West Virginia Mine Disaster Film in Works

By MARY WADE BURNSIDE, The Exponent Telegram | October 14, 2014

When R.J. Nestor and David Scoville first wrote a screenplay about the 1968 Farmington No. 9 mine disaster in which 78 men perished, they sought someone to make the film.

Then the two, who mostly have worked in plays and musicals, most notably last year’s “Golden Horseshoe,” which they also penned, decided they wanted to make the movie themselves, and in time for the event’s 50th anniversary in 2018.

In an effort to raise the funds for that, the two are getting ready to shoot a five-minute film with hired actors and high production values that they can use as a marketing tool.

“This summer, we got the idea that we knew the 50th anniversary is coming up in four years,” said Nestor, who also works as the director of liturgical music and choir conductor at St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church in Morgantown.

“I said, ‘You know what? Let’s find a way to produce this script in West Virginia using West Virginia film professionals and doing it as much on location as we can.”‘

So Nestor and Scoville wrote a script for a five-to-six minute film to show potential financiers.

“It’s much easier to show a visual than hand somebody a script,” Nestor added.

The two wrote the screenplay, called “Out of the Depths,” nearly three years ago and along with other works, have pitched it at Los Angeles events that Scoville likens to speed dating between production companies and writers.

“You get 15-minute slots with production companies,” Scoville added. “You go to as many as you can that are looking for relevant material. So you have 15 minutes to give them an idea about the project and see if any follow-up conversations come out of that.”

The two plan to shoot the short film Oct. 23-25 and hope to have it done by the end of the year. In addition to being able to use the film as a marketing tool, it will be available on YouTube and the movie’s Facebook page – accessible by searching for “Out of the Depths” on Facebook.

Nestor estimates that the pair needs about $11,000 to make the short film. That sum was raised, in part through a crowd-funding website known as Indiegogo.com. As for the feature film, he estimates that budget could go anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million or more.

“We haven’t decided whether we’ll use any crowdfunding for the feature film, because we don’t know what that budget will look like just yet,” Nestor added.

After talking to the creators of the film “Angel’s Perch,” which was shot in Cass, Nestor learned that movie was made for $185,000, which is a very small budget for a feature.

However, the action in “Out of the Depths” takes place nearly 50 years ago, and also, the mine disaster was caused by an explosion, which the two will be recreating on-screen.

“We need the explosion and we need period costumes,” Nestor said. “I imagine we are getting into the territory of at least $500,000, and it could be over a million.”

The explosion rocked Marion County in the early morning hours of Nov. 20, 1968. Ninety-nine men had been working underground at the Consolidated Coal Co.-owned mine; 21 made it out. Family members and friends gathered at a nearby church to await updates on the fate of their loved ones. A fire made rescue or recovery difficult and 10 days later, two days after Thanksgiving, officials sealed the mine in order to extinguish the smoke and flames.

A native of Grafton, Nestor had been searching for a story idea in which he could explore faith and community. After Fairmont State University did a stage piece called “Remembering No. 9: Stories of the Farmington Mine Disaster” in 2009, he decided he wanted to work the saga into a piece of true-to-life fiction.

“When I saw that material, I thought it was a perfect fit,” he added.

Nestor and Scoville created a minister character – a composite of real-life people who were at the scene – who would be the center of trying to comfort the families. The film’s name, “Out of the Depths,” not only refers to trying to get the men out of the mine, but also to Psalm 130 from the Bible: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”

The short film will be shot on the Monongalia/Preston counties line at a church. When it comes to the feature film, Nestor and Scoville will have to find locations that will realistically be able to portray the Farmington area in 1968.

“None of the locations exist anymore,” Nestor said. “The real-life church isn’t there anymore. We have to find a place that suits what we need.”

And when it comes to making the feature film, which the two never have done before, Nestor believes both are up to the task.

“When we’re filming, I’m not going to be the one operating the camera,” he said. “We’ll hire a cinematographer. Our roles will be as director, writer and producer. We’ll have a team together _ makeup people, costume people. The job of producer is overseer, as opposed to having to do the detail work.”

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