Written by Paul Wolf
As a child in Jackson, Mississippi, Tom Rice had Hollywood in his blood.
“I’ve known I wanted to do this since 4th grade,” he said on the set of his latest movie, The Hollars, currently in production in Jackson. “I thought I wanted to be a film director and went to film school.” But when he directed The Rising Place, shot in the Delta, he had a change of heart. “Very quickly, I realized I enjoyed producing better and had a paradigm shift. I had no desire to direct again.”
Rice, who has produced six films in two years, has found his niche for supervising projects, from concept to distribution. His latest, a James C. Strouse penned script, was personal.
“The Hollars is about a guy coming home when he finds out his mother has a brain tumor and the family dynamics that surround that,” he explained. “I had come home back in October when my dad had a brain tumor, so I responded to the script.” Rice says he read it in April on a plane on a Sunday, was at the table with director John Krasinski on Monday and had a deal on Tuesday. “That’s how much we love the script and wanted to do it. I told (John), ‘You won’t find a better producing partner.’ It was one of those that was meant to be.”
With Sprouse’s “strong script,” very little development was needed. The project attracted an all-star cast (among them, Krasinski and Anna Kendrick and the undeniable pairing of Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins) and is on a five week schedule to wrap shooting.
Why film in Jackson, Rice’s boyhood home? “That’s the simple reason,” he said, adding that the timing “seemed overdue.” “A lot of people were asking when I would do a film in Jackson and (The Hollars) was the perfect one to set here.”
Picturesque Fondren plays a staring role with several houses on Oakridge and Robin Drive, one on Chickasaw Avenue and Fondren Presbyterian Church used as locations. “It fits the tone of movie, Rice said, of the neighborhood’s charming streets, rolling hills and old trees. “It’s beautiful with a sense of community that’s warm and embracing.”
Rice said support has been tremendous. “People are donating their time to be background actors and donating houses and locations,” he explained. “There are a lot of gracious people who have helped. Everyone has rolled out the red carpet for us and made it easy.”
With 58 percent of the script taking place in a hospital, The Hollars needed a facility ready for their close up. When the Jackson area location fell through, Kings Daughter’s Medical Center in Brookhaven came to the rescue. “They saved the day,” Rice told, “and gave us all kinds of access. They, along with the City of Brookhaven, were very gracious and supportive.”
What’s next for Rice? Down time, he told us. “I’ve done three films back to back and I’m ready for a break.” With The Hollars filming, three in post production (Mississippi Grind, Autobahn and Merry Friggin’ Christmas), and recent successes The Way, Way Back and Begin Again, Rice looks forward to settling down, if only for a while.
“I’m staying busy — and enjoying it.”
Updated on September 22, 2016 to reflect additional casting and location information.
Krasinski answers the question of our Editor, Sophie McNeil Wolf, about Fondren in Twitter Q &A
– John Krasinski (@johnkrasinski) August 18, 2016