116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Thirteen years ago this week, the Cedar River flooded Little Bohemia within 2 feet of its ceiling.
On Tuesday, the corner restaurant and bar at 1317 Third St. SE was flooded with 26 actors and crew members filming on location for “Charcoal Skies.”
The six-figure independent film is about midway through shooting in various Cedar Rapids sites, from Time Check Park and Airbnbs to the Hard Drive Performance Center and Busbee Wealth Strategies, which became a psychiatrist’s office. Cast and crew also spent a day at the historic Old Cedar County Jail in Tipton, with a stop in Mount Vernon en route to film in a theater dressing room.
Those might seem like unlikely spots for a drama about an 11-year-old boy with agoraphobia who holes up in his bedroom making art. His therapy for the anxiety disorder, however, tasks him with venturing outside his safety zone for at least a part of every day.
The script takes on lots of layers and turns through his journey, as well as that of his mother. According to the film’s imbd.com description, “ … he experiences more than he bargained for. His difficult single mother finds a meaningful connection in an unexpected place.”
“I would say the story is about community. People may not — and the community may not — necessarily like each other, but they will come together when there's a tragedy, especially when it's involving a child,” screenwriter Beth Hinde of Cedar Rapids said during a quick trip to the Little Bohemia shoot, where the long, rustic bar fit her vision for the setting.
The title reflects the way “everybody feels like they're living underneath a dark sky and hoping they'll find (something) lighter,” she said.
By the end of the story, she added that everybody is “starting to become what they really want to be. They've found that place within themselves that’s really strong and really good, and they've started to believe in themselves.”
That’s a lesson she has applied to the film, which has been 12 years in the making. It has weathered rewrites and the pandemic, and finally is on track for filming until June 26, with postproduction slated to wrap in early 2022.
“It feels like I kind of sat on my dream for a long time,” she said, and she and director Bill Cooper of Minneapolis are hoping the film can premiere next spring in Cedar Rapids.
Now 60 and retired, Hinde has always enjoyed writing, took an introduction to film class at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo years ago and began networking with the Iowa Digital Filmmakers Guild.
She has written some shorter screen plays, but also spent 40 years in health care, primarily as a registered nurse. Her husband, Dan Hinde, 65, retired after 44 years, including 35 years in the mental health field. They’ve dipped into their savings to self-finance the film, and are serving as executive producers.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” he said.
“Setbacks, frustrations,” she added.
“But after each day that the film crew gets done, it's been a little more relaxing and seeing that it's coming together now,” he said. “We're really fortunate to have the people involved.”
More than 50 people are in the cast, with another 25 working behind the scenes, from producing and directing to sound and cinematography. Many are Iowans, but the lead adult actors hail from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Tuesday’s shoot involved 26 people from the cast and crew, setting up lights, a camera and monitors, then rehearsing and filming the scenes. Others kept order on the set. All worked up a sweat since the air conditioning was too loud to run, but trees lining the patio gave some breezy shade for the lunch break.
The process is “fun and very difficult,” said Braxton Thalberg, 11, of Grinnell, who plays Justin Travers, the film’s central character. His father, Wade Thalberg, is an actor who knows Cooper, so Braxton has taken acting classes from Cooper in Minneapolis for two years.
The young actor and his mother, Cecelia, are staying in Cedar Rapids, going back home when they have a couple of days off. Braxton said he’s “enjoying meeting new people and just having fun.” The hardest part is “the acting.” Each night, he receives, studies and memorizes his dialogue for the next day’s shoot.
Cooper has been in film, video and television for 40 years, has been directing for about 15 years and continues to act, teach acting and run a film festival. This project, however, marks the first time he’s directed a child in a lead film role, and the first time he’s directed a gang fight and drive-by shooting.
“Those are things I haven’t done before,” he said, “so I was glad to give that some of my artistic attention.”
He said he “jumped at the chance” to work on the film.
“The story is incredibly important now because it deals a lot with mental health,” he said, “and learning to accept ourselves.”
He has family in the area, and he’s been to Cedar Rapids a couple of times in conjunction with film festivals. The city isn’t named in the film, but Cooper couldn’t be more pleased with the reception here.
“Cedar Rapids has been fantastic,” he said. “The locations fit the story, the people and businesses have been incredibly accommodating, so for me, spending a month here is like adult summer camp.”
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