by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor, The Dove Foundation
The Greening of Whitney Brown is a Dove approved film about a pre-teen from Philadelphia who is taken from her comfort zone when her parents move. The Dove Foundation was fortunate enough to interview the film’s producer, Ed Fitts, who comes across in a very amiable manner and who was obviously enthusiastic about the movie.
Dove: How did you become involved in this film?
Ed: “First of all, I am one of the executive producers. It’s a terribly interesting story–I won’t bore you with the details. We’re in the horse business, breeding the Gypsy Vanner horses, which started about seven years ago, and this friend who does some photographic work for us knew a fellow in Tous, New Mexico, that was a writer, director, and producer; an elderly gentleman who had written a lot of stuff. He brought us a script of a story about a young girl and a horse called Amy’s Magic Gypsy. We kind of liked the story but the further we got into it we realized it wasn’t really what we had in mind. Long story short, we abandoned that screenplay and came up with a new idea and ended up producing this movie, The Greening of Whitney Brown. It was a story about the Gypsy Vanner horses, and a young girl; a family-oriented story. But it was more of a drama than a family-fun movie. We kind of shifted horses in the middle of the stream and we hired Gail Gilchrist to write a new screenplay for us. We gave her the storyline based on some ideas we had.”
Ed said the focus became a good family and fun film but with an emphasis on the relevant theme of the economy. He also wanted it to focus on a horse, which it obviously does. In addition, they wanted to incorporate the country scenery around Philadelphia. It was intended that a lot of the filming would take place at Ed’s ranch in Chester County, Pennsylvania but the location changed. Ed added that another main theme of the film is how that certain situations can either change or bring out the values in people’s lives.
Dove: The casting was great. The cast of course features Sammi Hanratty, Brooke Shields and Aiden Quinn. How involved were you in that?
Ed: “We were pretty much involved in it as was the casting director of course. Clearly Sammi was head and shoulders above the other eight or ten young girls who were there (to audition) and there were some who had greater experience than Sammi had but her personality is just incredible.
She was just wonderful to work with and a lot of fun. Of course we were thrilled to death to fill out the rest of the cast with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Aidan Quinn and Brooke Shields. We were just ecstatic to attract that level of talent. And, they fit the roles perfectly. Kris is just a great grandfather in the film.”
Dove: What challenges did you face in making the film?
Ed: “Unfortunately we hit a roadblock very, very early on. We had planned to film this movie in Chester County, Pennsylvania. We had set up camp there. We had office space rented. This was around July and August. And every day we hoped the State was going to approve their budget. As you may or may not know, the State of Pennsylvania offers tax credits for movie production that are a budgeted item (he laughs).” He added that two movies ahead of them had already received commitments from the State for the remaining allotted funds. So had the production team remained in Pennsylvania there would have been no tax credit available for them. Since the budget had not been approved there was no certainty in the situation. This was a key element which forced them to change their plan and location. Other factors contributed and so, as Mr. Fitts put it, “We ripped up our roots and we moved very rapidly to the Atlanta area.
Amazingly, we found locations around Atlanta that were almost identical to what we had found in Chester County, Pennsylvania. It really was a blessing in disguise. The State of Georgia was very happy to have us there. Things happen for a reason.”
Mr. Fitts laughed when he mentioned another challenge: “They tell you to never produce a movie which has children and animals in it!” he laughed. This one has both! “But the child was wonderful and the horse was great,” he added.
“There are so many animated films out there for kids today,” Mr. Fitts continued. “That’s kind of what attracted us to this one. This is a real-life story
—it’s real people, real animals. It’s a fun movie to watch.”
In concluding our interview Mr. Fitts shared that one of his favorite scenes in the movie is when Sammi’s character is on her horse and she is being trained by Grandpa Grumpy (Kris Kristofferson) and she has her horse rear up like a circus elephant. “Voila!” she says. Mr. Fitts says it was not scripted and was spontaneous and he loved it, although his heart jumped to his throat in fear that “his star” would be hurt!
Mr. Fitts says he also enjoyed the scene during the night of the prom when Sammi’s character shows up at the nanny’s house and Grandpa is waiting for her. In a touching scene she reminds Grandpa that he had told her you seldom get a chance in life to correct mistakes and she wants to correct some mistakes with her friends. It was a touching moment.