Panhandle Hollywood

Area residents came from miles around to catch sight of Steve Martin.

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY THIS YEAR to the High Plains community of Plainview. The present was the Hollywood lm crew that descended on the town of 21,700 in June to shoot scenes for the movie Leap of Faith, which stars Steve Martin and Debra Winger. The first major motion picture to be shot on location in this part of the state since Hud was filmed in Claude and Amarillo in 1963, Leap focuses on a small-town faith healer named Jonas Nightengale (Martin), who undergoes a renewal of faith in a transformation reminiscent of the Jimmy Stewart character in Its a Wonderful Life. The similarity is most likely intentional: The movie is Paramount Pictures big release for the Christmas season. Plainview passes for the fictional town of Rustwater, Kansas, described in the script as a troubled, drought-stricken community with inner fortitude. Juanita McElroy’s Quick Lunch diner, where several major scenes were shot, and the entire strip of storefronts along Seventh and Ash streets downtown certainly filled the bill.

The sole drawback was the weather. The drought-stricken look would usually be no problem for Plainview. But heavy rains made the countryside so lush and green that dirt and dead boxwoods had to be trucked in. Two Texas A&M University agronomists were hired to advise the crew on how to brown the grass most effectively for that desiccated, windblown look. The irony was fantastic, said set publicist Vic Heutschy. We were doing a scene where everyone is praying for rain. But if it did rain, which it looked like it was going to do, we couldn’t shoot. After wrapping in Plainview, the crew spent several weeks in Groom, east of Amarillo, where the Tower Truck Stop, the high school, the Our Place Motel, and the western horizon—famous for its sunsets—were preserved on celluloid. Shot entirely in Texas, Leap will conclude filming in a not-so-exotic soundstage at the Studios at Las Colinas, near Dallas.

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