Matthew McConaughey films scene for new movie at Elvin Hill in Columbiana

Published 10:08 am Monday, July 3, 2023

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Staff Writer and CINDY WARNER | Special to the Reporter

COLUMBIANA – Thanks to a little motion picture magic, Elvin Hill Elementary was recently transformed into the fictional Bill Waugh Elementary as part of a new movie starring Matthew McConaughey.

The film crew was recently in Columbiana filming at the elementary school for the upcoming movie “The Rivals of Amziah King”, which was written and is being directed by Andrew Patterson and stars McConaughey.

Filming took place June 27-28 for the scenes taking place at the school, which not only featured the school and movie star, but provided the opportunity for local teachers, students and school officials to participate as extras in the movie.

Cindy Warner, Public Relations Supervisor for Shelby County Schools, said the district was first contacted in early May by location managers who were scouting locations for the film. Warner arranged a meeting at the school with Elvin Hill Principal Courtney Madison and Assistant Principal Jane Smith for the location managers to tour the school for possible interior and exterior scenes.

“They were in the process of touring several other school locations in both Jefferson and Shelby counties,” Warner said. “We ended up meeting with the location managers and then ultimately the director and producers several times before they settled on Elvin Hill Elementary as their chosen location for the school.”

The location was chosen because of the setting it offered for a scene being filmed in front of the school.

For Madison, it brought a pleasant surprise to her and her staff at Elvin Hill when she found out on Field Day near the end of the school year.

“When we got the call on Field Day that location scouts were on the way to take a look at the school for a possible film, I initially thought to myself, ‘How in the world do you find Columbiana let alone Elvin Hill Elementary School?’” Madison said. “From the beginning, it was exciting that there was even a possibility that we may be chosen as a film location, but when it was finalized, anticipation began to build and it set in that Matthew McConaughey was on his way and bringing a slice of the big screen with him.”

Warner said the director and producers asked and paid for a new sidewalk to be constructed in front of the school. Shelby County School’s maintenance department oversaw construction of the new sidewalk, which will remain as a benefit to students and teachers in the future.

“It turned out great and will be a lasting reminder of the movie being filmed at Elvin Hill Elementary and the time that Matthew McConaughey walked over it while filming various exterior scenes,” Warner said.

Samantha Foster, who teaches first grade at Elvin Hill Elementary, participated as an extra along with her young daughters, Caroline and Sutton.

“Being a movie extra was a great experience,” Foster said. “I loved seeing the behind the scenes of movie production and it’s so neat that our school was the backdrop for a movie. I’m so excited to see how our school and community are represented on the big screen.”

Caroline and Sutton were impressed with meeting a movie star and getting to see stunts being filmed for a couple of action scenes, but were less impressed with the heat and multiple takes involved in filming exterior shots outside.

“I got to meet Matthew McConaughey! It was fun being in the movie with my friends. I loved it! We saw stunts! But, it was sweating hot,” Caroline said.

“I loved to be in the movie and meet new friends. I wish I was there again,” added Sutton. “I don’t like having to do stuff over and over though.”

Ashlee Cole, a third grade teacher at EHES, said she enjoyed getting to see the process and just how much work goes into making a movie.

“All of the crew and people that I came in contact with were friendly and explained what their role is on set,” Cole said. “I look forward to seeing how the scenes we were a part of fit into the film.”

Sarah Elizabeth Shelton, a rising senior and active member of the performing arts department at Shelby County High School, didn’t participate as an extra during filming but spent time on the set meeting members of the film crew and learning more about their jobs.

“The opportunity of being on set for the filming of ‘The Rivals of Amziah King’ is one of the best experiences of my life,” Shelton said. “Every member of the cast, crew and support team was professional, welcoming and patient as they not only did their jobs, but took time to explain creative processes to me and offer industry insights for my future.”

Shelton, who wants to pursue a career as an actor, said she walked into the first day of kindergarten at Elvin Hill Elementary with so much excitement and walked out at the end of filming at her former school even more excited.

“It was a full circle moment that I will always treasure,” she said.

Madison, who also attended school at Elvin Hill Elementary, agreed.

“It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience to get a behind the scenes glimpse of the production process, the long hours along with tireless effort, and meticulousness that go into creating the magic we see on the big screen,” she said. “Watching Matthew McConaughey live and in action wasn’t a bad deal either. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity as it is undoubtedly a core memory and an absolute win for our city, school system, and school!”

Warner said the success of the filming project wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of the City of Columbiana and the Columbiana Police Department.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ali Payne at the City of Columbiana for helping to arrange the delivery of tables and chairs that were used in the holding area for the extras and to Chief Jeff Bowers, Lt. Sasha Knighten, and the other officers from the Columbiana Police Department who provided security during the two days of filming,” Warner said. “This was definitely a group effort between the city and the school district.”

As for filming in the Birmingham-metro area, Film Birmingham Director of Programs and Operations Jessica Moody said she loves to see these opportunities.

“We love it, we love seeing film coming to Birmingham,” she said. “This is one of the biggest productions we’ve had.”

A reason she sees the possibility of more films following the likes of McConaughey’s upcoming movie is due to the different scenery you can get in such close proximity to the city.

“Birmingham is situated beautifully because you can get all of these different books within 30 minutes of core Birmingham,” Moody said. “They can get those Shelby County rolling Hills, but they can also get things that look like West Virginia if they go North Jefferson County.”

Moody shared that the locations manager for the film worked with Film Birmingham on identifying some locations for the film, including a school.

“They needed a school and I’ve scouted (around) 50,” Moody said. “It all depends on who is ready to jump into this with the film because filming is crazy and a little disruptive. I think Shelby County and Columbiana was excited to jump in with them.”

Moody said filming big productions in the area can have a big impact on the local communities, from giving members in different cities an opportunity to serve as extras like the Elvin Hill staff as well as an economic boost.

“That economic impact that they see in using locations around the region is huge,” Moody said. “They’ll use upwards of $1,000 a day using certain locations. Which, for some small businesses, for some locations, that’s a pretty large chunk of change that can sustain either their mortgage or little extra pocket change and they end up having to pay taxes on that. So, then we see some of that income come back to the region.”

This story was a collaboration between the Shelby County Reporter and Shelby County Schools. Special thanks to Cindy Warner for her efforts in working with the production crew to make this story possible.