CLEMMONS, N.C. — None of the actors in “Sunset Edge” expect to become as famous as Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence.
But the man who discovered one of the world’s biggest movie stars is the film’s director, so maybe, just maybe. …
“That would be fantastic,” Gilberto Padilla said with a laugh, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Padilla, who plays the main character, is among several actors in the film with ties to West Forsyth High School. “Sunset Edge” was shot mostly in an abandoned trailer park southeast of Clemmons, a location that so fascinated director Daniel Peddle that he decided to write a film about it.
Peddle is a Winston-Salem native who is well-known in New York fashion circles for his keen eye in finding new modeling talent for runway shows. A New York resident since 1992, Peddle was working as a “street scout” for Abercrombie & Fitch when he spotted a young Jennifer Lawrence and her mother visiting Union Square.
“She got the job I scouted her for, and that was her first taste in front of the camera,” Peddle said.
His career flourished as well, allowing him to pursue two of his other loves — painting and filmmaking.
Peddle has made two documentaries, including “Trail Angels,” which is about people who offer support for hikers making their way down the Appalachian Trail.
But he longed to make a full-length narrative, which is where that trailer park and West Forsyth come into the picture.
“My parents kept telling me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to see this location. You’re going to want to make a movie there,’” said Peddle, a Parkland graduate. “I started poking around the trailers, and it was pretty creepy. Some of them were completely gutted; others looked like the family stepped out for dinner and never came back. I just started seeing the film right away.”
As Peddle poked around, his nephew, Jacob Ingle, a senior at West Forsyth, zipped around on a skateboard. Peddle got the idea for some of the characters to be a close-knit group of friends who like to explore creepy places. Ingle and his friends — Will Dickerson and Blaine Pugh, also seniors at West Forsyth — landed roles.
“I couldn’t have found anyone better than these friends I have watched grow up,” Peddle said.
For two other teenager roles, Peddle turned to Renae Hubbard, the drama teacher at West Forsyth, for help.
Peddle came by one of her theater classes — this was in October 2012 — and explained what he was looking for, essentially inviting them to audition.
In all, about 100 kids auditioned.
Padilla, then a junior at West Forsyth, thought it sounded like fun. He had acted in a few performances at West Forsyth and studied in Hubbard’s theater arts class.
Not only did he land the leading role, but his audition was so strong that Peddle also rewrote big chunks of the film, making it no longer about a tow-headed kid but a Hispanic teenager in search of his identity.
“He had a really brooding quality and was so dynamic. He has what I call an ancient face,” Peddle said of Padilla.
The film is a psychological thriller, with little dialogue, that explores such issues as the changing face of the South, gun laws and ethnic identity, Peddle said.
For almost a month, Padilla, Ingle, Dickerson and Pugh — along with Haley McKnight, a 2013 West Forsyth graduate — would hustle from their last class to the old trailer park, not far from Frye Bridge Road, for filming. Peddle wanted only natural light, which, in November, disappears quickly in the late afternoon.
“For me, it was a production nightmare. There would be times when one of the actors couldn’t come because of a class. It was a logistical scramble,” Peddle said.
Pugh was juggling three advanced placement courses at the time.
“Your junior year is a crunch year,” Pugh said. “That was nerve-racking.”
Most of the students’ teachers knew about the filming — they first had to be convinced this was a professional shoot — and were gracious about letting them leave a little early if necessary.
Pugh, Ingle and Dickerson had no acting experience, which Peddle considered an asset.
As a New York resident who owns his own casting company, Peddle said he could have easily found professional actors to play the parts.
“I wanted to integrate documentary techniques that I’ve attempted to master. To that end, I thought it was important to get kids who didn’t have any experience doing films,” he said. “They behaved like professional actors and their performances were extremely nuanced and rivaled anything I could have found in New York.”
He was so comfortable with Ingle, Dickerson and Pugh that he let them improvise much of the dialogue. In the film, they play three close friends who like to explore spooky places, which is exactly what the threesome enjoys.
Peddle, who financed the film through sales of his artwork, is shopping the film around to various festivals. It will premiere at the Rural Route Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y., in August then go on tour with other films in the festival. It will later be released on iTunes and Hulu, Peddle said.
Several members of the cast hope to travel to New York to see the premiere at the film festival.
The cast got to see the finished film at Aperture in Winston-Salem not long ago.
“That was awesome,” said Padilla, who is finishing his high school credits at Forsyth Tech and hopes to study acting and film. “My mom was very proud.”