Doris and Earl Sr. strongly encouraged all the children in their growing family to excel, and Earl Jr. became interested in writing at an early age.
He was writing his numbers at the age of two and reading at four. His poem “My Dog” was published on the children’s page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch when he was six. Earl claims he knew he was going to become a writer from that day.
Schuyler was a company town, the home of The Alberene Stone Corporation, which quarried and milled soapstone. “Our town was located in that part of the Blue Ridge known as The Ragged Mountains,” says Earl. “We were six miles from Route 29, the main artery connecting the great cities of the north to the south. We reached 29 along a country road, the most beautiful stretch of rural road known to man, the Rockfish River Road.
“We lived in company-built houses and bought our goods from the company store. Schuyler had been a prosperous little village, but, when the Great Depression came, the mill closed. My father found work in Waynesboro and could only be home with his family on holidays and weekends. We missed him, and, on Fridays, even before the sun went down, my mother could be seen at the window looking down the road.”
“Here is a production shot I took during the “Character of the People” episode of the Watauga “Visions of…” series,” says Ballard. “It’s of Brian Fannon, and the back story is that while the photo is pretty neat, it was a misfire…or what you might literally call a “flash in the pan.” The trigger ignited the pan but the fire did not reach the barrel and thus the rifle actually did not go off. Our goal at Germain Media is to keep telling the stories for the long haul…for the long term…we have no interest or desire to be a flash in the pan!”
The one thing that I have learned in this process is that our own personal history is connected to our overall local history. It’s what gives us a sense of pride, foundation, and direction. That is why we have fairs and festivals. They are opportunities to celebrate our personal connection to our heritage and what is most important to us. As a producer of such a project, you start to understand your own personal connection to a history and a story that is greater than yourself. A project like this changes you. As it grows, you grow with it, until you become one with it. For me, when I walk into an interview, I meet a stranger. When I walk out of the room four hours later, I have a friend for life.
I initially planned the production after actor/historian Scott New agreed to portray Daniel Boone and Billy Heck, the historian at Wilderness Road State Park in Ewing, Virginia, agreed to have the action scenes filmed at the park’s re-created Martin’s Station (the most authentic reconstruction of a frontier fortified station in America) and to provide much of the supporting cast. Daniel Boone was, from the beginning, planned as a two-hour production. I applied for and obtained an initial grant which financed the start of the production. It was sizeable, but it would not last long for a film the size of Daniel Boone.
Before he passed away W.C. Handy wrote: “If my serenade of song and story should serve as a pillow for some composer’s head, as yet perhaps unborn, to dream and build on our folk melodies in his tomorrow, I have not labored in vain”.
I love this quote and I want to make sure that he did not labor in vain. He was the poet of the blues, in so many ways, and honoring his work is what Mr. Handy’s Blues is about.
W.C. Handy was a major force in the development of the blues and early jazz. He was a gifted man who had challenges throughout his life, but he handled himself with class and dignity. He was an American Original, a pioneer, charting unknown territory, and in the end a teacher. I believe his story will be inspirational on many levels.
We hope to complete the film by the end of 2014 to coincide with the centennial celebrations for “St. Louis Blues”. I have to admit part of me doesn’t want this journey to end.