Studio aims to make Jacksonville a movie-making mecca, one short film at a time

Studio aims to make Jacksonville a movie-making mecca, one short film at a time
Cast, crew and groupies of “The Ortega River Rats” take a break from filming.

Once known at the Winter Film Capital, Jacksonville’s heyday for movie studios was largely curtailed in the 1930s for a variety of reasons but, in the end, mostly due to Hollywood’s magnetic draw.

Danny Johnson, president of the Model A Club of Jacksonville, and his wife JoAnn, Robert Henderson, director, Sharon Cobb, writer, and Duane Sikes, executive producer

Danny Johnson, president of the Model A Club of Jacksonville, and his wife JoAnn, Robert Henderson, director, Sharon Cobb, writer, and Duane Sikes, executive producer

Movie making in Jacksonville then waxed and waned, with another production spurt occurring in the early 1980s after Gov. Bob Graham made film and television production a high priority in Florida. However, in 2002, Georgia introduced tax credits to the film industry, which resulted in a loss of film production in Jacksonville.

Enter Duane Sikes Productions, a Lakeside Park-based film company which wants to change that image. Sikes, whose mother was an actress, is the executive producer of 82 shorts, documentaries, movies, and the five-episode television series, “Zombie Fried Chicken.”

Sharon Cobb, an Avondale resident and screenwriter, along with Grace Bryan of Ortega Forest, have teamed up with Sikes to produce a short family adventure film called “The Ortega River Rats,” written by Cobb.

“We want to make and promote more films here in Florida, and in particular Jacksonville, despite the Georgia tax incentives,” said Bryan, associate producer. “Duane has always loved making movies, and he and I and Sharon have a very strong desire to bring back filmmaking to Florida.”

The premise of the film focuses on six young friends who attempt to find treasure to help save their sick dog, Chance, played by Gylphie, a Golden Doodle owned by Lisa Fine of Riverside. Locations include an Ortega home many believe to have once been a hideout for Machine Gun Kelly, but which former Avondale resident Ray King has debunked; a former 1910 general store in Riverside now functioning as an Airbnb; Stinson Park on the Ortega River, and the Ft. Caroline Spanish-American Fort. The producers are also planning boat scenes on the St. Johns River.

Front: Colin Slocum, owner of the Model T, Auggie Pulliam, Cooper Chapman, Daniel Forte, Evan Gray, Cooper Henderson; back: Robert Henderson, Duane Sikes, Dawn Crawford, Kenny Logsdon

Front: Colin Slocum, owner of the Model T, Auggie Pulliam, Cooper Chapman, Daniel Forte, Evan Gray, Cooper Henderson; back: Robert Henderson, Duane Sikes, Dawn Crawford, Kenny Logsdon

The cast includes Auggie Pulliam, who plays Grayson, the adopted brother of Jimmy Stevenson, played by Cooper Chapman, along with Samuel Portugal, Hailey Todd, Evan Gray and Daniel Forte as the children. Adults include Kenny Logsdon and Dawn Crawford as Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson, three police officers (portrayed by Michael Heath, Jr., Dean Philippi, Sr., and Chris Morrisey), a veterinarian (Courtney Gardner), a bootlegger (Victor Jones), Machine Gun Kelly, played by Chad Lane, and Grace Bryan, who plays Mrs. Kelly.

The film is directed by Robert Henderson, of Fleming Island. Director of Photography is Alex Lukovsky, costume design by Kristen Walsh and makeup by Jemel Washington.

“Once edited, the short family adventure film will really only be about 12-15 minutes in length,” said Bryan, who also works as a physician assistant at Mayo Clinic. “We hope to have everything completed by late summer/early fall to be able to show to film festivals throughout the country. We hope that it may be picked up by a studio and made either into a TV show or full-length feature film.”

The production company is planning a premiere they hope to show at local theatres, such as Sun-Ray Cinema and the San Marco Theatre, Bryan said.

Machine Gun Kelly myth debunked

Sharon Cobb’s research about Machine Gun George Kelly’s connection to Jacksonville was facilitated by the current owners of the Grand Avenue home.

“They provided us with many newspaper articles over the years about the gangster having lived in their house while on the run from the law,” said Cobb.

However, Raymond King, a former Avondale resident who grew up on Pine Street and attended Fishweir Elementary School, has long been irritated by the local legend that put gangster Machine Gun Kelly in Ortega. Seven years ago he undertook to debunk the myth and shared his findings.

“It [the home on Grand Avenue] is misnamed because neither George Kelly nor his wife were ever closer to Florida than Memphis, Tennessee. This urban legend has been perpetuated by nonresearched publications based only on hearsay. However, the presence of Al Capone in Jacksonville, among many other Southern cities, is shown in a Wikipedia article on Capone in the section entitled the ‘The Mob Wars,’” said King.

In 2010, King said evidence had been relayed to him that the “now-defamed domicile” had been occupied for a short time by Al Capone himself in the 1930s.

“The observation of a machine gun on the back floor of a car associated with Capone one night outside a restaurant in Riverside may have given rise to the erroneous Machine Gun Kelly local legend since the observed presence of Capone had not been made known to (nor remembered by) the local community,” said King. An article published in The Resident by King in 2010, called “The Ortega Bell of the Ball,” was the catalyst that stirred up some memories.

“Additional observations made known only a few days ago from another source, relating to men with guns in that house, do give added weight to the machine gun sighting during the short stay of the ‘Big Guy’ and possibly afterward,” said King in an August 2010 note.

Additionally, his late mother, Eleanor H. King, who had frequented the Ortega Pier in the late 1920-30s as a school girl, recalled that the house at that time was widely known as the house where Al Capone had lived. “The Kelly legend must have been a later misunderstanding,” said King.


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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