ONLINE ATHENS – Athens will play host to another Hollywood film crew this summer, its second this year. This time, though, there’s a local connection.
James Ponsoldt, a 1997 graduate of Cedar Shoals High School, is in town now scouting locations and casting for a new film titled “The Spectacular Now” that’s set to begin filming in late July.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ponsoldt helmed a casting session at Ciné, part of a Southeast-wide attempt to rally acting talent for the film.
The project is in the pre-production stage, which means, Ponsoldt explained, his team is propping the organization by hiring a crew and cast simultaneously, and setting up its offices.
At this point, his crew numbers six. By the time shooting ramps up, that number will grow to 40, not including actors, and will employ some Athenians.
“The Spectacular Now” is an adolescent coming-of-age story based on a book written by Tim Tharp of the same name.
Ponsoldt believes the material transcends the average teen film.
“When I heard it was about teenagers, my knee jerked,” he said. “But when I read it, I was floored. It’s a really honest story.”
Ponsoldt lamented that adolescent lives aren’t treated with gravity by American filmmakers as they are in foreign movies. He cited exceptions like “American Grafitti,” “Dazed and Confused” and the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” as potential touchstones for his film.
“Only in America is there an idea that films about teenagers have to be dumb,” he said, adding that he intends to mimic the emotional inner life of a teen in the film.
“Teenagers haven’t had a steady diet of films about themselves that are mature.”
Ponsoldt’s last film, “Smashed,” was a hit at the annual Sundance Film Festival in Aspen, Colo., this year. The producers of “The Spectacular Now” likely sent him the script based on their reaction to “Smashed,” he said.
“The Spectacular Now” also marks the first feature Ponsoldt has shot in his hometown. On previous films, including “Off the Black,” a movie he wrote and directed, Ponsoldt tried to shoot in Athens, or at least Georgia, but the expense of filming in the state at that time proved too costly.
“It was kind of sad to me,” Ponsoldt said of having to film in upstate New York instead of his native Georgia. “But it wasn’t my money.”
But tax credits adopted by the Georgia Legislature in the past six years made filming here financially feasible, he said.
Ponsoldt explained that the book takes place in Oklahoma, but there’s nothing that pins the story to that location. When he read the script, his hometown screamed out to him. So when he signed onto the project, he pushed the producers to set the film in Athens.
Before casting is complete, a number of rising stars are already attached to the project, including Miles Teller of the films “Rabbit Hole” and “Footloose,” Brie Larson of Woody Allen’s “Rampart” and “21 Jumpstreet” and Shailene Woodley, star of TV’s “Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “The Descendants.” Woodley had signed onto the project before Ponsoldt committed, he said. Her performance in “The Descendants,” which earned the actress an Oscar nomination, influenced his decision to direct her in “The Spectacular Now.”
Ponsoldt said that by time casting is wrapped up, more familiar actors are expected to sign onto the film.
Shooting starts July 23 at locations throughout Athens and should wrap by Aug. 25.