Martinsville's story of forgiveness in a tragic accident is being filmed for the big screen
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Martinsville's story of forgiveness in a tragic accident is being filmed for the big screen

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The story between C.J. Martin of Martinsville and J.T. Clark of Boones Mill is playing out all across the region once again, this time on film.

That's in a movie based on the experiences the two men discuss in their testimonies and featured in Clark’s book “In The Blink of an Eye: Forgiveness in Black and White.”

In August 2015, Clark’s brother and sister-in-law, Bobby and Pam Clark, were at a worship service at T.R.A.S.H. Ministries in Collinsville. Martin and his son were at a football game at Bassett High School.

When both pairs left for home, they had to maneuver around a detour on T.B. Stanley Highway. The Martins were in a pickup truck, and the Clarks were on motorcycles. They collided.

The Clarks did not survive the accident. 

Martin went to court in October to face reckless driving charges. J.T. Clark showed up and said he would pay Martin’s fine. The judge set the fine at $5 as a story of forgiveness and brotherhood was born.

Martin is the pastor of House of Purpose Ministries. J.T. Clark ended up forming the ministry My Brothers’ Crossing. The men often minister together.

In November, Clark released his book about the situation, and various movie producers have contacted him about making films based on the story, Clark said. He wasn’t comfortable with any of them, he said, until he met Tony D. White of Dallas.

White is the executive producer. He said he has made 18 films, most recently “Never Heard,” which left theaters in November and is headed for Netflix. His next project will be another faith-based film, “Help,” starring Wesley Snipes.

White started making films to make money, he said, and “once I got to a certain level, I could pick and choose what I want to do.”

He chose faith-based films because “I wanted to bring positivity to the screen instead of negativity. My goal is to bring good stories.”

He said his films are financed through investors, plus “I fund some — wherever it [funding] can come from.”

The publisher, Trilogy Publishing, sent White the book, White and Clark said, and after reading it, White said he thought, “‘I’ve got to be part of this story.’”

In February, he said, he called J.T. Clark and told him he would like to make his movie.

Clark said other producers seemed to be more interested in dramatizing what happened to make more money, whereas, he felt White respected the integrity of the actual story.

“When Tony and I talked in February, it was all about sharing the testimony God had entrusted us with,” Clark said.

Writing the script “has been a collaborative effort between my wife and me and Tony and his wife, Edna,” Clark said.

Edna White would write about 10 pages of the script at a time, Tony White said, then send them to the Clarks for review and any necessary changes.

“It was her talent to adapt the book,” Clark said. “They wanted us to be comfortable with it. They asked to talk with other primary characters” in the story while they were developing the script.

White hired a crew of about two dozen for “My Brothers' Crossing,” although normally his films have crews of 35 to 40, he said. They come “from all over the country: Las Angeles, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati.” Ricky Borba is the director.  

Lead roles are played by professional actors, and smaller roles are played by locals who auditioned May 10 and 11 in Rocky Mount.

The crew arrived May 18 and is staying in Rocky Mount, White said. Scenes have been filmed in Boones Mill, Rocky Mount, Stanleytown, Bassett and Martinsville.

Clark and Martin have been on site for most of the shooting. Daniel Roebuck plays Clark in the film, while Clark had a small role as a fireman.

Actor James Black plays Martin. He got the job — and the script — about two weeks ago, he said.

Black, a native of Dover, Ohio, has lived in Los Angeles in recent years. “I have the faintest of Southern accents,” he said, “But when I start to preach, it seems like it slides out there.”

He harkens to the style of the preacher he had while in college to preach in his scenes.

Plus, “I spoke to C.J. directly, and he infused his spirit in me,” Black said.

“I’ve always wanted to do a part like this, but not too many parts like this exist.”

Fernanda Martin, C.J. Martin’s wife, is portrayed by Beth Payne of Los Angeles.

In his portrayal of her husband, Black “was so good at what he did, it was like I was watching” her husband, Fernanda Martin said.

However, seeing an actress playing “me was a different story.”

It was odd at first, she said, but she found that Payne took on her persona well.

“As we were talking, I saw her start doing stuff I did,” Martin said, pointing out the way she holds her hands as an example. “She mimicked me really quick.”

Martin guided Payne in her choice of wardrobes. She pulled together pieces from Payne’s existing wardrobe, the store and some friends and family.

“I love her,” Payne said of Martin. “This has been the most incredible experience. I’ve played characters for 20 years but none of this magnitude. Her story epitomizes the Proverbs 31 woman.”

In the beginning, the movie process caused “a lot of anxiety. It pulled up all the emotions we had,” Fernanda Martin said.

Before long, she said, “this process has brought about more of a healing to our family.”

Gordon Barrett plays Michael Harrison, the pastor of The Community Fellowship in Collinsville.

Preparations for his role began by being shown a picture of Harrison, and later he met the pastor. “He seemed like a real nice guy,” Barrett said.

His scenes include sitting with the character of J.T. while J.T. gives his testimony and a scene at the speedway, which shows an outline of two men talking. 

At the speedway scene, “the real J.T. told me, ‘This is a pivotal scene in the movie’ — putting the pressure on me,” he said and chuckled.

Tonya Bredamus of Martinsville is used to film production. Her teenaged daughters, especially Audrey, make films themselves, with their mother assisting.

She started out as production secretary, which, she said, sounded “like something I can do.” She has been moved up to production assistant. The bulk of her work includes coordinating the  actors and getting food for the sets.

She had worked 12-hour days for 11 consecutive days, she said on Wednesday. Her daughters, Emma and Audrey, play J.T.’s family members, and her son, Liam, is in a church congregation scene with her as well.

Neither Barrett’s nor Bredamus’s roles are paid, they said. 

"My Brothers' Crossing" will be released by Thanksgiving weekend, or Christmas weekend at the latest, White said.

Meanwhile, however, Charles Roark of Hollywood Cinema said White has promised Martinsville an early viewing of the movie, before its national release -- perhaps by August.

"I think this could be big for our area," Roark said. "I believe Tony's the real deal. ... I know how extensive they are doing this job, shooting it with three directions and the filming lighting they're putting in. It's going to look really good on film."

Roark added, "This is the first time we've had a film really done about our community. Isn't that exciting?"

It should be good business for his and other theaters, too, he said.

"The key to movie-making is finding the right story. This is the right story. Forgiveness and redemption sell the ticket," Roark said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the book in the Bible referred to by actor Beth Payne.

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