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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Belle Avery: Writer/Producer/Director

Belle Avery shot
Belle Avery shot "Grizzly Park" in Southwest Virginia.
Additional photos below »

By Angela Wampler | April 29, 2008

Belle Avery is a busy woman — writing and editing screenplays, executive producing and directing films — all while living in the rural Alvarado community, about seven miles from Abingdon, Virginia.

Originally known as Linda Collier, Avery used to work in front of the camera — as a high fashion model in New York City for Revlon, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Halston, and others. She was on a photo shoot in Germany when a company approached her to star in a film. She recalls, "I read the script. It was awful. We were delayed with the shoot due to snow, so for the next few days, I rewrote half of the script, then met with the film company and told them if the script were more like this, I would be interested. They read it and asked how quickly I could have the other half rewritten. Thus began my career in script rewriting and doctoring."

But first she wanted to act, and she studied with Sanford Meiser and Uta Hagen, whose techniques helped actors develop their characters in New York City. While in New York, choreographer Bob Fosse and songwriter Sam Cohen selected her to perform the lead in the Broadway show Middle of the Night.

Sounds like a dream come true, right? Not for Avery. "After being in a few films and television projects, I realized I liked being on the other side of the camera," she says. "I enjoyed acting, but loved editing. Doing film trailers was one of the best times of my life. My true love has been writing, directing and producing."

For most people, the role of the producer on a film is not very clear. According to Avery, "Producers are there on a day-to-day basis, dealing with studios, actors, directors, budget and etc. True executive producers bring money or something to the table that makes the film possible to get made. However, there are some people who manage to get on with low-budget films because money is scarce and actions count."

How did Avery end up in Alvarado, a small Washington County community on the Virginia Creeper Trail and a long, long way from the seats of power in the movie industry? She says, "I was in Washington, D.C. meeting an actor on National Treasure [the film starring Nicholas Cage], and my husband was in South Boston, Va. We both travel a lot, so we decided to meet in Boone, N.C. I hadn't been there in 20 years — wow, has it changed — and there were no hotels available. We [ended up] at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Va., saw a real estate brochure, and [wound up buying] the Alvarado Station Country Store."

To live in this region and continue working in films, Avery finds the biggest drawback is traveling by air. "Tri-Cities Airport simply does not offer enough flights or competitive prices," says Avery, who drives to Knoxville, Tenn. or Charlotte, N.C. to catch flights. "What we really need in this area is to offer passenger rail service to New York out of Abingdon or Bristol. With gas prices the way they are, I pray it happens. I get tired of flying, and I can work on a train."

Recent Projects

— - Avery was the writer and producer for The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam (2005), filmed entirely on location in Samarkand and Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Kamran is a 12-year-old boy who discovers he is descended from Omar Khayyam, the 11th century poet, mathematician and astronomer of Persia. As Kamran hears the story, he visualizes an epic past, and the audience learns about love, loss and loyalty while being introduced to significant historical figures such as the diabolical Hassan Sabbah, the original creator of the sect of Assassins, and the powerful Sultan Malikshah.

— - Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) was directed by Academy Award-winning American film director Sidney Lumet, who has more than 50 films to his name. Now in his 80s, "Sidney is a pro, still at the top of his game," Avery says. "It's rare in our business, but everything fell into place perfectly with the director and the cast that we wanted." Avery was executive producer; she optioned the script and got the funds to make it, as well as acquiring Lumet and the actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei, among others.

The film's title comes from the back half of an Irish toast. The Boston Globe described it as "compact, nasty, and altogether wonderful, a tale of brotherly greed and New York comeuppance." However, it did not get the wide distribution that it deserved, given the critical accolades. Avery attributes that to "politics" and because "Sidney is a very specific director. I think a lot of the movie-going public only wants comedies now, and this is a serious and somewhat disturbing film."

— - Recent projects also include My Sexiest Year (2007), starring Harvey Keitel, Frances Fisher, and Frankie Muniz. Executive produced by Avery, it was filmed in Miami. It's a romantic coming-of-age story in which the kindness bestowed by a glamorous model is returned 30 years later by the young man in whom she inspired the first stirrings of confidence and love.

— - Not only does she work outside our region, Avery is bringing the film industry into our area. Her feature-length film Grizzly Park was shot here. "When you work on a film, you travel to the location. It was nice to be home and be on location," says Avery, who expects a small theatrical release in 2008 and lucrative DVD sales.

The story revolves around eight young adults who are sent to do community service at Grizzly Park where they are hunted by forest animals and an escaped serial killer. The film is not intended as a true "horror" film. Instead, Avery says, "It's like a throwback to the '70s. We loved Lake Placid [a horror-comedy about a man-eating crocodile in a lake] — it's that kind of tonque-and-cheek humor with a couple of scary moments." She says it is based on a story in II Kings in the Old Testament about two female bears killing 42 people who were harassing the prophet Elijah. "Basically, the message of the film is you reap what you sow," she adds. "Also, we wanted to make a film that had no curse words and no nudity."

Avery brought more than 100 people to Southwest Virginia to produce Grizzly — "think hotels, meals, and per diems which they spend locally; construction, local hire, permits, rentals, etc.," Avery notes. "It's a huge impact, which is why Virginia should work harder to be competitive like South Carolina and Louisiana."

In The Works

— - Currently in production is Avery's film MEG, about a Megladon, a 70-foot, 40-ton prehistoric cousin of the great white shark that rises from the abyss of the Marianna Trench and wreaks havoc. The movie is a $130 million project, and some — including Avery — believe it is going to be one of the highest grossing films ever. She says, "We have a great story, which is key [to its success] — Jurassic Park meets Jaws, but much bigger and badder." Avery is producing MEG with Lloyd Levin and Larry Gordon (Laura Croft Tomb Raider, Hellboy, and currently doing Watchman with Zack Snyder, director of 300).

MEG is based on a book by best-selling author Steve Alten. "Steve and I adapted the book to screenplay. He is a great writer, and the script is intelligent and funny," Avery says. Avery's publishing company, Apelles, optioned the book and movie rights for MEG, as well as the book and movie rights for The Loch, another Alten project, about the Loch Ness Monster. "It's scary as hell and brilliantly written; the script is close to being finished," Avery adds.

— - Avery recently optioned a soon-to-be published book, Nurturer, and it is already in development. She is also producing Invisible with newcomer Lance Larson directing. The script is by David Elliott, who is currently writing Will Smith's new movie at Universal Studios; he also wrote the screenplay for John Singleton's last film, Four Brothers.

Future Plans

— - "I would love to stay home more and bring economic opportunities to Southwest Virginia. I love working with the locals — they are brilliant — so any opportunity I have, we will."

— - Grizzly Park II will be filmed here, if we get to make it.

— - I also have another project, A Perfect Family, which has been compared to Silence of the Lambs and Seven — and it takes place here.

— MEET Frank Hoyt Taylor and Robin Mullins.
— There's more on Taylor.

Topics: Film

The camera crew and cast of "Grizzly Park" readies for a shot at Backbone Rock near Damascus. (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

Actor Kavan Reece is shown near the upper waterfall on Tumbling Creek near Clinch Mountain. (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

Avery brought more than 100 people to Southwest Virginia to produce "Grizzly Park." (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

When Avery filmed "Grizzly Park" in Southwest Virginia, "it was nice to be home and be on location," she said. Shown riding bicycles and hiking on the Virginia Creeper Trail near Avery's home are, from left, film producer Jeanne Stack, her husband Carmello, actress Susan Blakely, actor Glenn Morshower (who portrayed a park ranger in "Grizzly Park"), and Belle Avery. (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

Before: Belle Avery restored the country store in Alvarado, Va. and used it as a location where the young people are dropped off in "Grizzly Park." (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

After: The country store in Alvarado as seen in "Grizzly Park." (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)

Belle Avery, whose given name is Linda Collier, was a high fashion model in New York City. (Photo contributed by Belle Avery.)