TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By Jeff Noble / staff writer
The marquee outside the Tri-County Cineplex showed 10 movies playing on eight screens Thursday evening. One of them was the full-length motion picture “23 Blast,” filmed in Corbin last spring.
What the marquee didn’t say was that “23 Blast” — loosely based on the life of Corbin resident Travis Freeman — was on all eight screens.
That’s because the owners of the cineplex and the producers of the movie agreed to show the film to as many people as possible.
While one screen was for “VIP Members,” for those who worked on the movie and contributed to its filming in Corbin, the other seven screens were playing “23 Blast” to as many people as possible.
It was the first showing of the movie. A “Sneak Peek” for the town that became as a big a part of the film as football itself.
From those spotted on the “Red Carpet,” to folks wanting to get the first glimpse of the flick, the occasion was a blast.
Amber Wagner and her boyfriend Kristopher Jones were extras in the movie, and they were ready for the sneak peek.
“When they filmed it, we went just about every night. We had a blast when they were filming it last spring,” said Wagner, who lives in London.
Jones, who’s from Corbin, agreed.
“It was a neat experience how they did everything during the filming on location. We were at the stadium (Campbell Field) from around 6:30 in the evening to 4 a.m. to watch them film. We’re excited to see it, hopefully to see us in the bleacher scenes. We’re in the first row,” he added.
Wagner echoed the sentiments of several who took part in the filming, when she pointed out, “It’s an experience that will probably never happen to you again.”
Vin Hoover was on the Red Carpet, nattily dressed and anxious for the movie to begin shortly after 7 p.m. He was waiting for a friend to arrive, someone well-known in Corbin coaching circles. His wife Toni wrote the screenplay for the film, and their son Bram played a key role in the movie as well. Vin was there back last March and April when the location shooting was the talk of the town.
“From my prospective, I have tremendous respect for what these people who produce films do. It was hard work, take after take after take. And we had to use professional athletes, instead of college and high school athletes, because of insurance purposes. And we great camera people who worked in football movies and TV shows like “Friday Night Lights.” We had people who knew what they were doing,” Hoover said.
For him and dozens of others who worked on “23 Blast,” Thursday’s sneak peek was the night that counted.
“The moment’s almost here. There’s a lot of love here, from the people, the city, the players, and the crew. Those who worked on the movie feels like it’s a family. Corbin has always been a sports community, with a lot of history and a lot of tradition. I hope the movie is part of it,” he said before he was greeted by a friend and fellow coach, Archie Powers.
Just a few feet nearby, in front of several posters advertising the movie, director Dylan Baker was all smiles — and since hit was his directorial debut, a little anxious.
“My wife Becky wasn’t able to come here, and she wanted to, because she wanted to see the outpouring of people here to see the story about Travis Freeman. Folks have been very excited about seeing the story, and so are the Freemans. We’re waiting for the results. We’re on edge, so to say,” he said.
While she and some other actors in the movie couldn’t attend due to other commitments, Mark Hepka did. He played the role of Travis Freeman.
“It’s a huge challenge. To play the role, I just took on a simple approach by just simply not allowing myself to sue the sense of my sight. I’ve seen the movie, and it was a big relief when Travis saw the movie and he liked it. … I’m happy to be back and we’re doing the premiere here, because Corbin opened their doors. When I found out the other cast members couldn’t make it, I took a plane and came here. I owe it to the people of Corbin to come back and see it with them,” Hepka pointed out.
Travis Freeman was there at the sneak peek as well. He and his parents, Larry and Mary Freeman, proudly walked the Red Carpet and made their way to the door as close friends and media people greeted them.
“I saw the movie last night. It was awesome. They did better at capturing the spirit of my story. I was an emotional wreck. It was produced well, it was directed well, it was written well, it was acted well. It blew me away. Just blown away. I’m excited to see it again tonight,” Travis commented.
His mother agreed.
“It was amazing. It brought a lot of memories, some very emotional. We laughed and cried at the same time,” Mary Freeman said.
“We knew it was loosely based on his life, and we understand that. They keyed on the right people. The movie was a representation of the sprit of Travis’ story, and we’re so thankful the city of Corbin supported us,” his father Larry Freeman added.
Before being interviewed by a television crew from Lexington, Travis mentioned, “The film gives you a feeling of community camaraderie, instead of team camaraderie. Dylan (Baker) said that. And he was right.”
At one of the doors of the cineplex, Ron Meadors was letting people come in free to see the movie. As the TV interview ended, he said to a nearby friend, “That is the gutsiest kid, and the most faith-filled family I’ve ever seen.”
Meadors works part-time at the cineplex. He’s also a neighbor of the Freemans, and knows them well.
The crowd at the sneak peek was estimated at over a thousand persons. Among those was Kentucky’s First Lady, Jane Beshear, who was with a representative of the Kentucky Film Commission at the cineplex.
After talking to the film’s producer, Gary Donatelli, Beshear said to the Freeman family about their son, “His story is the perfect example of how people in Kentucky have resiliency.”
The clock said ten minutes before 7 p.m. Almost showtime.
For Donatelli, the moment of truth was about to hit home.
“We’re excited, because we’re finally putting the show on the road. Now we’re getting a push of adrenaline to get a good buzz on the film and pay back the people who invested in the film,” he said outside the lobby near the concession stand.
With a few minutes to spare, Donatelli made his way into one of the theaters where the seats were all filled with people.
Only a few minutes were left before the start of “23 Blast.”
“I’m anxious for it to start, so we can relax and enjoy the movie. I hope they love it, as much as we enjoyed producing it here,” he stated before going up the ramp into the audience.
Outside, nearly every parking space in the cineplex was taken. Meadors greeted a few more patrons as they entered the building, to see the movie for themselves.
He said it’s been a busy day.
“It’s been a good crowd coming in. I’ve been here since 3:30 this afternoon, and we’ve had people waiting out here. Up to dozens at a time. Just to watch the movie. All eight theaters in the cineplex seat a total of 1,477 people,” Meadors said.
Then a fellow employee whispers something to him. Meadors thanks him and said this about Corbin’s big sneak peek of “23 Blast.”
“We’re filled up.”