History in the filming

Published 1:55 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

Two men in 1930s-style bowl hats and tweed jackets climbed out of an antique car in the back corner of Saginaw Pipe’s property in Alabaster. They approached a couple of Native American construction workers and asked them if they wanted the chance to make history by working on the Empire State Building. The workers looked at each other and nodded. Then director Jason Ruha yelled “Cut!” and the cameras stopped rolling.

A film crew shot the pilot scenes for a new television show among the steel beams at Saginaw Pipe in Alabaster on April 7. Ruha, who lives in Alabaster, chose this site to introduce the actors playing the Native American characters as members of the Mohawk tribe, who are famous for ironworking, building bridges and constructing sky scrapers in some of America’s largest cities.

The scene is for a television show titled “Patches, Through the eyes of a Child,” which will tell the stories of how every ethnic group in America had a part in the building of America.

“Today we’re filming for the episode called ‘Skywalkers,’ about the Native Americans who helped build the Empire State Building. They were fearless and would walk with ease from beam to beam,” said Renny Roker, the show’s producer.

Roker, whose company Renny Roker Presents Productions is based in Orlando, Fla., has acted in more than 300 television shows and close to 30 movies. He produced a series similar to “Patches” in the Caribbean, which showed how different ethnic groups each had a part in making the Caribbean what it is today. The series was successful and many schools even made it a must-see for students.

“This kind of film brings a sense of pride and dignity, and an understanding among people. It’s an opportunity to tell history through entertainment,” Roker said.

The crew plans to film the first eight episodes for the series in the Birmingham area. This week they’ve created five-minute long vignettes to show the TV networks. If a network picks up the show, the crew will be back in Birmingham in the next couple of months to film the rest, Roker said.

“I like the idea of doing it here in Birmingham and this community because there’s a lot to offer—buildings for the big city, the rural country, beautiful landscapes. I also love working with the people here,” said Roker.

Ruha’s work through his company Look Productions has given him the experience and connections to make filming a show like “Patches” in the Birmingham area a smooth process.

“I know these locations so well and I prefer to shoot here, to shoot close to home. With the right props and backgrounds, you can make Alabama look like anywhere,” said Ruha.

Before they filmed at Saginaw Pipe, the crew shot scenes featuring the Mohawk tribe characters walking among the woods and rock formations in Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover.

During the rest of the week, the crew will also shoot in Montevallo at the McGibbon House, King House and Pine View Road, as well as the Lyric Theatre in downtown Birmingham, said Ruha.

Ruha contacted local actors and a makeup artist to be a part of the filming. Don Cano, from Hoover, and Santiago Maracaria of Alabaster played the Mohawk Native Americans. John McGinnis and Royce Henry, both from Birmingham, played the architect and developer of the Empire State Building. Linda Thacker, a makeup artist from Alabaster, did the actors’ hair and makeup.

Once the crew is finished filming, the post-production will take place in Atlanta, said the associate producer Bridget Lanier. After post-production, the producers will search for a network that wants to air the series. Lanier said she is hopeful that a station such as the History Channel, Discovery Channel or A&E Family will be interested in the show.

“I’m so impressed with the storytelling, that it’s so positive. There’s not an ounce of negativity. Everything has gone beautifully. The Alabama crew is awesome,” she said.

For Roker, this series is a chance to share the true history of our nation in an entertaining way. He said that not many people know about the impact the Mohawk tribe had on the creation of famous buildings like the Twin Towers and Empire State Building.

“We might never have had sky scrapers without Native Americans,” he said.