Gibson City girl is lead actress in 'The Forgiven'

GIBSON CITY — Eleven-year-old Bella Rose’s first lead role in a movie likely won’t be her last.

Just as filming ended on “The Forgiven,” a faith-based film that features the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Middle School sixth-grader as the lead actress, Rose was already a top choice to star in “Man on the Inside” and “Outlaws”  — the second and third films that will be part of a trilogy produced by Pinewood Productions.

The young actress from Gibson City may have another opportunity this April, as well, when Pinewood Productions plans to start filming “Tomorrow,” possibly in Rose’s hometown or the surrounding area.

And who knows what else is in store for Rose, who appeared as an extra in the 2011 thriller “Contagion” and had her first speaking role in 2012’s “Me Again.” She has also appeared in films such as “The Revenge of the Egg,” “Hunt or be Hunted” and “Caveat.”

“I’m waiting for her to grow up taller so I can give her some really crazy roles,” said Jay Turner, who owns Pinewood Productions, based in Drexel, N.C.

Turner, the director, producer writer and editor of “The Forgiven,” and Sean Pollock, the film’s director of photography, were with Rose earlier this month in Gibson City, where they filmed the final scenes for their first “major” production, which is expected to be released in select theaters on Feb. 16.

Turner and Pollock made the 800-mile trip to Ford County after filming most of “The Forgiven” in their home state of North Carolina.

“It was really fun,” Rose said of the experience. “Everybody was just really nice and welcoming when I got there (to North Carolina). I learned a lot from Jay, and Sean taught me some things with the camera.”

Pinewood Productions came to Gibson City to film some scenes it needed for “The Forgiven” that it couldn’t do in North Carolina, Turner said. The movie needed some film from inside a hospital, but the hospitals Turner contacted in North Carolina wouldn’t let him film there.

So, when Gibson Area Hospital allowed Pinewood Productions to use its old obstetrics unit for that purpose, Turner gladly accepted. Turner credits Robin Rose, the hospital’s chief operating officer and mother of Bella Rose, with setting it all up.

On an early January weekend, the hospital’s OB wing was converted into a movie set, with  about a dozen hospital staff members serving as extras.

The film taken at the hospital will be “most of the first act and probably the beginning of the second act” of the movie, Turner said.

“We came away (from the hospital) with probably some of the best shots of the film,” Turner said.

“The Forgiven” is about a religious man named Tristan (portrayed by Turner) who carries on a “low-profile” existence as an auto mechanic. When his daughter Maggie (portrayed by Rose) is diagnosed with a brain tumor, he can’t afford the treatments, so he resorts to desperate acts to get the money he needs to save her life.

“He’s driven by desperation to work for a man in town, called Van Drexel, a Russian mobster,” Turner said. “Basically, Tristan ends up doing odd jobs for him, criminal stuff for him, in exchange for the money for his daughter’s treatment. So he ends up being stuck in a job that goes against his faith.

“The stuff he ends up doing goes against his values, his faith, and he can’t really get out of it. Things end up escalating quickly into dangerous situations — there’s gun fights; he ends up robbing a church. There’s a big clash between who he is and what he’s doing, and the rest of the film is about him trying to resolve that.”

Rose’s character’s name was chosen by Rose in honor of her 95-year-old great-grandmother.

“I’m really big on my actors owning their character, developing their character, so I let her choose her character’s name,” Turner said. “It means more to her and gets her more excited about it.”

Rose provided a bit of a personal touch on the film’s acting, as well. To make the characters as real as possible, Turner lets his actors and actresses improvise, steering away from the script. One such instance occurred in a scene where Tristan is saying goodbye to his wife in preparation for his deployment, and, unscripted, Maggie runs out and jumps on her dad’s neck to say goodbye.

“Most of her stuff’s been improvised, which really speaks volumes of her,” Turner said.

To think, Rose nearly didn’t get a part in “The Forgiven.”

“One of my buddies who directed ‘Hunt or be Hunted,’ I was talking with him about wanting to find a really talented actress to play Maggie (at that time the character’s name was Danielle) in the movie,” Turner said. “He told me about Bella, so I sent Robin an email. But I never heard anything back from her. I kept emailing her. Nothing.

“So I went ahead and cast the role. While still in pre-production, three or four months later Robin called and said the email went to her spam box. I said, ‘Can you send a video (of Bella)?’ And she did. And, obviously, Bella was way better than the actress I had cast. So she squeaked right in there.”

Turner said Rose’s professionalism as an actress shows. Rose, who wants to attend Columbia College in Chicago to become a professional actress, “really earned this spot,” Turner added.

“She’s probably more professional than some of the more mature adults on the set,” Turner said.

“The Forgiven” will initially be released in Morganton, N.C., but Turner said he is working to get the movie into as many theaters as he can across the nation, including at the Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City and other theaters in East Central Illinois. Turner is seeking a distributor for a national release, as well.

“Because Bella’s from up here, we’re going to be releasing the film up here in some theaters (including the Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City),” Turner said. “We think it would be good exposure for Bella in her career.”

At each showing, patrons can bring canned food items for a discount on their ticket prices.  The food is then donated to a local food pantry, Turner said. Also, Pinewood Productions may donate part of the ticket proceeds toward “a local cause” in the community where the movie is being shown, Turner said.

For more about the movie, visit Theforgivenmovie.com and www.facebook.com/beforgiven.

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