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On fire for film: Fire scene in 'Get Low' filmed near Warrenton

WARRENTON, Ga. - The beginning and ending of the Hollywood movie, Get Low, now in its final days of being filmed, was actually shot at an old house just on the outskirts of Warrenton.

The home was burned to the ground after a stuntman was set ablaze during some of the last filming of the movie last Sunday night, off U.S. Highway 278. During the scene, stuntman Cal Johnson leaped out a second-floor window after being set afire. He was uninjured.

Aaron Schneider, co-writer and director of the movie, which is set back in 1930 and features such Hollywood stars as Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black, was onsite when the large wood-frame structure was set afire. The majority of the filming for the movie was done in nearby Crawfordville. Other portions of the film were shot farther away in Newnan, Ga. and Dallas, Ga.

Mr. Schneider, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, has worked on such highly-successful movies as Titanic and Kiss the Girls. Get Low is about an eccentric old man who experienced a disappointed love life and withdrew from society. The man later began wondering if the town would give him a proper burial, if something happened to him and he died. So he decided to stage a mock funeral.

"This is going to be a big movie," said Lara Massengill, key assistant location manager, who spent more than 36 hours and looked at 28 potential sites before deciding that the home near Warrenton was the perfect choice and would keep the movie on budget.

Ms. Massengill, a native of Johnston County, N.C., who works and lives in Los Angles, became friends with several business owners in Warrenton, as well as Warren County Commission Chairman John Graham, during her search to find the house needed for the movie.

"This movie opens and closes with this house being on fire," said Ms. Massengill, who looked for such a home in Warren, McDuffie, Glascock and Hancock counties before settling on one owned by Otis Hart Johnson, who now lives in Conyers.

Sunday night, Mr. Johnson watched from atop an embankment as his family's old farm house, built back in the 1800s and last lived in between 1948 and '49, went up in flames.

His father, the late C.E. Johnson, purchased the house in 1940 and operated a large farm, which covered several hundred acres. He raised a variety of crops and grew cotton, too, before becoming a cattleman.

"I wanted it down," said Otis Johnson, noting it had become an eyesore, even though many people through the years have referred to it as a landmark. "It went down quicker than I thought."

Through the years, Mr. Johnson had used the old house to store windows and other items. He had to stop, though, because of people stealing.

"It always caught my eye when I rode by it," said Billy Todd, a friend of Mr. Johnson. "It's sure going to look a lot different when I ride by it from now on."

"One of the major stunts of this movie was the man jumping out of the burning house," said Ms. Massengill. Members of the film crew shot the fire scene just one time, apparently getting exactly what they had sought.

A number of firefighters with the Warren County Fire/Rescue Services, as well as from the McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services and Georgia Forestry Service, were there for safety concerns first and then worked to contain the large fire afterwards. A medical helicopter team from Augusta also was on standby at the scene.

Local emergency operations were headed by Warren County Fire Chief Tommy Wolfe and Keith McIntosh. Warren County Sheriff Joe Peebles and several of his deputies, meanwhile, handled traffic and crowd control.

In recent days, Ms. Massengill had been busy trying to secure certain permits from state officials - one regarding a major portion of the highway in front of the house being closed and traffic detoured between Sunday at 8 a.m. and Sunday at midnight. The stunt was completed at 7:40 p.m. Sunday and the old house set afire shortly thereafter.

Georgia Power crews were busy around the site last Thursday, relocating power lines out of the way of the planned fire. When the house did burn Sunday night, flames lapped 30 to 40 feet into the night sky.

"A lot of work goes into making a movie behind the scenes," said Ms. Massengill. "This one is no exception."

Get Low is being produced by The Zanuck Company, the same company that produced the hit movie, Driving Miss Daisy. In 1990, that movie received a Best Picture Oscar.

"These people around Warrenton have been like family to me since I've been around here," said Ms. Massengill. "These people have bent over backwards to help me with anything that I've needed. I have grown very fond of a lot of them."

Now that the movie is in its concluding stages as far as filming goes, Ms. Massengill compared Sunday night's dramatic stunt and fire scene as "arriving in the end zone."

This particular job assignment over, she now awaits her next assignment.

Web posted on Thursday, March 12, 2009

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