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Meg Ryan Directs One of the Best Films Made in Virginia

Updated on July 27, 2014

The Mythic "Ithaca" Train Station

In Fresno, California - the hometown and mythical setting of William Saroyan and his story "The Human Comedy." This is the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley Railroad Station, built in 1899 to compete with a railway monopoly.
In Fresno, California - the hometown and mythical setting of William Saroyan and his story "The Human Comedy." This is the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley Railroad Station, built in 1899 to compete with a railway monopoly. | Source

New Director Meg Ryan

New Director Meg Ryan is disguising parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia, namely Richmond and other locales, as small town Middle California. She does this because tax credits for the movie business are more attractive in Virginia. Moreover, Richmond is home of the Virginia Film Office and an International Film Festival.

Add the fact that many award winning and popular films have been produced in Virginia, and we have at least four reasons that the Commonwealth is a better choice than California.

This move flags a growing trend of filming in communities that offer substantial film tax credits. For example, a large downtrodden area of Toronto was turned into Detroit for Brick Mansions, since the State of Michigan eliminated film credits.

Some producers and directors still use Detroit itself as Detroit and this includes Sean Robertson, formerly of TV's Detroit 187 and currently a successful author, screenplay writer, and filmmaker in the Motor City. Other producers and directors have chosen other states for their movies.

Virginia Film Office in Richmond

Virginia Film Office:
Film Office, 901 East Byrd Street, Richmond, VA 23219, USA

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Ithaca, California in 1942

As a film critic, a movie-going consumer, and a person fascinated with real history, I am a fan of many people connected to the project that is ITHACA.

First, famous actress Meg Ryan is the director and Tom Hanks is the executive producer. Their films together as actors have been well received and popular, including, Joe versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.

If the Ryan and Hanks skills and interpersonal chemistry carry over to the other side of the camera, then ITHACA should become an award-winning film.

Winning awards would be appropriate for the film, since it is based on famous author William Saroyan's (1908 - 1981) youth in his early screenplay and book called The Human Comedy.

The Fictional Ithaca, California in "The Human Comedy"

Fresno, CA, USA

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Major Theme of the Story

The original book deals with existential loneliness and what individuals do to cope with loneliness in daily life and to find connectedness.

Many residents of the small town Ithaca, California receive telegrams with bad news - the death of loved ones overseas. Each one of them must come to terms with a major loss. However, some of them receive good news: Their loved ones are coming home.

Many soldiers and support personnel died in World War Ii in both the European and Pacific theaters. Because of this, thousands of people never again saw a father, husband, uncle, brother, or finance again.

American women served In WWII as well and some near the front lines.

In the Army Nurse Corps, 16 women were killed by direct enemy fire. Sixty-eight (68) women were captured as POWs in the Philippines. Over 1,600 nurses were decorated for bravery under fire and meritorious service, and 565 WACs in the Pacific Theater won combat decorations.

Some people in America lost a mother, wife, aunt, sister, or fiancée to WWII.

The Richmond - Petersburg Area Won the Film Over Cincinnati

Richmond VA:
Richmond, VA, USA

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Petersburg Va:
Petersburg, VA, USA

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The 2015 Cast, Locations and Music

ITHACA is filmed in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia during the summer of 2014. Meg Ryan chose Virginia over Ohio, which is to the northwest.

The amount of the Virginia Film Tax Credit awarded the movie production depends, in part, on how many local people are hired, so watch newspapers and websites for advertisements of speaking and more minor parts in ITHACA.

One of the songs the movie soundtrack was written by John Mellencamp and performed by one of my favorites: Leon Redbone.

  • Alex Neustaedter - Homer Macauley, a high school student who delivers telegrams by bicycle throughout Ithaca, California in the San Joaquin Valley during World War II. One telegraph message changes the life of 14-year-old Homer forever.
  • Sam Shepard - Willie Grogan, the night telegraph operator who gives messages to Homer to deliver. Shepard lives in the Charlottesville Metro Area.
  • Meg Ryan - Mrs. Katey Macauley, Homer's mother, a widow.
  • Tom Hanks - This executive producer of the film is rumored to make a cameo appearance as the spirit of Homer McCauley's deceased father.
  • Jack Quaid - Marcus Macauley, Homer's brother who is serving in Europe during the war. Jack is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.
  • Melanie Griffith - Dolly Hawthorne. The character may have been cut from the film.
  • Lois Robbins - Mrs. Beaufrere

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sam ShepardMeg RyanTom Hanks
Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard | Source
Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan | Source
Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks | Source

The Human Comedy / Meg Ryan's ITHACA

A Remake in Virginia

Because the Virginia Film Office and Commonwealth of Virginia offer better filming incentives than does the State of California (Hollywood), Ryan and Hanks brought the filming of Ithaca a small town in California, into Virginia.

The film project is a remake of the original film that starred the famous Mickey Rooney (1920 - 2014) and Frank Morgan (1890 - 1949) of Wizard of Oz fame. It was directed by Clarence Brown (1890 - 1987).

The first film of The Human Comedy was released in 1943 at a length of 118 minutes.

Patterning character names after Homer's Odyssey, the screenplay called for Mickey Rooney to play Homer Macauley and Jack Jenkins (1937 - 2001) to portray his younger brother Ulysses Macauley. Fay Bainter and Ray Collins played their parents and Van Johnson and Donna Reed played their older siblings.

Frank Morgan played the middle-aged night telegraph operator, Willie Grogan, who supplied the messages that Mickey Rooney's Homer was charged with delivering. Willie became sadder with each death notice he received, drinking more and more alcohol -- Ironically, it is reported that Frank Morgan had a drinking problem himself.

Consensus is that William Saroyan wrote the screenplay, followed by the novel, about his hometown of Fresno during World War II and the effects the war had on the daily life and futures of its citizens.

In the film, the story focuses on one year in the life of a male high school student called Homer. He delivers telegrams across his California hometown of Ithaca during the war and sees the content of the telegrams affecting everyone.

Well Known Actors in the First Film, "The Human Comedy"

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mickey Rooney as he looked in 1945.Frank Morgan (Francis Phillip Wuppermann). He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He acted in silent films and talkies.Jack Jenkins in his first film, "The Human Comedy", 1943 Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer played Auggie, a friend of Ulysses.Ray Collins in "Citizen Cane."Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life" with James Stewart.Van Johnson.
Mickey Rooney as he looked in 1945.
Mickey Rooney as he looked in 1945. | Source
Frank Morgan (Francis Phillip Wuppermann). He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He acted in silent films and talkies.
Frank Morgan (Francis Phillip Wuppermann). He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He acted in silent films and talkies. | Source
Jack Jenkins in his first film, "The Human Comedy", 1943
Jack Jenkins in his first film, "The Human Comedy", 1943 | Source
Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer played Auggie, a friend of Ulysses.
Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer played Auggie, a friend of Ulysses. | Source
Ray Collins in "Citizen Cane."
Ray Collins in "Citizen Cane." | Source
Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life" with James Stewart.
Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life" with James Stewart. | Source
Van Johnson.
Van Johnson. | Source
The Human Comedy
The Human Comedy
Writer William Saroyan's screenplay won the Academy Award for Best Story in 1943. The screenplay and novel were adapted for 1959 television with Burgess Meredith acting as the narrator.

William Saroyan, a Historic Award Winning Author

William Saroyan's cousin was Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (1919 - 1972), who adopted the name of David Seville and brought us The Chipmunks: Alvin, Simon, and Theodore.

Ross won two Grammies for Chipmunk records (I listened to them every day as a child), and together, William and Ross wrote songs for Rosemary Clooney.

Massive amounts of talent were attached to the first filming of The Human Comedy, but so it is with ITHACA as well.

Pulitzer Prize Winner, William Saroyan

William Saroyan in 1940. Saroyan was Armenian in heritage and involved the histories of California Armenians in his writing and other projects.
William Saroyan in 1940. Saroyan was Armenian in heritage and involved the histories of California Armenians in his writing and other projects. | Source

Why Virginia? Seventy Films in Produced Virginia

Many leading films have been made in Virginia and some of the best - or at least controversial - include:

  • Argo (2012) - Starring Ben Affleck. Won Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing. Many other awards, includig Best Director to Ben Affleck in the Golden Globes.
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006). Sacha Baron Cohen won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, 2007. Virginia footage includes a rodeo in Salem VA.
  • Broadcast News (1987). Holly Hunter, Albert Books, and John Hurt; also features Jack Nicholson as a TV news anchor.
  • Captain Phillips (2013) - Starring Tom Hanks and an incredible cast of Somalians; filmed in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
  • Contact (1997) - Popular sci-fi film with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
  • Dirty Dancing (1987) - Starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
  • Evan Almighty (2007) - Starring Steve Carell and some fantastic animals.
  • J. Edgar (2011) - Leo DiCaprio as the troubled FBI leader. Co-produced, directed, and scored by Clint Eastwood.
  • JFK (1991) - Controversial film starring Kevin Costner as the investigator testifying against the "Magic Bullet" Theory.
  • Killing Lincoln (2013) - Based on the well researched book of Bill O'Reilley and his staff.
  • Lincoln (2013) - Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th President. Academy Award for Best Actor.
  • The Man with One Red Shoe (1985) - A comedy with the FBI, starring Tom Hanks and Dabney Coleman.
  • Minority Report (2002) - Loosely adapted screenplay from the Phillip K. Dick's short story. Stars Tom Cruise.
  • The Pelican Brief (1993) - Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard.
  • Sommersby (1993) - Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.
  • Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow.
  • War of the Worlds (2005) (Remake) - Stars Tom Cruise. Gene Barry appeared in both the 1953 and 2002 films.
  • What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann - Documentary on photography.
  • You Only Live Twice (1967) - Sean Connery as James Bond.

Virginia seems to be a movie incubator, turning out fine films every year. In addition, the Commonwealth is home to many annual film festivals, a few of which are listed below.

Door God: 23 Minutes

In China, a 7-year-old girl called Lingli waits for hr mother to return home for two years.

On Chinese New Year Day, Lingli puts up the Door God at the entrance way to their home. Then, Mother finally returns. However, with her comes irrevocable change. Reality, betrayal and love combine for confusion in Lingli.

The film won many awards at different film festivals in 2013 and 2014.

Richmond International Film Festival

This film festival for scripts and films is promoted by the Virginia Film Office, part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The festival is held during the last four-day weekend, Thursday through Sunday, of February every year.

Some of the 2014 films include the Best Feature Film, The Cosmonaut and Best Short Subject, Tainted Love. Another interesting film presented was the winner of the Best Global Short at the 23rd Arizona Film Festival, Door God.

Additional Virginia Film Festivals

  • 48-Hour Film Project: Summer in Richmond and Hampton Roads. Short movies are competed in just two days' time and shared.
  • Alexandria Film Festival: Close to Dulles International Airport and Washington DC.
  • ChinaFest: Each February in Richmond VA.
  • French Film Festival: Every March in Richmond VA.
  • GI Film Festival: Held during the third week in May in Alexandria VA.
  • Hampton Roads Film Festival: Hampton Roads VA.
  • Israeli Film Festival: Each January in Richmond VA.
  • Middleburg Film Festival: Four days in October, 30 minutes from Dulles International Airport.
  • Reelabilities Richmond Disabilities Film Festival: first week in April each year in Richmond VA.
  • Virginia Film Festival In Charlottesville VA
  • Virginia Independent Horror Film Festival: Every September at in Richmond VA.
  • William and Mary Global Film Festival: President's Day Weekend in Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Williamsburg Film Festival: Every March.

At least a dozen additional film festivals are held every year in and around Virginia, especially in the Metro Washington DC Area.


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