Padanaram poses for East Texas in independent movie shoot

Oct 23, 2023

Filming “St. Jones Ditch” has brought director Jeffrey Long, writer Sarah Brockmann and the cast and crew all over Rhode Island, the South Shore and the South Coast. The only complication? The movie takes place in East Texas. 

The latest location to pose as the titular Lone Star town is Padanaram Village — more specifically, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and even more specifically, the old barn behind it. 

That barn will serve as the exterior of the (fairly incompetent) woodworker’s house, one of just a few buildings that exists in the fictional world of St. Jones Ditch, where people who have given up on life wind up. 

Brockmann is an episcopal priest herself, and found the location by putting out a call to fellow clergy people. Scott Ciosek, rector of St. Peter’s, responded and said he’d love to help out. 

While Long said he was looking for a location with a porch out front, he liked the faded wood paneling on the barn and Dartmouth made the most sense logistically. 

Sunday’s dry weather was a boon for many, but the scenes the crew planned for the barn feature a thunderstorm and tornado. Long, who owns Mr. Black Media, an animation and visual effects studio in Newport, will need to add the tornado, and maybe even a porch, to the scenes in post production. 

“St. Jones’ Ditch” is a completely independent project, paid for in part by fundraising efforts and in part by Brockmann herself.

The movie tells the story of a college professor that gets caught having an affair with his student, who also happens to be his daughter’s roommate. Very quickly, he’s cast out by his family and eventually ends up in the town of St. Jones’ Ditch, a “weird little town” with mostly just a bar, a hotel and a woodworker. 

“It sounds really bleak, but it’s actually hilarious,” Brockmann said. 

Brockmann said she started writing the screenplay when living in Delaware, after someone jokingly referred to the dry St. Jones River as St. Jones Ditch.

“I got an explosion in my head, just fireworks,” Brockmann said. “Certainly as a priest, redemption is important to me. Even if it's a grievous sin … it doesn't have to be the end of you.”

Writing the screenplay, she was inspired by two 90s projects: “Leaving Las Vegas” starring Nicholas Cage, and Northern Exposure, a tv show about a doctor working in a tiny Alaskan town. 

While Long, who is also Brockmann’s brother, has worked in entertainment for decades, “Ditch” will be his first feature film. 

The lead role is played by Johnny Egan, from Newport, who has worked as an assistant director, producer, actor and production assistant. This will be his first lead role in any film. Egan said Brockmann and Long have “such a wonderful spirit” and the production so far has been “really a joy.”

“Pretty much every actor longs to have a role with a real arc to it and a real intense beginning, middle and end,” Egan said.

Opposite Egan is Sonya Joyner, who said it was very freeing to play a role as a bartender, rather than a mother or a deeply religious person. On the day of filming, Joyner found out she had won an award for her role as Juanita Hill in the webseries Love Undone. 

The team expects to wrap up shooting by late November or early December, and finish post-production work by the fall of 2024, in time to start bringing the film around to the next year’s film festivals. 

“We’re doing it all wrong, your first feature is supposed to be limited location, small cast, reasonable right?”, Brockmann said. “We have a bazillion locations, a cast of more than ten people, so we are kind of taking a really big bite for our first outing.”