Acworth abuzz during remake of ‘Footloose'

Ryan Schaetzle knew it the first time he drove into town: Acworth was going to be a star.

Schaetzle, the location manager for the remake of  “Footloose,” needed a quintessential Southern town for the backdrop of film. He found it in this northwest Cobb city of 23,000, complete with train roaring along Main Street, stately Victorian homes and a red brick church nestled in the trees.

“When you find a location, you just know it,” said the Marietta resident. “You can’t articulate it. That’s what happened here. We were on a mission to find the perfect town, and I knew Acworth had revitalized with the look we wanted. Then we drove into the downtown, and the first thing that caught our eyes was this Presbyterian church. Our designer said, ‘This is it.’ It was weird; that doesn’t happen very often in this business.”

Schaetzle’s business is finding towns, houses and buildings where visiting film companies can shoot. When the UGA grad and native Atlantan was charged with lining up locations for the remake of the 1984 “Footloose,” he had a hunch that Acworth’s quaintness would fit. Discovering the perfect church and a house to stand in as the home of the main characters within a few yards of each other was a lucky break.

Schaetzle knocked on the door of the white two-story, 110-year-old house.

“What we needed was a particular kind of interior,”  Schaetzle said. “And logistically, it made sense that this house was so close to the church. But I had no idea it was the mayor’s house.”

For Mayor Tommy Allegood, having a major motion picture move into town was almost as exciting as having his town proclaimed an All-American City by the National Civic League in July. But having Hollywood stars in his house was definitely more glamorous.

“We did get to meet Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell and Julianne Hough, who were terrific,” said Allegood, whose wife Carol was an extra on the set. “The last scene they did here went on until four in the morning, then they packed up and left in the middle of the night. But they came back to put in all the landscaping they pulled out.”

Quaid takes on the role of the Bible-thumping preacher whose mission is to keep the town’s youngsters from having a rockin’ good time. MacDowell plays his wife; Hough his daughter. Reprising the rebel-rouser role created by Kevin Bacon is Kenny Wormald. But many of the supporting, non-speaking roles feature folks with strong ties to Acworth, including Jane Williams Sherlock who spent two days on the set.

“It was like the circus came to town,” said the 78-year-old, who works part-time for the Cobb County finance office and only watched the original “Footloose” a few weeks ago. “I was so proud of Acworth. We were thrilled to death that we were chosen as a location.”

Sherlock, who attends Acworth Presbyterian, said the production company made a donation for use of the church’s small sanctuary, which they repainted to bring out the vivid colors in the stained glass windows. They also spruced up the landscaping around the building. Then they started recruiting extras.

“It was a blast, even though we had to show up at 7 a.m.,” Sherlock said. “I worked two 12-hour days. We used the Sunday school space in the big Baptist church across the street for makeup and wardrobe. We each had to bring three outfits; if they didn’t like what you were wearing, you had to change.”

On the second day of shooting at the church, the crew realized they needed more extras. Those already on the set pulled out their phones and started contacting friends.

“I called a friend who came over in 45 minutes,” Sherlock said. “We were part of the congregation that had to walk in and out of the church, and I swear, we did it seven or eight times. But it really was fun. One of our church elders got to sit next to Dennis Quaid, who was very personable. He told our member, ‘I like your suit.’ ”

Acworth Presbyterian elder Doris Brady, 80, grew up attending the little church where her grandparents were founding members. Except for the day a year ago when she married her husband, Roy, 82, she’d never seen the church so full.

"I don't think I've never seen that many people in town," said Brady, who took off from her full-time sales job in Atlanta to be part of the crowd scenes. "It was great to see the actors, but it was long and tiring. I had no idea how many times they film something to get it right."

“It’s more like sitting around all day instead of working all day,” Roy Brady said. “But we got paid minimum wage for eight hours and time and a half after that. And we did meet the stars, who were really nice people, even though I didn’t know them. The guy [Quaid] who was the preacher was very nice, talking to everyone. He wasn’t a big horse’s rear. And when we came home that night, I found my AARP magazine in the mail and guess what? He was on the cover!”

At the Dogwood Terrace on Main Street, manager Peter Thorpe fed folks who camped out on the terrace, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hollywood and to gawk at the giant lighting cranes, production trailers and catering trucks that jammed the parking lot of the Baptist church. The fans, along with the crew and extras, created enough traffic to warrant a police officer to keep things moving on Main Street.

“There was a cool buzz in the city,” Thorpe said. “It was neat to see the big, bright lights shining on the mayor’s house when they were shooting at night. And I did get to see Andie MacDowell, who looks just as pretty as she does on film.”

A few blocks away, Mike Fusco of Fusco’s Via Roma found his tables crowded with crew members.

“A lot of them came for lunch and dinner, and on the final weekend of shooting, we got four calls to deliver pizzas,” he said. “By the end of the week, I think they were sick of catered food.”

Though business owners can’t put a figure on it, they claim the extra traffic was a boost to the Main Street economy.

“I can’t say we quadrupled our business during the filming, but it did bring a few more people into town and showed what we have to offer,” Thorpe said. “That’s good for the long-term business of Acworth.”

Brandon Douglas, Acworth’s assistant city manager, said Acworth is getting a reputation as a good place to shoot films as well as commercials.

“This was the third movie that’s been shot here since I came four years ago,” he said. “We’ve had several national brands shoot commercials here. We know how to facilitate the filming process, to make it seamless. Add to that the railroad, the lake, the quaintness of the small town, and Acworth is an obvious choice.”

Allegood plans to keep capitalizing on his city’s 15-minutes.

“We will be planning a movie premiere when the film comes out in April,” he said. “We’re not sure yet where it will be, but we will have fun with it and show off our city.”