Principal photography begins Feb. 21 on Midnight Rider, based on legendary rocker Gregg Allman’s autobiography, at Meddin Studios. The film is being produced by Unclaimed Freight Productions, which made CBGB at Meddin in 2012.
Like the book, My Cross to Bear, the movie will take an unflinching look at Allman’s early years in the band he co-founded with his brother Duane, and the roller-coaster of massive successes and personal trials that followed Duane’s death in 1971.
“I’ve read a number of rock ‘n’ roll biographies, and I think his book is really self-effacing, honest and raw,” says director Randall Miller, who co-wrote Midnight Rider with his wife Jody Savin (they’re both producers of the film). “And he’s not afraid to say he didn’t like people, or their music. For us, as filmmakers, the fact that the book basically pulls no punches is pretty cool.”
Allman, who lives in Richmond Hill, is an executive producer on the film, along with Meddin owner Nick Gant.
Miller says the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been extremely hands-on during the process. “If you’re making a movie about real people, you’ve got to work with the people,” he explains. “I can’t tell a squeaky-clean story; I’ve got to tell a story that has all the warts or it’s not a movie. So Gregg is really open. There’s stuff in the movie that’s even far worse than what’s in the book.
“We talk about being a movie like Ray, where you really get the journey and you understand what the fame bubble is like.”
Allman’s battles with drugs and alcohol are well-known; he told Connect last year he got clean and sober in the 1990s. In 2010, he underwent a liver transplant. “He’s like the cat with nine lives,” Miller says.
Academy Award winner William Hurt will play the present-day Allman. For the salad days of the Allman Brothers Band, the role will be assayed by All-American Rejects singer Tyson Ritter.
Many of the classic Allman Brothers songs have been re-recorded by an all-star band, without vocals: Ritter will sing them live. And Wyatt Russell, who plays Duane, is an accomplished slide guitarist who can reproduce the band’s hottest licks.
In some scenes, the characters will lip-synch to Allman tracks, a technique Miller and Savin, and co-producer Brad Rosenberger, used for CBGB).
Casting isn’t complete yet, but several roles have been filled: Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) will play one of the Allman Brothers’ most rabid fans, and Eliza Dushku (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Miller/Savin movie Bottle Shock) has signed on as another “woman of the road”.
CBGB co-stars Bradley Whitford and Joel David Moore will also be in town for the Midnight Rider shoot, which is expected to take about six weeks.
Unclaimed Freight has hired young SCAD actors to fill several smaller roles; extras casting is underway now.
While Meddin’s soundstages will be used to film the interior scenes, the Midnight Rider company will also shoot in downtown Savannah and on Tybee Island. There will be a “concert in the park” with the erstwhile Allman Brothers Band, too. Miller isn’t sure yet where or when that will take place.
Additional scenes will be shot in Macon, the Allman Brothers Band’s base in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Miller, Savin and company decided early on to change the title, the director explains, because My Cross to Bear – although it accurately describes Allman’s many ups and downs – has a religious connotation (it’s actually the title of a song Gregg wrote for the band’s debut album). Midnight Rider (from another Allman song) is an evocative title.
After spending hours talking with Allman, Miller says, he understands why the autobiography had that name.
“Even today with Gregg, the whole thing about his brother is really right under the surface. There’s a bit of guilt: ‘Why did I survive and he didn’t?’”