department to set up shop in his home, she said.
But for the cast and crew of “Sinking Sand,” their time in Savannah has not been all work and no play. Gotzon and some of the crew members took a dip in the ocean between shoots on Tybee.
“The water was so warm,” she said wistfully.
Gotzon and Chandler also mentioned a few of the local restaurants they enjoyed during their time in Savannah, including Heiwa’s Japanese Restaurant and Fiddler’s Crab House.
But the place that really got Gotzon gushing was The Olde Pink House Restaurant.
“They have this piano bar in the cellar, and the drinks,” she said, pausing to close her eyes for emphasis. “The drinks are an experience.”
Expect “at least” a limited theatrical release for “Sinking Sand,” Gotzon said, at a time to be announced. A Redbox and Netflix release is slated for some time in 2015.