On the set…at HMC
For a few days this summer, Hartselle Medical Center was brought back to life.
People dressed as nurses, doctors and patients once again walked the hallways of the hospital that once was a vital part of the community.
Because of those few days, the hospital that closed at the end of January will be forever etched on the silver screen.
Jeronimo Nisa, an aspiring filmmaker and a photographer at The Decatur Daily, used the hospital to film his original short movie “Driver” earlier this summer. Currently, he is co-producing the movie with his director of photography, Ryan Sims, and Ryan’s wife, Gwena.
While Nisa hated to see the hospital close, he also knew he might have an opportunity to use the hospital as a location for his film, which will be less than 20 minutes of running time.
“I really hated to see the hospital closed,” Nisa said. “So many people had worked there for such a long time. I knew it was just devastating to Hartselle.
“However, I also realized that I could use the hospital for my film. I had a hospital scene So it was an obvious choice for me. I know I hated to see the hospital go, but it was an opportunity for me.”
Nisa contacted Huntsville Hospital officials, who then directed Nisa to Parkway Medical Center. Some of the people that helped get permission for the shoot were Tina Weeks, Kathy Goodwin and Blair Brothers.
The film crew performed the principal photography at Hartselle Medical Center in late June and early July. Nisa said they had to bring in a large number of the medical props, since most of the equipment was removed following the hospital’s shutdown on Jan 31.
Filming took place on three of the floors – on the basement floor around the emergency room, on the top floor in operating rooms and the main floor including several hallways and the cafeteria.
While most of the hospital’s air conditioning was working during the shoot, it didn’t work on the top floor, where a large part of the filming took place.
“That was probably the toughest day on all of us, especially the actors,” Nisa said. “Not only was the temperature in the upper 90s to 100 degrees outside, we were also using the big operating room lights. So it was extremely hot.
“Our young girl actress (Gwendoline Jory) was dressed in her gown, drapes and head covers. I know it had to be extremely hot for her, but she did a great job,” Nisa said. “The funny thing is, when we went back the next day, the air was working just fine. I guess there was a glitch in the computer system or something, but everything worked out great for us.”
One other special treat for Nisa was getting to use several of the nurses that used to work at Hartselle Medical Center.
“It was the first time they had been back since the hospital closed,” Nisa said. “It was an emotional moment for them to see the hospital empty like that, but I was glad that we actually got to have nurses who actually worked there and had worked there for a long time. It was a special moment.”
Nisa’s movie “Driver” is about a single parent, played by Kevin Meier, who is raising six children – five boys and a girl. His girl, played by Jory, suddenly gets sick and has to be rushed to the hospital.
However, at the hospital, Meier’s character begins to see unusual images that only he can see and no one else. Throughout his life, the father is usually reacting to situations, but after witnessing these visions, he then decides to take his life and his daughter’s life into his own hands.
Other main characters in the movie are Ingrid Felts and Tom Kennelly. Other supporting roles are played by Mamie Morgan and Phillip Spratt, along with John Ballew and Michael Ballew.
Nisa also gave credit to Patti Hutchinson and Alex Michetti who were also key production assistants during the filming.
While other locations were used in the film, Nisa said a majority of his film takes place at the former Hartselle Medical Center. The film also features at least seven Hartselle residents who are playing minor roles in the movies as nurses or other parts. Even one of the security guards at HMC performed as an extra during her time off.
Also, Schofield’s Antiques and Collectibles allowed Nisa to use a prop in the film.
“Doing a film like this is a team effort,” Nisa said. “There’s just so many people that have helped with this production and it wouldn’t have been possible without all of their help.”
Nisa is unsure of how the movie will be distributed or entered into film festivals once the editing phase has been completed.
He foresees them entering about two or three festivals, but he also wants to distribute the film via the Internet.
“We’re going to be very selective about the film festivals we enter,” Nisa said. “We want to enter a few film festivals, but I also believe that we should distribute the film on the Internet.
“At a film festival you’re selected to be included in a block of shorts, you might have an audience of maybe 100, but it’s more likely to be close to 50. But on the Internet, you have a chance to reach thousands – maybe even millions if you’re lucky. And the top movie producers and executives might be more likely to view it on the Internet.”
Nisa doesn’t know how an audience will react to his movie, but regardless of what happens at the theater, he said this experience has already been a personal success.
“It’s been a learning process for us,” Nisa said. “This is the first film that I’ve ever produced, wrote and directed. It’s been a success on our part. Obviously, you want an audience to like what you do.
“My goal is that the movie will entertain the audience. If we can do that, then it’s been a success.”