PILOT POINT — The idea to shoot a short film about a giant tomato worm that served as a soldier in World War I started as a joke among a few friends in Pilot Point.
But as scenes were written and ideas were bounced around, sometimes over alcohol, many felt that the idea was “so crazy that it just might work” as a short feature.
Using a large, green worm puppet named Lowla, which hangs in Lowbrows Beer and Wine Garden in downtown Pilot Point, the filmmakers had their star and title character for the film The Legend of Lowla.
Bob Albrecht of Lowbrows made the 20-foot puppet to star in the Soapbox Derby held during the city’s Bonnie and Clyde Days festival three years ago.
“The whole process and project turned out to be more than what I expected,” director and actress Justine Wollaston said.
The idea for the film developed after a discussion about how horses played an important part in war.
Albrecht said worms also were used in combat in WWI and someone should write a story about them, too.
Wollaston then jokingly suggested Lowla could be the star, but Albrecht took her seriously and started writing war scenes.
“Initially, we thought we would create a trailer for a movie about the worm, so we wouldn’t need an actual story but could have some fun filming the puppet up to various antics,” Wollaston said.
The trailer can be seen on Facebook or YouTube by searching for The Legend of Lowla trailer.
As filming for the trailer began, word began to spread through the community, and residents began to show interest in developing a longer film.
“Next thing I knew, I had written Lowla’s story in a 25-page screenplay,” Wollaston said.
The Legend of Lowla is a movie about a large worm that lived near Pilot Point in the early 1900s.
According to the legend, Lowla was a decorated war hero, a moonshiner and the co-owner of a local bar.
The story is told from a 1970s perspective but takes place in the early 1900s and the 1930s.
In the movie, Wollaston plays a reporter who becomes interested in learning about a worm puppet she sees being used in a soapbox derby in Pilot Point.
She learns that the worm was based on a local war hero named Lowla.
Through interviews, the reporter learns more about Lowla and a young man named Jim who befriends the worm.
When the United States enters World War I, Jim is drafted and Lowla is working with the French Resistance.
During one scene, it appears Lowla pays the ultimate sacrifice by landing on a live grenade that falls into a trench near Jim and another solider.
But from there, the film is far from over.
“The magic of the film is that it is woven from countless anecdotes to create the delicate fabric of an entertaining story,” Wollaston said.
She said the film was shot from December to February. She is now in the process of editing more than 100 hours of raw footage into a 20-minute short film.
She said she hopes to premiere the movie this summer in Pilot Point.
“It should be shown here first because it wouldn’t have happened without the community’s support,” Wollaston said. “It was truly a community and regional effort.”
Albrecht, Wollaston and more than 110 people, including kids and adults of all ages, volunteered to get the no-budget movie filmed.
Residents either volunteered to operate Lowla, play a character, provide access to locations to shoot or loaned clothing and antique vehicles.
“They asked, ‘Could I help?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’” said Howard Kimble, an extra in the movie. “I figured the whole thing was crazy enough to be something great at the end.”
Some credit the community’s interest in the film to Wollaston’s high energy, creativity and vision.
“When you meet her, you can really get a sense of how she is able to pull all these people together and achieve that collaborative effort,” Kimble said of the director.
Wollaston said she hopes to submit the film to film festivals around the country.
She also said she’s going to start a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.com, where people would be able to donate to the project.
Wollaston and Albrecht said the support they received from residents for their project has been astounding.
“And because of their enthusiasm, I am excited to say we have a tall tale worth telling,” she said.
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.