Somewhere in Wilmington, not long ago, a husband bought a dog against his wife’s wishes. She was convinced he wouldn’t take care of it. And, sure enough, the husband wouldn’t even build a fence for it.
That caused a lot of conflict, which escalated after the dog escaped the yard and was hit by a car.
The wife flipped out, bagged up the animal and stuck it in the trunk of her car for most of the day. Then, she drove to her husband’s place of work, gave him the carcass and said, “This is your problem.”
“She was a co-worker,” said filmmaker Andy Brown. “But that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of anyone doing. So I was just like, ‘I have got to put this in a movie.’?”
When he finally wrote Port City, about five years ago, Brown found a place for the dead dog story, with one small difference. In the independent ensemble feature, the unlucky animal is a goat.
“Goats are funnier. And, really, it’s just easier to ‘get a goat,’?” he said, snickering. “There are a lot of moments of outrageous comedy but … it’s supposed to be something everybody can relate to.”
The independent comedy feature became Brown’s semi-fictional journal of his experience living in Wilmington a year after he graduated from East Carolina University.
The Duplin County native had always lived in the South, but Wilmington’s southern-urban culture was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“I don’t think people have an idea a lot of times, especially if you’re not from the urban South, that there is such a variety of different people here,” Brown said. “If you see a movie set in the south, it’s always kind of the same people.”
In this movie, there’s a storyline involving a stripper and a drug dealer who catch a case of morality; a young man who has a fling with a married woman; a gay next-door neighbor; a female urban professional; and a mysterious “woman in black.”
“A lot of the things in the movie are kind of based on people that I knew here, like people I worked with, family and friends,” he said. “What I always wanted to do was do a movie like what Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah, Ga. You see all these unique people, the beautiful locations, and you just want to visit it. So I hope people will get a big kick out of it. It’s really a sweet movie.”
Brown seems to have fallen in love with Wilmington during his stay here. He talks enthusiastically not only about the city’s eccentric characters, but also about our brick streets, picturesque waterfront and stunning architecture. Locations in the film include The Little Dipper restaurant, The Palms mobile home park in Castle Hayne, The Cotton Exchange, Waterfront Park, Chandler’s Wharf, Ibiza and Greenfield park.
Even with all this here, Brown didn’t stick around Wilmington long after graduation. After about a year, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. There, he landed jobs as a post production supervisor with the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and reality TV shows including Deal or No Deal.
But when it came time to bring his own script to life, he came back.
All but one person on the crew is from the Port City, including producer Heath Franklin. Franklin had sworn off what he calls “microbudget” movies. But when Brown’s script passed over his desk, he said he just couldn’t resist it.
The main character, David, is played by Matt Lutz, a college buddy of Franklin’s who is best known for his role in the Hallmark Channel’s McBride TV movie series. In Port City, the various storylines, which are seemingly random and independent of one another, all collide in the end – and it’s David who bears the brunt of it. Lutz describes it as similar to Crash or Traffic.
“By the end of the film, David’s sort of been put through the wringer. David’s sort of the reactionary,” Lutz said.
John Wesley Shipp, who played Dawson’s dad on Wilmington-made Dawson’s Creek, makes an appearance as George, a guy who just won’t take “no” for an answer. Natalie Canerday (Sling Blade) plays the angry, goat-toting wife, Jeanne.
Also starring in the film are Full House’s Jodie Sweetin and Beverly Hills 90210’s Matthew Laurence.
The mysterious woman in black will not be very mysterious to locals. That character is portrayed by One Tree Hill star and this year’s Azalea queen, Barbara Alyn Woods.
Even though she wanted to do a feature film, Woods wasn’t sure she could juggle that along with a busy One Tree Hill schedule and all the things a mother of three is committed to. But when she read the script, Woods accommodated the logistics.
“I loved the character,” Woods said. “Andy’s a good writer. And you don’t find good writers that often. I thought I would hop aboard his little wagon while he’s young and I was impressed with him as a person, too.”
In all, Port City has about 25 speaking parts, a lot for a low-budget independent film.
But Brown says if one common thread exists, “It’s kind of like how you can form friendships with people that you might not have thought you had any common interests with and finding commonalities between people that are very different from each other.”
And what do locals say about their silver screen counterparts?
“I didn’t tell them,” Brown said.