Feature film on track at Tweetsie

Article Published: Apr. 15, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Feature film on track at Tweetsie

Extras pile into a passenger car at Tweetsie Railroad during the filming of Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure last week.

Photo by Jeff Eason

If you live anywhere between Blowing Rock and Boone, you probably heard Tweetsie Railroad's distinctive locomotive whistle blasting through the spring air last week. But wait! Tweetsie doesn't open for two more weeks. What gives?

What gives is that Tweetsie Railroad was transformed by a film crew into a magical movie location last week. The production team from the upcoming film Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure utilized Tweetsie's Main Street and locomotive to shoot scenes for a film that takes place in the early 1900s.

The movie is the sequel to last year's Mandie and the Secret Tunnel. Both films are based on North Carolina author Lois Gladys Sheppard's popular Mandie book series. The series is aimed at pre-teen and teenage readers and has been a staple of many a childhood library for the past two decades with more than 7 million copies in print.

"We were contacted by the Piedmont Film Commission last fall," said Tweetsie manager Cathy Robbins. "They were looking for a place to film that had a train, so they thought of Tweetsie.

"Filmmakers Joy Chapman and Owen Smith scouted everything last fall. They are filming winter scenes, so our area works out because we don't have leaves on the trees yet."

Chapman and Smith were the creative team that wrote, directed and produced both Mandie movies. Last week, they brought their film crew, primary cast and dozens of extras to Tweetsie to film some pivotal scenes for the new movie. According to Chapman, approximately a third of Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure was shot at Tweetsie.

"This is the second time we've shot scenes in this area," Chapman said. "For the first Mandie movie, we shot some scenes at the Cone Manor Estate."

Both Mandie movies feature "star" power that directly links them to the family-friendly movies of the past. Mandie and the Secret Tunnel starred Dean Jones, veteran of such classics as The Love Bug, That Darned Cat! and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.

The new movie features Hayley Mills, who acted in movies, such as Pollyanna, The Parent Trap and The Trouble with Angels in the 1960s.

For younger viewers of the Mandie films, the true stars are the trio of young actors who play Mandie and her best friends, Polly and Joe.

Lexi Johnson of Orlando, Fla., plays the title character, while Amanda Waters of Franklin, Tenn., and William Yelton of Wilmington, N.C., play Polly and Joe, respectively.

Much like the Harry Potter series of books, Leppard's Mandie series follows a chronological arc, starting when Mandie is a young teen and ending sometime after college. If the Mandie movies continue to be successful, Johnson, Waters and Yelton could reprise their roles several more times in the future.

"Based in the early 1900s, these books are filled with the rich history of Mandie's Cherokee Indian heritage and are set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, making Tweetsie and ideal setting," Kristin Kelly, spokesperson for Tweetsie, said.

"There were several reasons why we chose Tweetsie Railroad," added director Chapman.

"Tweetsie offered so much, from the beautiful natural terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the scenic train trestle, the western Main Street, and the beautiful vintage steam locomotive. In addition, the Mandie book series is geared toward children and perfect for family reading. And it doesn't get more family-friendly than Tweetsie Railroad."

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, the Tweetsie conductor and his train shop crew brought out the historic No. 12 steam engine for a number of scenes in the new film. Owen Smith carried a camera onto the passenger car for a trip around Tweetsie's rail loop with stops at Fort Boone and Main Street for shots that featured the locomotive.

On Thursday, hard rains brought outdoor filming to an end, but Smith and Chapman continued to work on the interior rail car scenes.

For last week's filming at Tweetsie, extras from as far away as Florida and Ohio drove to the High Country to be part of Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure.

Cast & Crew
Prior to playing the title character in the first two Mandie films, Lexi Johnson made her mark on the silver screen as the character "Circus" in five Sugar Creek Gang films.

An accomplished dancer and actress, Johnson was the winner of the 1996 Kid Search USA national talent contest. She has also appeared in television commercials for Charmin, Mayfield Ice Cream, Huddle House Restaurants and many others.

Amanda Waters recently portrayed the character Becca in the 2010 production of the film, No Limit Kids: Much Ado About Middle School. She had a small role in the smash hit 2009 film, The Hannah Montana Movie, as well as playing the title role in Becoming Jesse Tate. She was a "tween host" of the TV's B in Tune and also appeared in commercials for Opryland and Tempstar. Waters also played the role of Laura Ingalls for the Harper Collins Publishing internet production of Little House on the Prairie.

In addition to playing Joe in the first two Mandie movies, William Yelton played a young heckler in the Emmy-winning television series, John Adams, and also appeared in the popular TV shows One Tree Hill and Stranger Things.

In 2010, Yelton has three films coming out: Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure, Bolden! and The 5th Quarter.

Director, producer, cinematographer and writer Owen Smith has worked on both Mandie films, as well as Golgotha, Elf Sparkle Meets Christmas the Horse, the Sugar Creek Gang series, Stuck in the Past, Battaglia and Crossroadz, among others.

Director, producer and writer Joy Chapman has worked on both Mandie films, the Sugar Creek Gang series and Jinx'd.

The Lost World Pictures production of Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure will open in theaters nationwide in autumn 2010.

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