NORTH EAST — Cecil County resident JoAnn Dawson is now seeking local actors to help turn her screenplay into a reality. Dawson, who has previously worked as an animal wrangler and actress in films such as the Oscar nominated “Beloved” is taking her own script, “Cream of the Crop” to the big screen, with the help of director Doug Maddox.
Dawson and Maddox are looking for actors to play 13 different roles, with an audition deadline of May 10. The film will be shot in July and actors will be paid.
Interested thespians must record themselves reading a side — a selection of lines from the script — for the character they are interested in. Dawson said she is looking for naturalistic actors. The film will be shot entirely in Cecil County.
The feature length film’s focus is on Jodi, an agricultural science teacher who is trying to save her family’s dairy farm, and her budding romantic relationship with Mike, an ambitious real estate professional from the city. Much of the humor in the film comes from Mike’s fish-out-of-water narrative, as he struggles comically with basic agricultural tasks.
“Cream of the Crop” is a loose biography of Dawson’s own life, as it is partially based on the relationship between Dawson, who grew up on a dairy farm, and her husband, who worked in business. However, Dawson, who teaches acting at Cecil College, converted her husband to farm life.
“He stuck with the farm and stuck with me, and now he’s more of a farmer than I am,” Dawson said.
The family friendly film features a conflict recognizable to many who live in Cecil County, the battle between development and rural farm life. Like many small farms, Jodi’s dairy farm is struggling and has to look toward new revenue streams to avoid selling to a large developer.
“It speaks to the struggle of the farmer wanting to keep his land, because it’s been in his family for centuries, and he loves his work,” Dawson said. “But having to face the fact that the farm is not making any money, and the temptation to sell the farm to developers.”
Dawson wrote the film in 1998. She showed Maddox the film when the director was using her farm, Fairwinds Farm & Stables in North East, Maryland, to film the movie “Hope’s Legacy,” 2 years ago.
Maddox said he had one of his film script graders read Dawson’s screenplay and approved it. What stuck out to him was the conflict between development and the preservation of farmland.
“It’s great to provide housing for people,” Maddox said. “On the other hand, we still have to protect our farms, and you know, the wide open spaces. And it’s just, it’s too much history just to kind of give up just for development’s sake.”
Considering the two decades since first penning the script, Dawson had to update the film for the modern era, adding cell phones and other now commonplace innovations.
A fundraising campaign hosted on Kickstarter for the film raised around $15,000 from a $50,000 goal. The total budget of the film is expected to be around $160,000. On May 29, Dawson is hosting a gala to thank donors to the campaign.
Maddox said his company DBM Films is looking to work with Netflix, Hallmark and Sony’s Pure Flix, who previously picked up “Hope’s Legacy”, along with other distributors, to help the film gain an audience.