The film “Unbridled” starts off on a bleak note. A woman named Karen is being abused by her boyfriend, Roger, and turns to alcohol. Roger is prostituting Karen’s daughter, Sarah, somewhat with her mother’s knowledge.
But the independent movie being filmed this month in Wake County ultimately tells a story of faith and redemption.
It’s inspired by Corral Riding Academy in Cary, a program that pairs girls who have experienced trauma and abuse with rescue horses.
In the film, Corral becomes Unbridled, the riding academy where the character of Sarah is able to heal and can work on her fractured relationship with her mother.
Part of the film is being shot at a local residence, not far from the real Corral, which was founded by Joy Currey in 2008 on her family property off Kildaire Farm Road.
Eric Roberts, an award-winning actor and perennial film villain, is playing Roger in a scene being shot in the kitchen. He was in the area last week to film scenes.
I was pretty much awestruck by what they do. ... When I left, I thought, ‘Wow, if we could capture what they do in a drama, I think it would be extremely inspiring on a couple of fronts.
Christy McGlothlin, producer of the film “Unbridled”
Christy McGlothlin, the film’s producer and vice president of Wendell-based Moving Visions Entertainment, was spurred to create “Unbridled” after hearing about Corral from her daughter, Lindsey Wade, a Corral volunteer. McGlothlin visited Corral with Wade, 21, at an end-of-year event and was moved to share the riding academy’s story with a broader audience.
“I was pretty much awestruck by what they do,” McGlothlin said from a bedroom in the residence that has been transformed into wardrobe headquarters. “The impact that they have on the girls, the way the girls’ lives had just really changed for the better. ... When I left, I thought, ‘Wow, if we could capture what they do in a drama, I think it would be extremely inspiring on a couple of fronts.’ ”
The girls who go through the Corral program receive counseling, mentoring and tutoring and spend time working with horses who may have experienced abuse and similar feelings of abandonment. The program reached a major milestone in January after reaching a $1 million fundraising goal, which will allow Currey to buy 10 acres of the property it occupies and eventually expand the program.
The film’s plot is fictional, but the fact that it’s based on a real program serves as motivation for the cast and crew, which includes both local and national talent. Currey, for example, will be portrayed as a character named Felicity.
Actress Dey Young, who plays Karen, likes the idea that the film, with its universal message, could enable more Corral-type programs to spring up across the country.
California-based actor T.C. Stallings said he likes films that will “allow people to react to make somebody better.” He starred in last year’s “The War Room,” a faith-based film that hit No. 1 at the box office.
“I like when there’s elements of truth in it,” said Stallings, who also is an author and motivational speaker. “To see people go and look up this place, and to see the work that they do, that’s interesting.”
In “Unbridled,” he plays a detective haunted by his daughter’s disappearance, presumably to sex trafficking.
The set at the Cary residence seems both orderly and slightly frenetic. Director John David Ware and line producer John Demers, creator of the Apex-based “The Rusty Bucket Kids” TV series, make sure filming is efficient.
“OK, moving on,” Ware said after Roberts completes a scene in the kitchen after just a few takes. “I’m glad we got that.”
It’s a family production. McGlothlin’s husband, Jerry, is the executive producer and is on set during filming. Wade, their daughter, has served as a consultant as the story developed. Their son is a set photographer, and another daughter has handled craft services.
Roberts has appeared in dozens of films, TV series and music videos. He said he’s known as the “premier bad guy in Hollywood.” When preparing for these roles, he said he tries to approach the character so it’s not a caricature.
“Why are they like how they are? What happened?” he asks. “You have depth to it.”
In “Unbridled,” he says he’s playing the “ultimate” bad guy, a man who both abuses his girlfriend and sex-trafficks her daughter.
On a set like ‘Unbridled,’ the crew is close-knit. Actor Eric Roberts sits alongside crew and cast members for a dinner break in the same kitchen where he filmed scenes earlier in the week.
On a set like “Unbridled,” the crew is close-knit. Roberts sits alongside crew and cast members for a dinner break in the same kitchen where he filmed scenes earlier in the week. He thanks everyone for taking care of him on his first day of filming.
In between the bigger productions Roberts is known for, such as 2008’s Batman film, “The Dark Knight,” or one of his recurring TV roles, he said he likes to find projects from new or first-time directors. His wife, who is his manager, calls such projects his “giving back films.” In this case, “Unbridled” is the first time Ware has directed a feature film, though he has years of experience and is the founder of the 168 Film Project, a faith-based competition to launch emerging filmmakers.
“The industry has been too good to me and my family,” said Roberts, whose sister is actress Julia Roberts and whose daughter is actress Emma Roberts.
Roberts and Stallings were in town for about a week. Filming also will take place at a North Raleigh stable. Some scenes have been shot at North Raleigh Christian Academy.
Young and Téa Mckay, who stars as Sarah, will stay longer to film scenes with the horses. Ware has spent time at Corral to talk with Currey and learn more about the program. Most of the cast hasn’t had a chance to do the same, though Mckay was scheduled to meet some of the participants.
Christy McGlothlin said she expects the film will be complete by the fall for a limited theatrical release and DVD distribution. She also hopes to have a North Carolina premiere.
As for Wade, who has been a tutor and worked with horses at Corral for more than a year, she is happy to be part of a program that’s receiving such positive attention. She hopes the film does the program justice.
“It’s real therapy,” she said. “(The film) is not just a girl finds the horse, and they get better. Real-life change happens in real life. That’s what I’m hoping we’ll be able to portray.”
Banov: 919-460-2605; @JessicaBanov
The Roberts connection
Actress Dey Young, who plays Karen, has built a steady career in film and television, from her debut role in 1979’s cult “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” to roles on “Melrose Place” and another horse film, “Flicka.” But she may be more recognized for the role of “Snobby Saleswoman” in 1990’s “Pretty Woman.” In one of the film’s classic scenes, Young plays a Beverly Hills sales clerk who turns Julia Roberts’ character away from the expensive boutique, after assuming (correctly) that she’s a prostitute. When Roberts returns to the store, transformed in designer clothes, she asks Young’s character if she remembers her. Young’s character blankly nods while Roberts’ Vivian holds up her shopping bags and declares, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”
Young still laughs at the scene – and that she’s now in a film with Julia’s brother, Eric. “Isn’t that funny?” she said, adding that she filmed another movie with Eric in the past, though they never shared scenes together. “It is a small world.”