Local Producer Sees “Country Christmas” with Dolly Parton Hit TV

IMG_3372When folks watch A Country Christmas Story on Lifetime today (at 7 p. m. Central, Channels 42 and 1305 on Comcast, 25 and 738 on Charter; repeated at 11 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday as well as 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15) they’ll see the on-screen efforts of music legend Dolly Parton, R&B singer and producer Brian McKnight, Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill, Big Love), Desiree Ross (Park Bench) and others. What they won’t see is all the effort it took just to get cameras rolling on the movie that kicks off the network’s It’s a Wonderful Lifetime holiday programming.

Nashvillian Tamara Trexler, who served as the city’s film commissioner from 2000-2002, knows exactly how much effort it took. Over much of the past decade she, her daughters, her husband Wes Motley and her business partners Steven Peros (who penned the script after writing acclaimed screenplays for such films as Cat’s Meow and Footprints) and Stuart Goodman (a veteran film and TV producer) have all contributed in various ways to the project. She and Peros are among the film’s producers while Goodman is an executive producer.

accs_08212013_kw_0307“Yes, it has been quite a journey,” Trexler says with the good-natured laugh that colleagues, family and friends know well. “I certainly didn’t think it would take us a decade to get this done, but I’m so pleased that it’s finally a reality.”

That journey began with Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck), who thought a story by Anna Filameno had a good part in it for her and mentioned it to Trexler after Motley and Trexler helped produce Charlie’s War (2003) in which Dukakis starred. That eventually became the inspiration for Peros’ screenplay, which went through many revisions as Trexler and her aforementioned circle of family and colleagues worked to make the tale one Hollywood would want to film.

IMG_3397First, they tried to raise the money to do the film independently, and then they thought Nickelodeon would give their story a home. Neither of those options panned out, but Lifetime and a producer named Lizzie Friedman proved to be the final ingredients in getting the project completed, according to Trexler.

Parton wasn’t part of the process at the start, but once she made a commitment to Trexler after reading one of the script revisions she not only never wavered but also came up with some terrific songs for the film: “Miss MeMiss You” (which you can see the legendary singer perform recently on “The Queen Latifah Show” in a clip below) and “Fiddlin’ Around.”

“Through it all Dolly kept her word to me about appearing in the film,” Trexler says. “I’m so grateful for her involvement in this, not just for her appearance but the wonderful songs she contributed. It’s just amazing how it’s worked out.”

And watching an online press screener of the film bears Trexler’s positive assessment out: newcomer Ross is Grace, a young girl from East Tennessee’s Appalachian chain that dreams of being a country music star. She has a black father (McKnight) and white mother (Megyn Price, Rules of Engagement) whose relationship ended in part because of his music career pursuit. Her mom wants her to focus on her studies instead of pursuing her music, but with the help of her grandmother (Place) and a sympathetic church choir director (Ross McCall, the Crash TV series), Grace enters a contest that offers the chance to meet Parton and potentially jumpstart a career of her own.

The well-scripted movie (which, among other things, provides some surprises along the way) is pleasantly paced by Eric Bross (the Traffic TV miniseries). There’s some history, too, not just for Grace but for us regarding such singers as DeFord Bailey and Linda Martell. And such themes as the importance of forgiveness and the need young and old have for maintaining family ties are strong but not overwhelmingly delivered by good performances.

“I think people will find a lot of different messages in this movie, but we don’t beat them over the head with it,” Trexler says with another laugh. “I’m proud of this film – it’s a beautiful story about family that families can enjoy together.”

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accs_08162013_jz_1652*Photos by Jack Zeman and Karolina Wojtasik courtesy A&E Networks; other photos by Wes Motley and Shawn Morrison (including top photo of [L to R] Desiree Ross, Dolly Parton and Tamara Trexler and third photo with [L to R] Trexler, Parton’s manager Ted Miller and producer Lizzie Friedman) courtesy Tamara Trexler.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).