COLUMBUS — In 2006, when Tanya Wright first penned the script for a very personal film she hoped to one day make, she had never heard of Columbus, Miss.
But while in the city to meet a business partner, the native New Yorker and Los Angeles-based actress had what one might call a Possum Town epiphany.
“I was here, and we were talking about making a couple of movies,” said Wright, who plays “Kenya” in the HBO series, “True Blood.”
“I had this script I wrote several years ago that was very dear to my heart. We actually weren’t going to make this one any time soon (but) I looked out the window one day and realized this is the perfect place to shoot this movie, just perfect in every way.”
“Butterfly Rising” was Wright’s directing debut and what she calls a passion project inspired by an experience in her own life.
“My brother, Barron Wright, died suddenly in 2005, and I was … changing, wide and deep. My attraction to butterflies during this period of my life was strong. A butterfly — with its four stages: egg, caterpillar, cocoon and, finally, butterfly — is the result of a metamorphosis, the complete transformation.”
In Wright’s screenplay, the character Lilah Belle loses her brother — Brooks Berry of Columbus — and sets out to escape her grief, embarking on a road trip to “Newhope, Mississippi,” but not before coaxing the most scandalous woman in “Artesia” — the fictional Rose Johnson — to go with her. These two broken souls steal a vintage truck and head out on the open road for a fated meeting with the mythical, magical Lazarus of the Butterflies, who transforms their destinies.
Once the decision to produce the screenplay was made, “I went on a mission, driving around the city and area scouting locations,” Wright said. “I was amazed at how similar things were to the pictures in my mind.”
After months of preparation, the film was shot between May 18 and June 12 by a mostly New York-based crew. Locations included two Victorian homes in Columbus owned by Frank Loftis, the Charles and Pam Easley home in Caledonia, Ye Olde Country Store in Steens and Friendship Cemetery.
“I was looking for one thing the longest — what turned out to be the Easley’s house that figures prominently in the story,” Wright said. “I needed to find a big Victorian that wasn’t surrounded by civilization. Yvonne Sanders and everybody at the Convention and Visitors Bureau were enormously helpful. They took detailed notes of what we needed, did the research and made sure every location was available for us.”
The principle roles of Lilah Belle and Rose are filled by McGee Monteith of Memphis, Tenn., and Wright, respectively.
Most of the cast was from Memphis or Los Angeles, but in addition to Berry’s role as Lilah Belle’s brother, locals Nathan Best, Pam Easley and her daughter, 15-year-old Caledonia High School student Ali Mara, are among extras in a fish fry scene.
“Butterfly Rising” is currently in the final stages of editing as a feature film, explained Wright, who expects to spend substantial time in the area until January, when “True Blood” resumes production. Preliminary plans for film festivals and shopping for channels of distribution are in progress.
“It was a personal need, to do this movie,” Wright said. “It’s not a sad story at all; it’s a story about faith and inspiration. That was the feeling I came to have after my brother’s death, a joyful feeling that came from that place, in the writing of the script.”
It seems that in unexpectedly discovering Columbus, Wright found another source of inspiration. Her story, written in eight days one summer not long after the loss of her brother, had finally found a “home.”
Jan Swoope/The Commercial Dispatch