Film crew kills a few days - and characters - in horror film at The Inn at Wise

Mike Still • Feb 26, 2020 at 12:00 PM

WISE — “Tonight’s a wonderful night. We’re about to get almost everyone dead.”

With those two sentences, director Whit Whitman got some laughs from the cast and crew on the set of his film, “The Whittler.”

The Inn at Wise is the central location this week for the supernatural horror film, scheduled for release on Amazon Prime in June. Hotel guests found themselves walking through a working film set on Sunday as Whitman and his crew supervised blocking for scenes to be shot later that night.

“The Whittler” centers on a family living in their 200-year-old inn, and it combines a ghost story with a tale of a gang of intruders looking to rob the family.

Norton resident Jodi Spriggs, an associate producer on the film, found herself in the business by accident last year when her daughter Mahalah Peters, 10, showed some interest in performing.

“I found Whit on an actors’ website, contacted him and got a call a few days later asking if we could meet him in Winchester.”

By October, Whitman had filmed a promo clip with Peters, Spriggs said, and in December, Spriggs and Peters were part of the production.

Peters plays Alexandra, the daughter of a couple played by Canadian native Sarah Cleveland and Kentuckian John Wells.

Peters’ friend at Norton Elementary, 8-year-old Reagan Joseph, also found herself with a role as Peters’ ghostly friend Phebe. Allie Baker, Reagan’s mother, said the experience has been fun for her daughter.

“Whit helps them and tells them they’re doing a good job,” Baker said. “Both girls admitted that acting is harder than it seems, but Whit makes them confident.”

Spriggs said the associate producer title covers a lot of duties.

“I’m a little bit of everything,” Spriggs said. “I did a lot of legwork before they got here.”

On Sunday, Spriggs’ associate producer duties included cooking lasagna for 20, as the cast and crew got ready for blocking out a scene where the bad guys meet the film’s namesake, the Whittler.

The Whittler, played by Maryland resident and Kentucky native Whittler Webb, is another spirit who inhabits the Inn and who gets involved when Alexandra worries about the men who have come to rob the inn.

Webb said his name came not from any horror movie but from his great-grandfather, who carved fish baskets.

“I kind of picked it up,” Webb said. He met Whitman about 17 years ago when he pitched the idea of what became “The Whittler.”

The robbers include former WWF and WWE wrestler Al Snow as the ringleader, Chicago native Nick Doetsch and comic relief in the guise of comedians Catfish Cooley, Gerard Haran and Andrew Conn.

Doetsch said he’s had fun on the set, including a scene where Snow throws him onto a table that breaks.

“It wasn’t supposed to break,” Doetsch said with a grin.

Snow said he got into the project when John Wells connected him with Whitman, and it has been a good fit for him after 38 years in wrestling and sports entertainment.

“I’ve had a great time with everyone on set,” Snow said. “It’s very professional, and Wise is a pretty town.”

Conn said a producer reached out to him about working on “The Whittler.”

“He knew when he brought me on board, I was going to bring laughs into a dark situation,” Conn said. “I’m very surprised how much work this is, the process and the thinking that goes into every part of it.”

“All five of us are a mess, a disaster waiting to happen,” Conn said of the villains.

“The Whittler” is the first feature film for Cooley, from Vidor, Texas, and Jersey City native Haran.

“It’s a door opener for us, and we want to keep pushing the door,” Cooley said.

“I watched Al Snow as a kid, and it’s great to be able to work with him” Haran said.

First assistant director Natasha Rust and script supervisor Raven Frost — both Navy brats — had met Whitman through social media and found they shared similar interests, including film.

Frost said she had been a horror genre fan from a youth, including watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“It’s a lot of staying organized,” Rust said of her job, and Frost said her job goes beyond overseeing script changes. Sunday night included a couple of hours’ work on how to give one of the villains a suitable death while keeping cleanup from special effects reasonable and without damage to the Inn.

Executive producer Robert Costner kept a low profile as Whitman and his crew reworked a major scene and its associated special effects.

“I’m not second-guessing Whit,” Costner said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Derrick Lee has added to the family atmosphere in the cast, working as an associate producer, props worker, armorer, safety person and helping with transportation services.

“My truck also stars in the movie,” Lee said. “It can be tiresome working on set, but you get to meet some cool people. It’s been great. My Little Bit (Peters), she’s enjoyed doing this.”

For more information on “The Whittler”, visit imdb.com and search for … The Whittler.