Protagonist Jack Rose

Protagonist Jack Rose, played by WCU professor Dustin Whitehead, reaches out to actor Diana Dominguez, whose character is simply called “Girl.” Rose’s encounter with Girl sets up a moral dilemma for him, supplying the film’s plot.

Shooting has begun for a movie featuring a script written just for Jackson County, producer Joshua Russell said.

While “Bruiser” lacks the budget and name-brand actors of “Three Billboards,” the last movie the county starred in, don’t sell it short.

“Several actors in the film actually have pretty nice resumes, including the lead, Dustin Whitehead, who has been on multiple shows including ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago PD,’” Russell said.

Actor Callan White has been in ‘Chicago Hope,’ ‘LA Law,’ ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and more.

Troy Norton was a regular on “Friends.”

“This is largely due to (Western Carolina University) faculty member Brenda Lilly, whose connections in Asheville have provided a stunning slate of very accomplished character actors,” Russell said. “We have incredible talent and highly accomplished artists all over Western North Carolina. It’s really amazing, actually.”

The movie is about a small-time thug, a “bruiser” named Jack Rose, who lives in the seedy underbelly of America, Russell said.

“His father owns a hotel that is getting foreclosed on, so he takes a human trafficking job,” he said. “When he goes to do the pickup, he finds out that the person being trafficked is a little kid.”

That sets up a moral crisis for Rose, played by Whitehead, and the plot of the film.

“He’s not exactly known for his virtue, and it causes him to deconstruct the way he views the world, and in so doing, he kind of deconstructs the American Dream,” Russell said. “And that’s really what the film is about.”

Locations in the county so far include a home in Forest Hills, a warehouse on the property of Country Roads Nursery, the Jackson County Airport and the WCU campus.

“We built this script for this area, really for Jackson County,” he said. “It’s really kind of a contained piece, an Appalachian film.”

Other filming locations were a scrapyard in Waynesville and the Sapphire Inn in Franklin.

Though the film has a budget of about $30,000, community assistance makes that budget more like $100,000, Russell said.

Brent Hall, of Country Roads Nursery, let the crew film at a warehouse on his property free of charge. Afterward, Russell presented Hall with a contract for three shares of the film, which is a 3 percent equity stake in the film.

“A lot of independent films work on a scorched-earth policy, like ‘Get what you can and get out’ and people feel used and abused,’” Russell said. “We’re trying to approach independent film-making with an eye towards ethics and doing it well.”

Filming is set to wrap up July 11, and Russell hopes the team can edit the film and have it ready for a mid-August submission to the Sundance Film Festival.

Much of the genesis of the film comes from WCU.

Russell is a producer and screenwriter for the film and the director of the film and television program at WCU. John Mark Nail is a WCU faculty member co-producing and directing the film.

Dustin Whitehead is the lead actor, a co-producer and an assistant professor. Collen Wasmund and Brenda Lilly are WCU faculty members and co-producers.

WCU’s Graduate School awarded Russell and Whitehead a $4,800 grant, which they used to pay WCU students and recent graduates, allowing them to work on the project in leadership positions, Russell said.

“This was a huge boost for us early on, and that’s what really provided momentum for the project,” he said. “Both the community of Jackson County and the amazing university support at Western made this film possible.”

The film will feature about 20 actors, excluding extras.

“The film is going to feel really big and deep, and yet contained,” he said. “The cast is pretty much all local, some from Cherokee, some Asheville actors, some Charlotte actors and a couple from Atlanta.”

The team hopes the film will make an appearance at a major film festival in spring 2020, have a national limited theatrical release in late summer 2020, and distribution on a major streaming platform in fall 2020.

“Our Facebook page has been blowing up,” Russell said.

“Without any advertising dollars spent to push the page, we’ve garnered hundreds of likes and thousands of views and have become ‘the movie everyone in the Asheville arts community knows about.’”

To learn more about the film, visit www.facebook.com/BruiserMovie.