It’s a hot summer morning during Labor Day weekend, and filmmaker Jason Hatter and a small crew are fiddling with a giant crane, a green screen backdrop, and leaf blowers. They’re perched in a field adjacent to Southgate Community Center.
Hatter has been filming scenes around town for a feature script he wrote named “Downdraft”. Until he came along, it’d been 35 years since a movie had filmed in Southgate. The last time that occurred was in 1988, when “Rain Man” filmed in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, including Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate and St. Anne’s Convent in nearby Melbourne. The film came out in December 1988, grossed over $350 million, and won four Oscars.
The Southgate native filmed a scene at the VFW, where he bartends part time. He plans to film a crash scene there, too. But today, he’s doing dangerous stunt work. The film is about tornado rescuers who save people caught in the tornado’s path. In real life, these people don’t exist. The idea evolved from his love of the film Twister and his fascination with tornadoes.
“I wanted to write something that was original,” Hatter said. “It hasn’t been done before. I saw the documentary “Tornado Alley” at the Omnimax. I saw the TIV Dominator 3, and I thought that was super cool. With the storm chasers, I was like, what if they tried to rescue people out of the tornado’s path?”
Hatter studied media informatics at Northern Kentucky University, and this is his first movie. In order to film at the community center, he had to present his concept to city council, which approved a film permit. As an indie filmmaker, he’s wearing many hats, including acting in the film and co-producing it with Clairemont Films. In today’s scene, he “rescues” a victim, played by Schuyler Woods. He grabs Woods as a crane picks them off the ground, simulating a tornado.
One of his goals is to put Southgate back on the map for film production.
“I grew up in this town and thought this looked like a really great location to do this kind of scene,” Hatter said. “It’s not every day you get yanked up by a crane.”
He can also add costume designer to his resume: He created his tornado rescue suit from scratch. He had embroiderers design the patches.
“I wanted to make people feel like, okay, these guys actually exist,” he said.
Once he’s finished filming more scenes, he plans to edit it into a trailer and shop it to Hollywood producers in hopes of obtaining funding. Even though he’s called in a lot of favors — lead actress Rachel Cloe’s uncle owns the crane company, Dave Moore Crane Services — he’s already spent $20,000 of his own money.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of savings, and a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “It’s a lot of ramen noodles every night.”
The crane sequence finishes, and the cast and crew prepare for a couple of less risky shots. So far, Hatter’s pleased with the day.
“I think it went good,” he said. “I’m happy with the results, and it was a lot of fun.”