A movie about to be filmed in Pittsburgh is casting Gothic characters — including an albino-like girl and deformed people — to depict West Virginia mountain people. “‘Regular-looking” children need not apply. That’s the gist of an open casting call for paid extras for Shelter, a horror film starring Julianne Moore that will begin shooting in Pittsburgh in March, reports Pittsburghlive. You can read the INSANE story inside.
The casting call scheduled for Sunday invites “men and women of all races, 18 or older,” to try out as extras, according to the announcement from Downtown-based Donna Belajac Casting. But the extras wanted for the West Virginia scenes evoke images of “Deliverance” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”
“It’s the way it was described in the script,” Belajac said Monday. “Some of these ‘holler’ people — because they are insular and clannish, and they don’t leave their area — there is literally inbreeding, and the people there often have a different kind of look. That’s what we’re trying to get.”
Belajac said the announcement was not meant to stereotype people from West Virginia. But state officials and a history professor called it “unfortunate” that such unfair views of people are being repeated.
“They clearly are not trying to create the image of a quaint, homespun mountain family,” said Kevin Barksdale, assistant history professor at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. “Clearly, what they’re trying to establish is this notion of the hillbilly monster.”
Appalachia as a setting in a horror flick is an old motif, but such an open appeal for stereotypical mountain people is unusual, Barksdale said.
The announcement — which was sent out in a news release and posted on the casting company’s Web site — asked for people with the following attributes:
“Extraordinarily tall or short. Unusual body shapes, even physical abnormalities as long as there is normal mobility. Unusual facial features, especially eyes.”
The announcement requests “a 9-12-year-old Caucasian girl with an other-worldly look to her.”
“Could be an albino or something along those lines — she’s someone who is visually different and therefore has a closer contact to the gods and to magic. ‘Regular-looking’ children should not attend this open call.’”
Asked if she felt the characterization might be offensive to West Virginians, Belajac said: “We tried to word it in a way that’s not offensive. I hope it’s not an offensive thing. It’s not meant to be a generalization about everyone in West Virginia. That’s why we put that it’s in a ‘holler’ in the mountains.”
Pamela Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office, said, “It’s unfortunate they actually have to name a place, as opposed to being Anywhere, U.S.A.”
“But I also think the typical movie-going public recognizes that it is just a movie and is intelligent enough to make their own conclusions that these are not accurate representations of West Virginia and its people,” Haynes said.
“From the standpoint of being a lifelong West Virginian, it’s upsetting, because there are so many wonderful people to come out of this area,” said Jeff Pierson, director of arts for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
“We have a rich heritage and a strong cultural backbone,” Pierson said. “There are so many positive stories that come out of this state and never get told.”
“Shelter” is a supernatural horror thriller being produced by Los Angeles-based Nala Films. The budget is in the $22 million to $25 million range and will be financed through Nala Investments, parent of Nala Films, according to Variety.
The reference to needing an “albino or something along those lines” is because “we need a little girl who looks different,” Belajac said.
“There is a granny who is a ‘holler witch’ who does magical things, She’s blind because she’s ancient, and this little girl is her eyes. She needs to look odd. She either needs unusually eerie eyes or pale skin,” Belajac said.