Hollywood returns to the Comstock

Jeff Piccinini, director of photography, prepares to film a scene on set of the movie "Coyote Hole" in Silver City on Wednesday.

Jeff Piccinini, director of photography, prepares to film a scene on set of the movie "Coyote Hole" in Silver City on Wednesday.

After seven years in development, Dayton filmmaker Jackie Hamilton is ready to make her mark in the independent film milieu.

Her film "Coyote Hole," now being shot in Silver City, Dayton and Gold Hill, is the product of a lot of hard work, from writing the script to finding financing to hanging on to actors to building sets and even milling logs.

She obtained some logs from the U.S. Forest Service and milled the wood herself. The product, the set of the film, is sitting on mining property owned by Art Wilson, high up in Silver City.

She said it's the first film done about Comstock mining since Errol Flynn's "Virginia City" premiered in 1940.

"It took eight weeks to do the house," she said, adding that vandals damaged the first one she built.

The makeshift cabin is next to a mine shaft and mainframe, and the crew added a mine entrance and an outhouse.

About a dozen people spent several hours doing a few scenes on Wednesday, with two evil muleskinners menacing a damsel. Over and over again.

"This is the hard part, waiting for your scene, said actor Al Liner, who plays the sheriff in the film. "It usually goes about a page, a page and a half a day. And there's 126 pages to this film."

Liner said if this was a studio production, there would be 150 people on the set with trailers and equipment everywhere.

But these days, he said, with digital equipment, you don't need as much to make a good film.

"Coyote Hole" is about Isaiah Wilkes, a Boston gentleman who comes to Virginia City in the 1870s to visit his brother. Finding his brother dead and his niece, Elizabeth, alone and struggling, he wants to take her back East. Before he can, he is robbed and the two of them are forced to eke out a living on the Comstock.

No word on what happens to the muleskinners, but there is a lynching scene to be shot today for which Hamilton is seeking extras to add to the crowd.

The film was written in the year 2000, and the actors say the script is one thing that made them wait out financing issues.

"It's a very well written script," said actress Cindy Pain, who plays Elizabeth. "It's a dramatic Western; a period piece."

"It's one of the best scripts I've read in a long time," said J.D. Nelson, who plays Isaiah. "It's like an all-American story, but more realistic. Lots of complexities and the characters run the gamut, both good and flawed."

Hamilton thought she had everything worked out two years ago, but then said the financing fell apart and she had to start all over.

She said most of the cast has stuck with her through the tough times.

Hamilton found Wilson, a backer of the project and owner of the property on which the set was built.

Wilson joked about becoming a movie mogul.

"Well, I'm not doing very good at mining, so this is my next shot," he said.

Some filming will take place at a Gold Hill Hotel cabin, where the cast is staying.

Hamilton said Carol Fain, owner of the hotel, has been a big supporter, as has Wilson.

"I'm real fortunate to have Art and Carol standing behind the project," she said.

The crew have been shooting off and on for three days, depending on the weather, and expect to continue through Sunday.

Future filming will take place at St. Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church in Virginia City, at the old Dayton Jail and at the Odeon Hall, where parts of "The Misfits" were shot in 1960.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.

To be an extra

Be a part of moviemaking in Nevada, call (415) 902-3701 or (775) 847-0111 ext. 221. Extras are needed for a lynching scene to be shot at 6 p.m. today.

Nevada Movie Fun Facts

• The working title of the project "Three for the Devil" has been renamed to fit its key Reno location, "El Cortez," a downtown hotel.

• West Wendover is rural Nevada's recordholder for hosting film and television crews.

• Frank Sinatra once owned the Cal-Neva at Lake Tahoe's Crystal Bay. David Mamet's "Things Change" and Ron Shelton's "Cobb" shot scenes there.

• The production numbers in "Showgirls" were written specifically for the Paul Verhoeven film and shot in the Horizon Hotel at Lake Tahoe.

• Despite what the comedy television series "Reno 911" says, there is no Reno Sheriff's Department.

• Nevada has about 50,000 miles of paved road, much of it featured in films like "The Visitors," "Lethal Weapon 4," "Vanishing Point," "Breakdown" and "Rain Man."

• Mark Twain began his writing career as a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, where the PBS program "History's Detectives" filmed a segment in 2003. The city's steam train still operates and was featured in the Imax project, "Mark Twain's America" as well as "Dead Man" starring Johnny Depp.

• Gabbs, one of the locations in "Melvin and Howard," at the time was Nevada's smallest incorporated city until it got smaller and was disincorporated in 2001.

• Nevada tribes include the Shoshone, Washo and Paiute. Tribal lands have been used in such projects as "Misery," "The Doctor" and "Trail of Tears."

NAME: Cindy Pain

WHERE FROM: Los Angeles; originally from eastern Tennessee

CHARACTER: Elizabeth Wilkes

CAREER: 10 years as an actress. "I just finished 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' a period piece with Michael Moriarty, and I was in a short film done on Steven Spielberg's lot."

NAME: J.D. Nelson


CHARACTER: Isaiah Wilkes

CAREER: "I've been acting since 1973 or 1974. I was a cowboy and bronc rider. "I figured acting was easier and I was right."

NAME: Billy West

WHERE FROM: Rohnert Park, Calif.

CHARACTER: Sullivan, a muleskinner

CAREER: Has been performing since 1998, but said "I've been an actor since I was a kid. Acting like I'm listening, acting like I care. It's pretty easy." This is his first speaking role, saying "things you can't say in the newspaper. I'm a real creep in this movie."

NAME: Sean Wright

WHERE FROM: Santa Rosa, Calif.

CHARACTER: Meeks, a muleskinner

CAREER: Acted in high school and college, "then gave it up for 30 years. This is my first movie, but I performed at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego."

NAME: Heidi Wright

WHERE FROM: Sonoma County, Calif.

CHARACTER: Mrs. Zimwalt, the shopkeeper

CAREER: Has acted for five years; did a film called "Happy Life," and summer shows.

NAME: Al Liner

WHERE FROM: Santa Rosa, Calif.

CHARACTER: Sheriff Carl Mueller

CAREER: Has spent 30 years acting, done mostly independent films and had a few "very small roles" in a couple of good size films, including "Blade Runner."

Some Nevada movies

"The Misfits" shot in Reno, Dayton, Stagecoach Flats and Pyramid Lake in 1960

"The Shootist," filmed in and around Carson City in 1976

More recent films produced here include:

"Misery" 1990,

"The Bodyguard" in 1992,

"Casino" in 1995,

"Independence Day" in 1996

"Ocean's Eleven" in 2001;

"Smokin' Aces was filmed in Stateline in 2005

- Source: Nevada Film Office


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