Sand Paririe... a history
lesson by Jim Conover
It was in late summer of 2004 when a couple of friends and I started talking about producing a western movie here in Central Illinois. I spoke first with Eric Colley, President of Indieclub.com, a website for people trying to get started in the movie industry. Eric was interested in working with me to make a movie. After several sessions of conversation, Eric said he had a couple of friends, Hallie Shepherd, and Jeff Howard who were also interested in acting in the movie. When I was ready to start filming, they would fly into town.
Todd Pilon, a senior producer for WTVP, a PBS affiliate in Peoria, and I spoke about movie making. Todd told me that if I decide to make a movie, he would be interested in being the Director Of Photography.
I started writing an original screenplay for a western movie in October of 2004. While still writing the screenplay, I knew we had to have a western town in order to make a believable western. I also knew we wouldn't have a budget to go out west to an existing western town, so we would have to build one.
Brother Rob Conover and I began looking for locations for the town. I spoke with Dave Barth owner of the largest gun and sports store in the Midwest. Dave was very interested in making a movie. Dave came on board as co-producer. He also had a location where we could build the town. The location was great. It was right on the Mackinaw River in Hopedale Township, about three miles North of Hopedale, Illinois and only 22 miles from Pekin.
By then Bill Homel had joined us and we started laying out the town building and were just about ready to start building when a kink was thrown into the site by a neighbor who blocked off our only access road to the property.
Another friend, Simon Wagenbach came to our rescue. He showed me another piece of property just around a bend in the river that he owned adjacent to the land that Dave Barth owned.
Not only did Simon (″SI″) let us use his portion of land, but he let us use his bull dozer and high hoe to help clear the trees and brush from the section that we would be building the town in. In fact, he cleared most of the trees himself.
Ron Stuber contacted me and told me that he had heard of our project and wanted to join us. He said he had 40 acres of timber that we could use to film on if we wanted to. I looked over his land and found it to be perfect for a shot I had in mind. He was extremely interested in helping us make a movie soon joined our production staff.
Ron, Si, Bill and I cleared the land, burnt the downed trees and laid out the buildings of the town which we named after the movie title - Sand Prairie, Texas.
Ron Stuber, Si Wagenbach, Bill Homel and I put together a crew of men and women who worked hard almost every day to get the town built in time for a June 18, 2005 date to start filming.
Simon Wagenbach sent his crew of men over to set all the support poles for all 7 of the buildings.
We had Si Wagenbach, Ron Stuber, Myself, Curt Maneno, Brad Schmider, Craig Salmon, Rob Conover, Dennis Lambert, Josh Lohnes, Randy Wikoff, Dallas Jones, Larry Jones, Bruce Jones, Louis Eertmoed, Dennis Conover, Colton Conover, Danny Stone, Roy Stone, Paul Eggena, Dave Barth, Dan Egli, Daniel Barth, Gary Barth, T.J. Scherer, Forrest Johnson and the women who helped, Sharon Stanard who by then had joined our production staff, Gracy Lydick, Jesse Brewer, Linda Jones, Carmelita Nash, Debby Jones, Nicole Bottrell, Annette Willis and Marcy Wikoff. That's just to mention a few people who really put their hearts and souls into building Sand Prairie. Sorry if I missed anyone who helped in the building of the town.
We continued to build and I continued to write and by April the script in good enough shape to hold an audition for actors. Bill Homel and I began casting actors for the roles in the movie.
June 18, 2005 rolled around and the town wasn't ready yet. We decided that we could start filming without shooting any of the town scenes until it was complete. With Todd Pilon as DP, we started shooting at Ron Stuber's location and at another location on a beautiful, long, grassy ridge that belonged to Brent and Renee Eichelberger. However, the filming didn't go as well as I had expected so I decided to halt the filming until the town was finished.
Finally, on September 2, 2005, the town was finished and we started filming again. This time, because of many reasons, with a new cast of actors.