L.A. actress returns home to pitch film ideas

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By Blenda Copeland

The daughter of the late, beloved Phenix City Schools educator and administrator Mary Jane Riley is looking for investors to help bring the movie industry to Phenix City.

Specifically, the pitch is, if investors put up the money, there’s a stronger possibility of having a movie filmed on location here – which in turn, boosts the local economy in terms of housing, feeding, employing and otherwise supplying the needs of all who would be involved.

Once the money’s in the bank for the film budget, then the work on the movie could begin.

That was the proposal floated by Los Angeles-based actress/producer Meredith Riley Stewart, who’s from here, to the Phenix City Council during a recent work session. Stewart appeared in person to share the proposal.

Nothing is conclusively in the works yet; Stewart was only pitching the idea for two movies that she believes would do well if they were to become a reality.

The first is a “dramedy” called Parent-Teacher, with a budget of about $2.2 million, with aspirations to bring in actors everyone’s heard of. The second is a faith-based film, The Inheritance, with a budget of about $750,000 – again, with the intent to recruit top actors that are well-known.

Regarding the first potential film, Stewart said she has scouted and taken pictures of local schools like Central High, Phenix City Intermediate and some schools in Columbus as possibilities regarding the film, and hopes to raise half the film’s budget from local private investors.

As for the second potential film, “There’s a big market for faith-based films,” Stewart said. She said she could envision featuring Columbus’s historic Wynn House in The Inheritance.

Again, nothing is set in stone, but, theoretically speaking, Stewart said if the money were in the bank for the movie’s budget, she could see July as an ideal month to start working on Parent-Teacher.

Essentially, she said as soon as the movie budget is banked, production would be ready to start.

Stewart’s invitation isn’t unique; the film industry has continued to use spots throughout Georgia in recent films. Columbus is trying to tap into its share of the market, and Phenix City has a chance now to capitalize on the movement as well.

As he listened, Mayor Eddie Lowe, a banker who knew Stewart’s mother, tossed a hint to the city’s lobbyist, J.W. Brannen, that maybe a law change should be considered when it comes to how the Alabama Film Commission is set up. Lowe said there are differences between how Alabama’s and Georgia’s film commissions operate, suggesting that’s how Georgia has been so successful in attracting the filmmaking industry to that state.

Stewart ended her proposal by passing out her contact information should the council know of anyone interested in investing in the potential films.

Stewart’s résumé includes past roles on Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless, among other, newer shows, and she has also pursued work as a producer.